Portal Wars

"Portals are fast becoming a central strategy for organizations—and promise to be nothing less than the competitive linchpin for the next decade."

—The Delphi Group

Yahoo! and CNET made them sexy; Ford and GM made them must-have business technologies of the moment. Portals—specifically Enterprise Information Portals (EIPs), those net-centric company intranet sites designed to consolidate business data into one-stop shops, selectively accessible to employees, customers and suppliers through Web browsers—are propagating in the business world like jackrabbits in Australia.

The market is just slightly more than two years old, but industry watchers are predicting big things for EIP. Since the term was first coined back in November 1998 in a research report from Merrill Lynch, the number of portal vendors has grown dramatically. In their report, Christopher Shilakes and Merrill Tylman of Merrill Lynch's Enterprise Software Team pegged the 1998 total EIP market at $4.4 billion, and predicted that the market would reach $14.8 billion by 2002.

A recent survey by researchers at The Delphi Group, Boston, seems to indicate that business-to-business portals will become the primary means of conducting e-business transactions within the next two years. The survey queried 200 IT executives and line-of-business managers about their current corporate portal strategies and future plans. The overwhelming majority of respondents plan to invest in this technology by 2002, if they have not done so already.

GartnerGroup, Stamford, Conn., has forecast that by the end of this year, 80 percent of the country's top companies will have implemented some kind of portal project.

In the Merrill Lynch report, Shilakes and Tylman wrote: "Enterprise Information Portals are applications that enable companies to unlock internally and externally stored information, and provide users a single gateway to personalized information needed to make informed business decisions." They are "... an amalgamation of software applications that consolidate, manage, analyze and distribute information across and outside of an enterprise (including Business Intelligence, Content Management, Data Warehouse & Mart and Data Management applications.)"

Corporate America is finally recognizing that there is gold in them there data, and vendors are tripping over each other to position themselves under the "portal" rubric. Recently, some of the biggest names in IT have stepped into the portal space with tools and applications. IBM/Lotus, iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions (formerly known as the Sun–Netscape Alliance), Microsoft, Oracle and Sybase have all made major portal-strategy announcements in recent months. Meanwhile, a host of smaller vendors are crowding into the market with competitive offerings.

It is difficult to keep track of who is doing what in this space. What follows is a summary of the offerings and activities of some of the key EIP vendors (in alphabetical order). This is not meant to be a complete list, but it is a fair rendering of the landscape. And a lively landscape it is. Keep in mind that, by the end of the summer, some of these vendors may have dropped off the map, while others may have spread to cover entire continents.

appsolut software's Enterprise Portal Suite is a component-based platform for process and role-oriented interaction with all critical business information and applications. The solution facilitates the fast and easy integration of all information sources, from ERP systems to groupware and the Internet, into a single interface. Users can access appsolut's Enterprise Portal with any device, including any WAP-capable cellular phone.

Founded in 1996, Autonomy was formed to develop and commercialize technology developed at Neurodynamics Inc., a technology R&D development lab. Its product, Portal In A Box, is a pre-configured set of intranet content management, personalization, categorization and spider/alert tools.

Brio integrates business intelligence, enterprise reporting, portals and analytic applications into an all-in-one solution. The Brio ONE product, which includes Brio.Enterprise, Brio.Report, Brio.Portal and Brio.Inform, is designed to deliver easy access to real-time business information. The product enables users to build and deliver business intelligence, enterprise reporting, self-service information exchange and analytic applications to a range of users in client/server, Web-based and hosted application environments.

Yes, the folks who started it all are trying to slip behind the firewall with their Corporate Yahoo! offering. Corporate Yahoo! is a customized EIP based on the My Yahoo! interface. Corporate Yahoo! enables companies to integrate proprietary corporate content and applications with Yahoo!'s personalized Internet content. The site utilizes Tibco's ActivePortal technology. Yahoo! and Tibco co-developed the Yahoo! Portal Builder software, which resides behind the corporate firewall. This software enables the integration of customized Internet content delivered by Yahoo! with corporate content from a company's existing intranets, databases and enterprise applications.

