IBM opens up Portal to mainframes

IBM Corp. is looking to broaden the reach of its WebSphere Portal. A recent upgrade made the 4-year-old software available for the first time on IBM’s zSeries mainframe and iSeries midmarket servers, a move IBM hopes will spur customer interest in deploying portal software on platforms for which it has previously not been widely available.

“Most sales, in terms of volume, have been on Windows,” said Ken Bisconti, IBM’s vice president of Workplace, portal and collaboration products. “This is notable in its expansion of our market coverage.”

IBM offers an Express version of WebSphere Portal aimed at smaller businesses, and that software was already available for iSeries servers. However, IBM’s full-strength WebSphere Portal strongly outsells Express, according to Bisconti. “We have a number of customers who are introduced to the Express offering, but end up purchasing the enterprise version because of the scalability limits,” he said.

IBM’s new WebSphere Portal update, version, also includes tweaks to simplify deployment and management and to support the latest Web services standards.

One customer, the Republic Indemnity Co. of America, did its initial WebSphere Portal development on Windows, but switched over to the iSeries-compatible software once a beta version was available. The Encino, California-based workers’ compensation insurance company uses WebSphere Portal to connect its 450 employees, and is working on extending the software to enable communication with external vendors and customers, according to Republic Indemnity Director of Infrastructure Services Dave Alton.

“We got introduced to WebSphere portal almost two years ago, and really saw a lot of potential for us,” Alton said. “We had a very stagnant, static Web site, and this was an opportunity to launch ourselves into more of a commerce look and feel, and provide more functionality.”

Republic Indemnity has since used WebSphere Portal to centralize its human resources information. It’s now developing a self-service Web site for customers that will go live in September, allowing customers to retrieve information such as policy details and to report information like payroll taxes to Republic Indemnity online.

Retrieving or filing such data currently involves either phone calls or using an older and much less user-friendly application, Alton said.

“We’re also looking at tying in some Wintel applications like the imaging program we use to display images of claims, which ties into our back-end systems,” he said. “It’s opened up a whole new realm of stuff and really launched us into different ways of doing things.”

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