Son of son of Superman

Mild-mannered corporate information portals crept onto the scene just a few years ago, but they have fast become the Superman of enterprisewide productivity and integration. Varying in design and purpose, portals from vendors such as Hummingbird Ltd., iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions, and BEA Systems Inc. have grown from mere content aggregators to powerful application delivery middleware, and their momentum and usefulness has been unstoppable.

The portal interface has become an important delivery mechanism across the enterprise, as well as to trading partners and customers, offering a centralized point of personalized, permissions-based information and application access. Similarly, portals extend collaboration capabilities beyond corporate walls, easing supply-chain management and customer relationship building.

As the network continues to become the primary channel for business exchange – and as customer contact points, business information, enterprise resources, and line-of-business applications become increasingly unwieldy to manage – the enterprise portal is only going to increase in importance as a driving factor in boosting efficiency and ROI.

On the immediate horizon, portals stand to gain considerable advantages from advances in Web services. Portal vendors are already streamlining Web services integration through snap-in portlets. Capable of delivering plug-and-play Web service functionality to the desktop, Web service portlets are accelerating application integration by easing the coding necessary for assimilation.

Further, as portals become more deeply embedded into application server products, next-generation portals will help to unify distribution capabilities by resolving complex device delivery issues, including bridging the chasm to wireless devices.

Thus far, the wireless arena has been like kryptonite to portals. But the fact is, this weakness can be more readily attributed to shortcomings in mobile technologies, such as the display limitations of today’s mobile devices, than it can to inadequacies in portal technology.

As portal-peripheral technologies, including content and document management, XML and on-the-fly document translation, and even voice recognition, continue to mature, portals will be offering improved benefits to mobile users. And as portal support for wireless devices falls into place, mobile business opportunities will resuscitate wireless b-to-x strategies within the enterprise.

If you haven’t scaled the portal learning curve and begun to take control of your enterprise efficiency, it is time to get started. Corporate portals will help improve ROI on applications, streamline workflow processes, and enable organizations to reap productivity with a single bound.

James R. Borck ( is managing analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center.