The CoVia Technologies PortalWare product suite provides sales and marketing teams with real-time competitive and account information, sales tools, and a solution to interact and negotiate with prospects and partners through a browser. PortalWare offers a single point of access to the documents, data and "team dialogue."

DataChannel provides powerful and flexible intranet, extranet and Internet portal solutions designed with open standards-based eXtensible Markup Language (XML) technology. DataChannel Server (DCS) 4.0 is an advanced Web-centric platform for building, delivering and managing a robust XML-based EIP to support e-business initiatives.

The Epicentric Portal Server is an e-business portal application. Epicentric was founded in 1997 to enable companies to build custom corporate portals for their IP networks and the Internet.

ePortal is used to create enterprise information systems, vertical portals and catalogs. A Web-based Portal eContent management (ECM) and electronic resource distribution (ERD) solution for the global enterprise, offering personalization and business process integration. License includes source code; fully Java-based.

One of the first companies to identify itself as an EIP, Hummingbird announced the release of its Fulcrum Portal Builder Kit back in September 1999. The portal development solution utilized Neural Network Technologies, which helped to create business taxonomy automatically, thus reducing the portal's implementation time. Hummingbird is transforming itself from a connectivity software vendor into a supplier of decision-support and knowledge-management technologies. It recently completed its acquisition of PC Docs Group, a pioneer vendor of knowledge technology.

Hyperwave offers an enterprise knowledge management app called Hyperwave Information Portal. The product delivers sophisticated knowledge management and workgroup features along with Web browser access to data (for the enterprise).

IBM announced its EIP strategy last year, and has made it clear that the company intends to continue focusing hard on the portal and portal-related markets. Big Blue is adding 1,500 technical and marketing people to work on portal and portal-related projects this year alone. And, according to company spokesperson Peter Tulipman, IBM is investing more than $100 million in marketing programs for its enterprise portal solutions.

IBM's EIP technology is called Enterprise Internet Portal. It allows users to implement Web-based document searches across both IBM and non-IBM data sources. Version 7.1 also contains a Unified Content Application Programming Interface that allows developers to deploy portal applications quickly.

IBM's EIP also features improved federated search and access across a variety of e-business apps, allowing users to integrate data across their transactional, business intelligence and content management systems, said company officials.

According to Tulipman, the company is extending its EIP strategy to encompass not only its own databases, but those from Oracle and Sybase. EIP 7.1 links to "the broadest range of sources—text, images, audio, video, the Web, intranets and file systems," he said.

IBM is also employing a partnering strategy with industry-leading vendors. As of this writing, the company has linked up with more than 20 partners, including Brio Technology, Epicentric, Plumtree and Viador, all of whom are delivering IBM EIP-enabled offerings. Other partners, such as Business Objects, Cognos, Corechange, Visual Mining and Verity are providing value-added applications and services.

"IBM is listening to our customer's needs and providing them with solutions that enable them to compete more effectively," said Janet Perna, general manager, IBM Data Management Solutions. "Businesses need to leverage all types of information in a relevant context. With the new capabilities of the IBM Enterprise Information Portal, we're building an industry standard for portal application development, focused on information access and integration."

The company is also leveraging its new Garlic search technology in its EIP search features. Developed under Perna's auspices at the company's Santa Teresa research facility, Garlic delivers relevant information in a usable context.

IBM's subsidiary, Lotus, has its own portal strategy for the Lotus Notes/Domino suite. Its new "knowledge portal," code-named Raven, is a server product that integrates knowledge management functions such as expertise location and content mining, wrapped in a customizable browser workspace that features a personalized hot list of activities, multiple application windows and ready access to a database of people, places and things. Raven is built on an infrastructure of Domino, Sametime (Lotus' real-time collaboration software) and DB2, all integrated in one server. Raven will sit on top of the IBM EIP.

