Oracle Portal Partner Program: Hit or Miss?

Oracle Corp. isn't known for its speed when entering new market segments. The company is known, however, for making a big entrance when it arrives. In its latest venture, Oracle is making waves in the Web portal space with a new partner program initiative.

In September 1999, Oracle (www.oracle.com) made only a slight impact when it announced its Web-based portal -- WebDB. In mid-May the company made more noise when it announced the launching of a portal partner initiative. Oracle enlisted 10 partners to join the effort, including Autonomy Inc., EDS Corp., Ernst & Young LLP, Factiva, InfoSpace Inc., isyndicate Inc., Net Perceptions Inc., SiteScape Inc., Verity Inc., and WebEx Inc.

"The portal partner program was launched to attract more partners to Oracle's platform," says John Magee, director of Oracle Internet platform. "Companies who are building Web-based applications or services can be plugged into Oracle's portal framework. Our customers can then choose from a catalog of other vendors whose products will integrate with ours."

Some analysts agree that this move is bold, one that will boost Oracle's spot in the portal space.

In a recent report, titled "Oracle: Ramping Up Its Portal Initiative with a Partner Program," Mike Schiff, director of data warehousing strategies at Current Analysis Inc. (www.currentanalysis.com), states the initiative, "strengthens Oracle's overall portal presence and counters earlier portal announcements from database competitors, including IBM and Sybase, and applications competitor SAP AG."

Oracle realized that just partnering with companies would not be enough to get noticed in the portal market. The company looked to somehow offer its customers an opportunity to fulfill all their application needs.

"Right now it's kind of Web site chaos and there is no consistent way to manage all this information. We are providing a way to manage the Web-based infrastructure, and the portlet is the key building block," Oracle's Magee says.

Portlets are what Oracle calls any Web-based service or application that is provided by a Portal Initiative Partner and works with the Oracle WebDB portal. Essentially, the offerings of partners are catalogued and Oracle customers can choose from a variety of applications and services -- based on what they need -- and are guaranteed that the products or services they select will fully integrate with the Oracle portal.

Schiff offers the company some advice: "Oracle needs to take steps to make sure that its Portal Partner program is more than just a catalog of endorsements from vendors wishing to associate themselves with Oracle."

While Oracle has not yet taken steps toward any kind of certification program that might attract customers, the company has a plan -- the FastForward Enterprise portal program -- that has a fixed price and fixed delivery time to offer incentive to customers.

"The FastForward Enterprise portal program is basically consulting to get an enterprise portal up and running quickly. People are often worried about staffing and implementation. This offers a combination of our software and a fixed-price consulting package. It also offers two days of training, so that within five days a company is up and running."

The Portal Partner Initiative seems to have a long way to go before it can be considered perfect. Many of the portlets are not yet available within the Oracle portal framework, and Oracle WebDB isn't really an open technology since it runs on the Oracle platform, Schiff notes. The portal does, however, integrate with other databases.

But despite the shortcomings, of its early stages, Schiff says the program has some strong points for the company. "It supports Oracle's Internet focus and provides a vehicle for attracting new partners to provide additional functionality and content," he says. And, "it sets the stage to attract public attention -- and partner endorsements -- for the future release of Oracle WebDB Portal 3.0.

While no definite date has been set for the release of WebDB Portal 3.0, Magee says, "We'll be making an announcement on that within a month."

[Infobox] Partners in the Oracle Portal Partner Initiative

Autonomy Inc.

EDS Corp.

Ernst & Young LLP

Factiva

InfoSpace Inc.

isyndicate Inc.

Net Perceptions Inc.

SiteScape Inc.

Verity Inc.

WebEx Inc.