Portals offer single gateway to enterprise data

The biggest wave in IT spending since the advent of client/server is in Enterprise Information Portals (EIPs), according to one industry spokesperson.

Pamela George, vice-president of corporate marketing for Sybase Inc., was in Toronto recently to discuss EIPs, which she defined as software solutions that integrate data from many different places into one set of personalized, actionable information, allowing users to make informed business decisions.

“The Internet experience, the consumer experience, is driving customer expectation in the marketplace and pushing these into the business environment,” George said.

“So…this really strong push to get access to information in a personalized way is driving this very strong sense of urgency in the marketplace.”

The Internet is changing preconceived ideas within business environments. “We see EIPs as a response to this demand to start extending the enterprise. We’ve all spent a great deal of time and effort protecting that key asset – that information and data that lies inside of the enterprise. Now the marketplace is telling us that they want access to that, because there is great power in that information.”

But not only are users demanding this access, George continued, but they are demanding access to it in a very personalized way.

“It’s going to really change the relationships that we have inside of companies, with partners, with suppliers, with customers and with the employees that we have inside our customer bases.”

The windows of opportunity in the Internet space open and close very rapidly. Where it took radio 38 years to reach 50 million people, the Internet reach the same number in five years, she said.

“And now, with this very active Web space, you can reach 30 million users in one month. So the time keeps getting shorter and shorter.”

Because of this, she said, it’s important for vendors to start building Web-enablement into the products they sell. It’s not enough anymore to “just plop some of that information onto their Web sites.”

Financial institutions are also a target group for portals on the Web, she continued. “I think with the demand that [banks] are responding to in the marketplace, they are going to have to go more and more towards the EIP type of solution, so that they can personalize the information and the services that they offer to their customers. The old way of banking doesn’t hold any longer.”

Some evidence of consolidation in the marketplace may lead some to believe that the market for EIPs has matured, but George said it is only just beginning.

“We are also seeing a trend towards mobility; there is a demand in the marketplace to have access to information based on who you are – not where you are, or what kind of device you are using,” she said.

“So this trend of a more mobile user base is going to have great repercussions as we start developing products and services.”

EIPs also lead to virtual on-line communities of people who will probably never meet each other, but will end up doing business together because of mutual interests, she said.

The distinction between consumer portals like MyYahoo.com and EIPs is that the consumer-based models only have access to publicly available information. EIPs, on the other hand, have access to information that resides inside an enterprise. This is data that companies are generally used to protecting as a core asset, she said

“That’s the fundamental difference between what we are seeing today on the Internet, and what we are about to see.”

Huge issues of security will also arise as a result of the proliferation of EIP solutions in the marketplace, she said. The common services level is where this will start to play a major role.

“In effect, you are moving your firewall that is protecting your enterprise, farther and farther into the marketplace, and closer to the user,” George explained.

“But we don’t have any choices – we have to open this up. Consumers are looking for it, and the companies who don’t provide it are going to be left behind.”