InfoImage has partnered with Microsoft to deliver enterprise-class decision portal and digital dashboard software.

Iona's iPortal Suite is the industry's first multiplatform suite of products that addresses problems in developing, deploying and managing enterprise portals. iPortal Suite unifies the members of an e-business project team and allows them to deploy and manage an enterprise portal that integrates with existing enterprise apps.

iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions, formerly the Sun–Netscape Alliance, has turned its old Webtop product into a full-blown portal development and deployment platform. The new iPlanet Portal Server is Solaris-based software that sets up connections with back-end data and applications, and lets authorized users work with them through a Web browser.

iPlanet Portal Server is a product family that consists of the core Portal Server 3.0, the CNC Hosted Service and the Service Provider Edition. The Portal Server product is a "next-generation" platform and infrastructure for the secure, customized and personalized delivery of any application and IT resource to authenticated users with a browser and an Internet connection. The iPlanet Portal Server combines the components required to implement a portal, as well as the related framework for implementing a secure portal.

A set of programming interfaces will let other software vendors and Web-based information vendors connect their offerings to the portal as well. Through its personalization features, both users and systems administrators can determine what information is presented.

Portal Server is designed to be the foundation of the corporate Web site, and a development toolset for building and changing that site. The product also includes iPlanet Directory Server and Web Server products, and works with iPlanet Applications Server.

Microsoft's portal plans are a little tougher to pin down than the EIP strategies of the other heavy hitters listed here. There is the portal-like Digital Dashboard, which will include its Windows 2000, Office 2000, Exchange 2000 messaging and Commerce Server. But to date, most of the dashboard solutions are coming from partners, such as InfoImage (the InfoImage Freedom Corporate Portal).

Digital Dashboard creates a single interface to access local files, server-based corporate apps and resources on the Internet. Like enterprise portals, Digital Dashboards will be built on Web standards such as HTML and JavaScript (or Visual Basic Script). But through Microsoft's Outlook PIM app, they will provide hooks into a user's local in-box, calendar and address book, as well as to Office 2000 files.

Analysts see the dashboard offerings as an attempt at defining a framework from which a very Microsoft-centric portal can be constructed. But for now, it is missing many of the capabilities that users are coming to expect in a complete enterprise portal, including indexing capabilities, search features and personalization options. Microsoft watchers expect some of these features to appear in the next version of Microsoft Exchange.

Netegrity is a global e-commerce infrastructure company that provides solutions for managing and personalizing portals. The company's SiteMinder product prevents attacks on a portal's business assets and apps. Netegrity's virtual portal technology allows companies to partner with other e-commerce companies, unifying them into a single affiliate network. This new technology extends single sign-on and user entitlement information beyond the main portal to affiliate sites, offering a high-quality, personalized and secure user experience to anyone using any device, at any time.

Open Market Inc. is a leading provider of e-business software for complete customer relationship management. It combines best-in-class content and commerce software in an open application server environment. Open Market's software allows companies to manage all customer interactions over the Web, including the presentation of company information and products, marketing and sales activities, order taking, payment handling, fulfillment and customer service.

In characteristic fashion, Oracle has waded into the EIP space with both feet. Oracle Portal is the next-generation release of Oracle WebDB, the company's browser-based software environment for building and deploying enterprise portals, and it is part of the Oracle Internet Platform.

The company's Oracle Enterprise Portal framework is a business intelligence portal infrastructure that links its database technology with other application suites and development tools. The new portal framework centrally manages distributed applications, information and services.

Oracle's portal framework uses reusable Web-based components called "portlets," which can be assembled rapidly into enterprise portals. Applications, business intelligence reports, Web pages, XML-based news feeds or other information sources can be made into a portlet and integrated into, and managed within, the Oracle Enterprise Portal framework.

