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Enterprise Portal MARKET Overview 2008

This article appears in the issue May 2008, [Vol 17, Issue 5]
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For the portal marketplace, 2007 was a remarkable year. Much happened with the large infrastructure vendors, including massive, virus-like adoption of Microsoft SharePoint and product innovation from IBM, with hyped integration with Google Gadgets. Oracle continued to push two enterprise portals (Oracle Portal and Oracle WebCenter) and also started 2008 by acquiring competing vendor BEA. Because BEA already had two enterprise portals (WebLogic and AquaLogic), buyers now have four options from Oracle. Of the largest vendors, only SAP seems quiet on the portal front and appears to be falling behind.

Not just the large vendors were busy in 2007. One-time high-flying BroadVision continued to change its focus toward e-commerce, while Sun changed its licensing entirely to open source. Among the traditional open source projects, many spent the year improving usability and carefully nurturing their communities.

Market trends

One difference between the portal market and related marketplaces, such as enterprise content management (ECM) and Web content management (WCM), is that several standards have been in place in the portal market for a while. Consider the portlet standard (JSR 168), which enables portlets to work across products. A new version of the standard is due in 2008, with more focus on interactivity between portlets, to make portlets a more integrated machine, rather than disconnected services.

Another standard worth mentioning is HTML—the essential hypertext standard that we use every day, which is finally being upgraded. While HTML 5 is not expected until 2010, progress could help keep vendors like Adobe from locking the Web 2.0 phenomenon inside proprietary standards. On the nearer horizon is Internet Explorer 8, which is expected in public beta during Q2 2008.

Web 2.0—or Enterprise 2.0—is still a significant driver for enterprise projects. While some of the hype might be gone, enterprises are increasingly experimenting with social software and portal-like platforms such as Facebook. The vendors are all busy adding a fresh brush of Web 2.0 to their portal products, including wiki functionality, blogging modules and Google Gadgets integration. It will be interesting to track successful adoptions in 2008, but as the 2.0 functionality inside the portals remains brand new, it might make sense in the meantime for the rational buyer to consider a best-of-breed strategy.

Finally, the increasing overlap between the related marketplaces, in particular Web content management, is worth mentioning. Portal vendors have been busy adding content management system (CMS) functionality, and while it is still very basic in some products, it might meet the needs of some projects. Certainly portal vendors are hoping to get a larger share of the budgets, while CMS vendors have been less busy expanding the scope of their products. My advice to the buyer is to avoid locking yourself in too early. Do not label your project "portal" or "CMS" in the beginning, when you are still looking at a long list of products to solve your problems. Vendors from both markets could be good matches, but if you label the project "CMS," you won’t get much attention from the busy portal vendors.

Experienced help?

Beyond finding the right enterprise portal, a problem in the enterprise portal market is unlikely to be resolved in the foreseeable future—one that most technology buyers discover only too late. The bottled-up demand for portal technologies is stymied by a lack of appropriate skills to enable the tools to effect the important changes needed in many organizations. Finding a skilled and affordable SAP NetWeaver consultant can be difficult, for example, and your chances of locating a good portal-aware business analyst can be nearly impossible.

As the reach and impact of portals grow, so too do the rotten projects—those that promise the world and fall staggeringly short of goals. Vendors should be less proprietary about their products, encouraging both buyers and third-party consultants alike to want to embrace and learn in detail. If your organization relies on external help, calculate upfront whether you can obtain and afford the necessary skills at technology and business levels to make a product work and to deliver value. For many organizations that will be the biggest challenge in 2008.

Near-term vendor risk profile

It’s all too easy to select vendors for your short list based on their supposed "leadership" status in the market—status given by analyst firms or by the vendors themselves. Enterprise portals represent a wide range of technologies to solve an equally wide range of business problems.

Our aim is to provide current and verified information to make the right choice for your specific needs. Once you have selected toolsets that meet your requirements, you also need to consider the status of the vendors. Leadership status in a top right quadrant on an analyst chart does little more than tell you who has the biggest revenues in that sector, along with the widest array of technology to offer. It does not tell you whether the vendor’s corporate status is in a state of flux, or whether the product set is undergoing an overhaul, or whether both are in the process of becoming somewhat irrelevant in the marketplace due to a lack of innovation and investment.

All of those factors involve risk to you, the buyer. The purpose of the chart (page 9 KMWorld, Volume 17, #5) and analysis is to provide you with some key indicators to recognize and weigh those risks. Major brands do not always fare well, and may in some circumstances represent an unacceptable risk.

To gain maximum value from the chart, consider two key factors: your own enterprise and the enterprise portal marketplace. Each buying organization is different. What represents a high risk to one might represent a chance for innovation and a competitive advantage to another. What represents a staid, uninspiring and somewhat slow-moving product set to one, might represent a solid area of comfort and low risk to another.

Matching your appetite for change and risk against the vendors is an important element of the selection process. Equally important is the knowledge that this chart is in constant flux. Each edition looks different as new products and initiatives are launched and others mature. Because many portal projects stretch over many months (in some cases years), monitoring vendor movement is an important part of the project process.

Making sense of the chart

The chart represents four key dimensions that should supplement a functional, cost/value analysis in any major procurement decision. Use this tool, and look in more detail at the specific functional and technical capabilities of the product sets.

Enterprise portals systems will become integral to your business, and in committing to a purchase, you are also by default committing to a long-term relationship with the vendor. Major enterprise portals vendors will gladly dazzle, wine and dine your team. And, although they might appear to be safe and conservative choices, many today are high-risk partners.

There is no "right" or "magic" or "leader" location on the chart. Buyers with strong internal IT processes and a predilection for early adoption might favor a vendor undertaking fundamental change, on the grounds that they can influence roadmaps and new technology, and leapfrog competitors stuck with older tools and approaches. Other customers will prefer an enterprise portal supplier evolving at a more moderate pace, while still other buyers will prefer a more conservative approach. You should choose your preference.


The four dimensions we plot are:

  • Size—denotes the relative size and importance of the vendor in the broad technology marketplace. 
  • Focus on portals—indicates how much of the firm’s efforts are focused on enterprise portals. For some, it is a side activity; for others, it is the sole focus. 
  • Vendor evolution—weighs the current pace of change at the vendor itself. Is it evolving as the marketplace changes? Has it just been acquired, or acquired another product? 
  • Product development—weighs the current pace of change for the enterprise portal. Is the product line about to undergo a major revision? Is the firm in the midst of trying to piece together many disparate modules? Or is little happening, with a mature product undergoing minimal change?

Each buyer will rate the importance of those dimensions differently, and we encourage you to make use of this tool interactively. Our placement of the vendors denotes our assessments as of December 2007; we will update the chart substantially at each revision of the report. This is a snapshot of vendors in motion.

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