Business Intelligence: Venice and EIPs

Dominating the entry into Venice’s Saint Mark’s square is the Palazzo Ducale – the Doges Palace. The Doges, as rulers of the Venetian State, controlled the commerce of the Adriatic Sea and in the process amassed tremendous wealth. The Doges, it seems, were fond of the word "portal," in fact the main entrance to the palace is called the Porta della Carta.

Throughout the palace, between the gold and enormous frescos, you will find the words porta, porte and portal. My point here is simple: The word portal is used throughout antiquity, and there is nothing new about enterprise information portals. Portal mania is no different than any of the hype one sees at the beginning of an emerging market. The real question is this: Is it an emerging market, or just a natural evolution of the intranet and the information revolution?

Since last year’s release of the Merrill Lynch report that forecasted a market of $14 billion for enterprise portals by 2003, more than 60 companies have entered the market. There are Yahoo!-like EIPs, Plumtree and CRM EIPs Broadquest, and business intelligence EIPs.

Few vendors seem concerned that the report, which was developed by financial analysts, has no primary market research to support such growth. Such growth is indeed astronomical, even for the technology business and, in our view, very unlikely.

This month, our focus is enterprise information portals, and in the coming months, we will present the results of Survey.com’s BI/DW Research Program’s series of surveys into the enterprise computing market focused on the EIP. Our data point this month assesses one of the most recently announced portals, mySAP.com.

Before writing this column, I stayed away from a great deal of the marketing hype that vendors are spewing in a somewhat reckless and confusing manner. I have, however, been briefed by a number of portal vendors, and one invited me to a Web site that was all about portals. Beware: Few of these portal vendors have any experience in developing and implementing enterprise software – let alone anything as complex as an enterprise information system. It seems like these are the days when venture money is flowing so freely that business plan development requires no primary market research. In my view, it would appear that most of these companies have not done their homework.

Further confusing the market are the market research groups who view themselves as shepherds of the IT herds; follow the magic kumquat to the promised land of market leaders and visionaries with and without the ability to execute. Without doing any serious primary customer research, the groups are now attempting to establish the technology directions of EIPs and defining the major components for a successful EIP.

We find this fascinating, especially considering the embryonic state of the market. If one looks closely at their research, we see conclusions often based on discussions with less than 100 customers, or very few at all.

mySAP.com

This month’s data point is a reality check for EIP vendors and depicts the current state of SAP’s mySAP.com. In this random survey of 300 organizations involved in data warehousing of ERP information conducted over the last two months on the Internet, we find only one company with mySAP.com installed and 16 currently evaluating the product. These data further reinforce the embryonic nature of the EIP market.

Search Engines Are the Foundation

It is difficult to define all the components of an enterprise information portal. Many organizations currently building their EIP infrastructure begin with an enterprise search engine that includes taxonomic capabilities. The ability to search and organize unstructured data is the first logical step in providing the various classes of users with portal access to information. Unfortunately, most search engine vendors do not have the backend document management technology needed to facilitate access to unstructured data. Taxonomic capabilities are also a key feature of the search engine and enable the user and/or administrator to identify the various information repositories within the organization.

If we add structured data access or business intelligence to our EIP, we quickly find ourselves in the knowledge management universe, which, in essence, is the objective of the EIP. Providing access to, and presenting structured and unstructured information in a personalized EIP is a difficult task because of all the disparate data types. As we all know in the data warehousing world, often 40 percent of our time and resources is involved with data-enabling technologies. Many wannabe EIP vendors have serious technology limitations when confronted with these simple but vital requirements.

In our view, backend or middleware server technology and its integration capabilities will be key to any EIP solution, especially those EIPs focused on vertical market segments. Personalization, categorization and organization of the information within the portal may be of lesser importance. However, it will be key when delivering information to different user classes. Portals will play a key strategic role in business-to-business and business-to-employee e-commerce, and also as a key enabling technology for business-to-consumer customer relationship management. Many future EIP solutions may be focused on vertical market segments, such as supply chain, and CRM vendors will need to provide development tools and integration technologies to enable specialized customization. Until next time, good luck with your data warehousing and business intelligence projects.

About the Author: Peter J. Auditore is the Vice President of the Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing Program, responsible for syndicated research services at World Research Inc. (San Jose, Calif.).