SAP Portals evolve into strong contender

Technology, like any living species, evolves over time and either thrives or becomes extinct. Technology companies follow the same pattern, and as evidenced over the last few years, more companies tend to go the way of the dodo than emerge as the fittest of their breed. While several companies are currently fighting to stay alive in the portals market, SAP Portals Inc. seems to have grown a figurative fin or an extra set of teeth to pull through another round of extinction.

According to Gene Pfifer, an analyst at Gartner Group in Dallas, the SAP Enterprise Portals story is a positive one in a confusing market.

“The portals space is still a mess – it’s way too overcrowded,” Pfifer said. “There’s been a major split of power. Peer players had a lot of momentum a few years ago, but now there’s been a major shift to the 800-pound gorillas. SAP Portals is a big 800-pound gorilla.”

Part of the reason for this shift is that, after the dot-bomb, customers are looking for a security that they can’t find in start up companies, according to Gordon Townley, vice-president of field operations in Canada for SAP Portals. This is evidenced in the growth of the Canadian office, which opened in June 2001.

“The Canadian market is the fastest growing market for portals, and we’re very proud of that,” Townley said. “We’ve had a great time trying to keep up with demand. Once Canadians find a good idea, they really latch on to it. Some of the risk was taken out of the SAP Portals concept because SAP has such a strong heritage and customers want to deal with long-term players.”

SAP Portals offers enterprise portal solutions, value-added content offerings, business intelligence applications and professional services. The Enterprise Portal Solution consists of the Enterprise Information Portal, the Enterprise Collaboration Portal and the Enterprise Unification Portal.

Townley described a company’s information as a table with four legs, a company’s product as what’s resting on top of the table, and the portal solution as the table top.

“No matter what role I play in the ecosystem of a company – customer, employee, partner, executive – I want access to all four legs of the table,” Townley said, referring to the original information, structured information including core applications, unstructured information including content, and manipulated and extracted information.

Key features of SAP Portals’ technology include an open platform, Web content management, Internet security, a single sign-on and collaboration, which, according to Townley, opens the door for people who would like to take advantage of business intelligence tools. Additionally, users can configure SAP Portals’ products according to individual interests and needs.

Another key tool within the solution is SAP’s Drag&Relate technology, which allows users to create logical links between objects.

“It really changes the way you work. It not only enables the user to get more done, but usability goes up,” Townley said. “Drag&Relate is like a right mouse button on steroids.”

According to Steven Feindel, Halifax-based director of e-services for the province of Nova Scotia, the creation of his organization’s SAP portal has been satisfactory not only in terms of these kinds of bells and whistles, but also in terms of timing.

“On our initial prototype, we had the infrastructure up and running in a week, and the prototype finished in three days. The tech side can move very quickly,” he said.

Feindel admitted that the biggest challenge in implementing the province’s portal was not about the technology at all, but rather concerned change management.

Plans for the portal include client authentication, federated searching and vertical integration on a provincial, federal and municipal level.

“It’s gelling together very nicely,” Feindel said.

This is the sort of feedback that Townley’s been hearing a lot over the past several months.

“Our acceptance in the market has been great, and we’re working hard to continue to improve our position and our vision.”