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Enterprise portals: from mania toward a mature ecosystem

Observing massive confusion in the enterprise portal market in 1999, IDCcalled it “portal mania.” Portals of many varieties were introduced from vendors steeped in disciplines such as business intelligence, content management, collaboration or application integration.

IDC noted at the time that “since a portal combines personalized Web-based access to information and applications along with a management or administrative layer, this proliferation of portals is self-defeating, making user administration more complex. For this reason alone, a convergence will occur around an enterprise portal with a single, common administration layer and access to multiple types of information and applications.”

There are signs that this convergence is now underway. Portal suppliers will need to reposition themselves in light of the broader enterprise portal that is emerging. Portal buyers must evaluate vendors in terms of their ability to succeed in the mature portal ecosystem of the future.

Today: portal vendor and portal segment proliferation

Symptomatic of the confusion are multiple categories of portal products, reflecting multiple architectural layers. The categories emphasize different core technologies:

Enterprise information portals (EIP) emphasize the organization of and access to data or information. Vendors offering EIPs have core expertise in one or more of the following:

  • search/categorization of content/unstructured data,;

  • query/reporting and analysis of structured data,;

  • data management and integration, and;

  • document management.;

Enterprise knowledge portals (EKP) emphasize collaboration and information sharing, as well as expertise or knowledge capture.

Enterprise application portals(EAP) are specialized to a particular business function (e.g. sales) or to a specific vertical industry (e.g. telecom).

Another way to look at the portal market is to distinguish separate layers of portals, such as portal building software vs. portal application software vs. the software infrastructure underlying a portal.

The diagram below (Layering of Portal TechnologySource: IDC, 2000 : see KMWorld, Vol.10 Issue 4, Page 9) illustrates the layering of portal technology. The term “portal” can and has been used to refer to any and all parts of this stack: the applications built using the technology, the software to build custom or packaged application portals (“portal framework”) and the supporting infrastructure (“portal infrastructure”). The major portal categories or portal market segments (EAP, EKP, EIP) are positioned with respect to the stack. (Layering of Portal Technology-which follows- is a word version of the diagram)

Layering of Portal Technology

Portal Apps

Partner Portal Vertical Solution Portal

<------------------- EAP----------------->.................................................................................................................................................................................. <------------------EKP--------------->

Collaborative Centric—Unstructured Data-Centric

Portal Building Software Structured Data-Centric<-EIP- >Unstructured Data-Centric

Infrastructure in Support of Portals:

Process, Workflow:Content/Data Management

Portal features and portal requirements

A basic definition of an enterprise portal is “software that, based on user roles and preferences, manages and organizes user access to multiple applications and information sources. Beyond that basic definition is a growing list of additional requirements or features:

  • user interfaces based on an Internet paradigm with relevant information and applications made available for rapid access,;

  • advanced search capability,;

  • aggregation of content,;

  • directory services,;

  • advanced security,;

  • application/process/data integration,;

  • collaboration support,;

  • expertise monitoring and knowledge capture,;

  • specialized to a business function (e.g. sales) and/or vertical industry (e.g. telecom), and;

  • extranet and/or Internet deployment.;

Portal stages: expanding the feature set for enterprise portals

From a feature or requirements perspective, some features characterize one portal segment but not others. Over time, popular features from one segment become requirements for the other segments. Hence, the feature set across each portal segment will become more uniform, signifying the convergence of the segments into a single enterprise portal market. This feature expansion characterizes several well-defined stages in the evolution of the enterprise portal market:

Stage I-- GUI integration: Software provides role-based security with side-by-side, separate access to unstructured content, reports or applications. Portals at this stage incorporate features contained in the core portal definition.

Stage IIA--GUI + people integration: Beyond the basic feature set, portals at this stage add in collaboration, expertise tracking and intellectual capital management. They also add the differentiating features of an enterprise knowledge or expertise portal to the core feature set.

Stage IIB--GUI + data integration: A step in the evolution of enterprise portals adds in unified access to structured data as well as unstructured content, incorporating sophisticated metadata management and federated search capability. Emerging XML-based standards for specific domains enable the passing of data between applications.

Stage III--process integration: Workflow managers integrate multiple applications in support of a business process. This is a significant breakthrough, enabling the portal interface to change dynamically based on a user’s role and the state of a business process. Enterprise portals only reach this stage if they are built on a robust infrastructure supporting process, as well as data integration.

The portal market as an evolving ecosystem

The direction of the convergence of multiple paradigms or segments for enterprise portals into a single market follows principles IDC has observed in the formation of software ecosystems. Understanding the portal market as an evolving ecosystem helps to clarify its current state and its direction.

An ecosystem is a community of product suppliers, comprised of an overall leader and the providers of complementary products who add value by integrating with the leader’s product to form a solution. There are three roles in an ecosystem: leaders, complementors and packagers:

A leader gains competitive advantage by completing the “whole product” more successfully than rival ecosystem leaders. A leader generally comprises at least 60% of a solution’s value and defines the interfaces (APIs) to which other vendors (i.e. complementors) must write.

A complementor gains access to the installed base of one or more leaders, often seeking to exploit an indirect channel. Its value to the overall solution may be less than 25% for a secondary complementor or less than 15% for a tertiary complementor.

A packager brings solution elements together, often as a means to gain systems or services business.

Ecosystem players in today’s portal market

Here is where the enterprise portal market stands today, in

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