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What's up with portals?

It was just a little more than five years ago when portals were the hottest thing going. New companies were popping up all over the place, and although many of their offerings were merely thin veneers to the Web, some of the products were--and remain to be--truly remarkable technological breakthroughs. Over this brief half decade, the cream has risen to the top but less attention seems to be paid to the portal market today.

A couple of years ago, the analyst community wasn't keen on portals as a standalone market; more recently it shifted its position, however, as pointed out in a BEA study titled State of the Portal Market 2006: Portals and the New Wisdom of the Enterprise. The study involved a survey of some 250 BEA customers and a review of more than 100 research reports. It reveals a market now growing at a very respectable 15 percent clip.

What's driving the growth of enterprise portals? The study identifies compliance mandates such as Basel II, Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA, all of which require complicated workflows and rules. To facilitate these processes, IT needs to integrate document repositories and applications and tightly control user activities. Portal frameworks with business process management capabilities are ideal for quickly executing such solutions. Also at the top of the list is the growing demand for agile innovation, and today's portals offer advanced collaboration, process orchestration, user experience management and composite application frameworks. This collection of technology creates new types of applications that assist human-managed activities and dynamic processes.

And where will portals be heading in the future? The move toward service-oriented architectures is already underway, but the adoption rate will accelerate, according to analysts quoted in the report. As the study explains, portals offer a natural way to exploit the value of SOA, such as using Web services as portlets and building blocks for back-end applications. Expect growth in business process management applications, as well, because they thrive in a portal environment, which excels in personalization, aggregation, consolidation and collaboration of corporate assets. They connect siloed applications and disparate content repositories and unite internal and external enterprise audiences.

The study also addresses how the enterprise will embrace Web 2.0, an elusive term that BEA describes as "a next-generation Web platform with a hosted set of services--from maps to photographs to search results--that developers can use to build an entirely new breed of Web applications" that differ from traditional Internet applications because of the emphasis on collaboration. With that in mind, tomorrow's enterprise portals will build upon their inherent collaborative nature and empower richer social connections within the enterprise. Users will be able to take far greater advantage of collective knowledge and break the traditional boundaries of hierarchical taxonomies.

I received an advance copy of the report, and as of this writing it, curiously, was not available on the BEA site. However, I was able to find it here: http://itresearch.forbes.com. Just type in the full name of the report in the search box.

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