Portal Mania

Web portals mania continues to run rampant

Tight economy or not, the mania over Web portals continues to run rampant. Many major infrastructure vendors, including IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and Computer Associates, have announced new generations of enterprise portal products that incorporate more collaborative and business intelligence capabilities. Vendors that previously focused exclusively on mainframe access, such as Hummingbird, also offer portal environments.

In a lousy year for IT companies, demand for enterprise portals has still been insatiable. One financial services company I talked to intends to spend $2.6 million over three years, at $2.50 a desk per month for 35,000 desktops, plus an additional $1.6 million in other labor costs.

Companies aren't in the mood to shell out money for more enterprise applications with uncertain value. Instead, they want to find ways to better leverage existing application investments. "Portals are becoming the primary delivery vehicle for a pretty wide variety of services, including application-oriented services, such as collaborative capabilities, analytics derived from supply chains, or documents and content," explains David Yockelson, senior vice president and director of electronic business strategies for META Group.

Existing IT Systems Tied into Portals

Based on a survey of 49 large companies worldwide. Reflects the percentage reporting that have the specified IT system tied into a portal.

Existing Intranet Sites: 92%

Content Management: 71%

E-mail and Groupware: 69%

Application Servers: 59%

ERP: 43%

E-procurement Apps: 41%

CRM: 41%

Mainframes: 41%

EAI: 37%

Source: Forrester Research

Yockelson notes that many of these functions will be delivered as Web services. In fact, the new Web Services User Interface (WSUI) standard, which enables users to interact with XML and SOAP-based Web services originating from any platform, is expected to accelerate the deployment of Web services for use in portals.

Vendors are also focusing heavily on providing access to back-end databases linked to ERP, CRM and e-procurement systems. Many also now support collaborative functions like instant messaging and analytical tools.

But it's going to take some time before these portals prove their mettle within large enterprise sites. Forrester Research of Cambridge, Mass., finds that most current deployments still concentrate on the portal's traditional role as an intranet front-end. Seven out of ten support e-mail and collaboration, while six out of ten are linked to application servers. Four out of ten support back-end enterprise applications such as ERP and CRM.

Portals typically provide a benefit that is difficult to quantify—increased access to information. Ultimately, ROI numbers will come from a portal's ability to cut costs, drive revenues and maintain customer and employee loyalty.

About the Author

Joseph McKendrick is an independent consultant and author, specializing in surveys, technology research, and white papers.