Portal software finding more takers

In a software market that has seen few blockbusters recently, the sleeper hit of the year appears to be enterprise information portal (EIP) software.

Even as software spending is down and IT spending budgets are stretched tight, a recent June report by Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Dataquest revealed that new licence revenue for the worldwide portal software market was US$709 million in 2001, up 59 per cent. Corporate portals have come a long way from just images, content and hyperlinks with minimal business value to becoming Web-enabled single points of access for e-commerce, real-time collaboration services and integrated enterprise applications.

EIP vendors such as IBM (Websphere Portal), Oracle (Oracle9i Application Server Portal) and Sybase (Enterprise Portal 2.5) – to name a few – are recognizing portals’ appeal to the enterprise and are attempting to deliver.

“If you think of them as a response to the industry’s drive to expose knowledge workers to more information, the portal is the vehicle to enable the knowledge worker to aggregate that information and gain access to information that’s relevant to them at the time that they need it,” said John Donaldson, WebSphere sales business unit executive for IBM Canada in Markham, Ont.

“The truth is portals are hard to validate in terms of ROI – it’s kind of like getting ROI on a browser. What they do is provide a level of efficiency that over time is measured in productivity,” Donaldson said. “I think a portal is an incredibly large step for mid-size and large-size organizations, but we’re only half way there,” Donaldson said, adding that as portal software matures, integration at the front-end with the back-end will be tighter and more seamless.

Craig Roth, vice-president of Web and collaboration strategies for the Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn. said in a recent report that the value of the portal should be “tied to its visibility among its constituencies as a hub for information, data, collaboration, and application access.” He added that enterprises can avoid “portal pitfalls” by matching the functionality with business value.

Francis Loughheed, facilitator of the thevillagehub.ca portal for the City of Cornwall, Ont., agreed. “It’s hard for us to measure ROI because we’re a community not-for-profit group, but if you look at it from a corporate perspective the ability to collaborate real time is a huge potential,” Loughheed said. The municipal portal uses an earlier version of Websphere and will migrate to the latest edition in the fall. The “community collaboration portal” uses online collaboration and instant messaging among other features, Loughheed said.

In terms of being able to give employees easy access to relevant information and give a single “look and feel” and access point to several applications, portal software is key to a company’s success, said Brent Chin, national solutions leader of technology for Mississauga, Ont.-based Oracle Canada. “It’s a framework where they can get a view of their entire application infrastructure in a very easy to manage format,” Chin said. He added that pre-integrated components for business intelligence, e-mail and messaging, application integration, and J2EE and Web cache management are among the key features.

These days it seems every company is looking for the perfect portal and there’s a big need for content management, said Adam Thackeray, IT analyst at TD Canada Trust in Toronto. Thackeray said the financial institution’s IT shop uses Oracle 9i to create “portlets” around a central repository portal with customized developments and single sign-on and authentication.

“As far as content management, it’s great and allows you to develop the front-end much easier,” Thackeray said.

In a recent report, Bob Peterson, director of portals and content management for Hurwitz Group in Framingham, Mass., said as portal implementations mature, “organizations will be looking for more plug-and-play content sources that have a high degree of enterprise interoperability.”

He added that “as implementations of portals mature organizations will be looking for more plug-and-play content sources that have a high degree of enterprise interoperability.”