"Enterprise portals are becoming increasingly critical as e-businesses use the Internet to provide their employees, customers and partners access to key data and applications," said Dave Folger, senior program director of Web & Collaboration Strategies at Meta Group Inc. "Portal framework approaches, such as Oracle's portlet model, provide for integration of content and applications from a variety of sources within an enterprise."

Through its Oracle Portal Partner Initiative, the company has partnered with 10 portal-related companies, including Autonomy, Factiva, InfoSpace and Verity, among others. The strategy is to provide "syndicated content," value-added apps and integration services for enterprise portals built on the Oracle Enterprise Portal framework. Partners joining the initiative receive technology, training and support based on the portal framework. The Oracle FastForward Enterprise PortalRPM solution purports to allow companies to create an enterprise portal in five business days or less. The FastForward program is built on Oracle8i and the Oracle Portal tool.

One of the best-known EIP vendors is Plumtree. Primarily an enterprise portal provider, but moving to the Internet-based portal space.

PortalWave is a turnkey EIP solution for building a universal Web interface for content, commerce and community accessible by the extended enterprise over the intranet, extranet or Internet. It comprises Meta Wave, CRM Wave, ERP Wave and Wave Tools.

SageMaker is an Enterprise Information Portal provider that combines, classifies and organizes in-house and online content into a single enterprise platform. SageWave, one of its industry-specific portals, is aimed at the oil, gas and energy industries. SageWave aggregates data, offers it to relevant users and ensures correct billing.

Sequoia's EIP application, Sequoia XML Portal Server (XPS), increases the accuracy of search and retrieval and lets users act on information directly through the portal. Instead of sifting through multiple hits, XPS delivers the specific information in one click. With XPS, users view and work with application-specific content through a single, personalized Web page.

SilverStream provides e-business solutions, including the SilverStream application server, integration framework and portal solutions.

Eureka:Suite is an integrated set of business intelligence tools that provide users with a simple, single source for obtaining reports, queries and analyses they require every day, at any time. The company has been acquired by Computer Associates.

In a project code-named "Open Door," Sybase is making virtually all of its products "portal ready." The idea is to make it possible to integrate their products easily into an enterprise-wide corporate structure. The company's EIP focus is on delivering Sybase- or partner-branded EIP solutions in specific industry areas. One of the largest global RDBMS providers, Sybase is leveraging its database expertise into a portal app. Enterprise Portal provides highly scalable, robust e-business solutions, including its app server, enterprise portal and other integration products.

Sybase Enterprise Portal 1.0 is a product for the development and deployment of enterprise portals. It offers continuous availability capabilities for maintaining service to users and scalable capacity to handle the demands of the Internet.

Sybase Enterprise Portal provides technologies required to support the operations of a portal, including centralized systems management, end-to-end security services, content management and personalization services. The product also boasts an extensive array of options for integrating external data, events and applications into the portal.

2Bridge provides comprehensive Internet-based solutions to create many-to-many communication, commerce and collaboration eHubs for businesses.

Tibco Inc. is a provider of real-time infrastructure software for the Internet and enterprise that enables businesses to dynamically link internal operations, business partners and customer channels. The Tibco ActivePortal portal line lets users extend their business by delivering user-specific information from a variety of internal and external sources to employees, customers and business partners.

TopTier provides EIP products and complete solutions through its partnerships with the world's leading system integrators. Using its patented XML-based "Drag and Relate" technology, TopTier Software and its e-business products allow end users to personalize, search, collaborate and share information.

Verano delivers Web-based access, control, notification and measurement of business-critical information among supply-chain participants. Verano complements existing investments in supply-chain solutions by providing a common platform for sharing supply-chain information.

Another major "portal in a box" provider, Viador's E-Portal Framework integrates all application components and provides a scalable, customizable delivery vehicle for deploying e-business solutions. The product boasts the industry's first "programmer-less" rapid portal deployment environment, and includes services such as security, e-business intelligence, search, document sharing, personalization and navigation that enable the creation of custom-branded e-business solutions.