Portals Take On Delivery Chores

Enterprise portals may have a new role to play in the emerging model for Web services, and IBM Corp., among others, is rushing to dominate this space.

According to Dana Gardner, an analyst at Boston-based Aberdeen Group Inc., portals are becoming the answer to a key challenge facing the nascent Web services model: how to deliver Web services to business users in a method they will use.

“A portal takes advantage of the Web and a browser,” Gardner said. “Web services will take that a step further by making the applications free from platforms and accessible to different users on a more robust, personalized basis.”

IBM detailed plans last week to merge its WebSphere Portal Server framework with the K-Station collaborative portal offerings from its Lotus Development subsidiary. The result will be a framework to house forthcoming Web services.

Other vendors, including Epicentric Inc. and Plumtree Software Inc., both based in San Francisco, are hard at work offering more connectivity options for Web services and portals.

At the IBM Solutions 2001 show last week in San Francisco, John Swainson, IBM’s general manager of application and integration middleware, said an open-portal framework is key to Web services. “What we have done is [we’re] selling not just packaging and a user front end, but connectivity,” he said.

In October, IBM and Lotus plan to introduce an interoperable bundle of the K-Station collaboration services and WebSphere portal offerings that will include links to back-office and legacy systems.

Additionally, the companies are working to extract the K-Station services and reconstruct them as Web services on top of the WebSphere Portal Server, said Scott Eliot, director of knowledge management products at Cambridge, Mass.-based Lotus.

The product, code-named Harmony, will debut in the first quarter of next year, Eliot said. The Lotus components “are effectively Web services,” he said. “Anyone building a portal using WebSphere can grab these 15 [services] to 20 services and place them in an application.”

Also gearing up for Web services, portal player Epicentric is working with IBM, BEA Systems Inc., Documentum Inc., and others to develop a standard for how Web services will interact with portals, said Ed Anuff, vice-president and CTO of Epicentric.

A specification draft for the WSUI (Web Services User Interface) standard will be submitted to a standards body in September, Anuff said.

Meanwhile, portal software provider Plumtree last week introduced a framework for SAP R/3 ERP applications designed to enable users to create their own Web service links within portals to R/3 data.