Report cites portals as key to e-commerce growth

Canadian companies will need to come to grips with corporate portals and Web services architecture or risk losing their share in the global e-commerce market, according to a joint report by Markham, Ont.-based Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc. and Toronto-based IT advisory firm IDC Canada Ltd.

The IDC report, Corporate Portals, The Foundation for Web services?, found that although 54 per cent of Canadian FP (Financial Post) enterprises surveyed believe that they will be somewhat or very reliant on Web services within three years, 73 per cent currently don’t have a Web services implementation plan in place.

IDC defines corporate portals as software systems designed to integrate several applications through a common Web interface. The report reveals that 43 per cent of businesses polled either have no plans or are unclear on the concept of corporate portals or what they do.

Phil Cohen, director of Internet research at IDC, said in a Sun/IDC briefing last month that if present trends continue, Canada’s projected share of global e-commerce revenue will fall to three per cent from four per cent in within a few years.

Cohen stated that while the situation isn’t “dire”, companies should begin to look at integrating their back-end process with IT, adding that IDC considers corporate portals to be vital to e-commerce as “portals extend the value of IT investments made in such solutions as CRM (customer relationship management), BI, eLearning, corporate Web sites and intranets.”

Within the manufacturing sector for example, Cohen noted that corporate portals would allow companies to view separate applications such as ERP, supply chain management, and data warehousing software holistically.

“In a portal world, when we’re viewing data or examining inventory, we might examine it in the context of a shortage of other parts somewhere down the line that’s creating a bottleneck. We might not see that if we’re just looking at it in the eyes of a single application,” Cohen said.

A corporate portal makes accessing information relating such applications a simple matter, Cohen said. “A manufacturer might trend according to the orders they’ve got in house and what they’re expecting to manufacture over a certain period of time…through a portal, where we might put various elements of data side by side, that provides a kind of context.”

The study also found that over 10 per cent of those polled indicated that they have begun or will start implementing Web services before the end of this year. Companies shouldn’t feel pressured into adapting IT but companies will need to be a bit more progressive, Cohen said.

“As Europe and Asia gain momentum in the second phase of e-commerce development, Canada can either return to its normal market performance or maintain its advantage by adopting measure such as corporate portals and Web services to help maintain its technology lead,” Cohen said.

That higher level of integration is a key component to maximizing IT sales, Cohen said, adding that IDC estimates IT sales – driven by e-commerce, corporate portals, and Web services – to reach US$15 trillion within 2001-2010.

It will probably be two to three years before Web services will be widely available – but in coming years the corporate portal may be as important to business as the Internet itself, Cohen said.

Cohen suggested that consulting services could aid planning in the early adoption phase of the technology.

“Canadian business can see the train coming into the station on Web services, but it appears that very few are currently equipped to get on the fast track that they all admit they will need,” said Sun director of marketing Brad Keates.

Corporate portals represent the foundation for e-commerce – the gradual shift away from traditional software applications and towards a more scalable Web services model, said Gord Sissons, vice-president of technology at Sun.

Sissons touted the value of Sun’s Open Net Environment (Sun One) as a scalable and robust services on demand IT architecture, adding that Sun’s “foundation of openness” separates it from the Microsoft’s .Net.

Sun is committed to an open and easily integrated software platform, with a scalable foundation for future services support, Sissons said.