In-Depth

May the portal be with you

Most activity regarding the right-time enterprise revolves around back-end integration. Someday the front end may become a performance bottleneck, but indications of that are slight to date. For now, server pages, both Active- and Java-type, using what many in the industry still call a portal, serve up the coolest view of integrated data. We recently took a peek inside the minds of a couple of portal partisans, from different points on a vast spectrum.

“In the early days, portals were sort of improved ways of having lots of bookmarks that pointed to places on the Internet or intranet,” said Sun Microsystems’ David Bryant, director of business management and marketing for Java system portal products. “They were really prettied-up bookmark collections,” he chided.

But the portal hung in, providing more users with views of back-end systems. Increasingly, portals provide not just a view on static content, but an active window into transactional systems. “In 1999 or 2000, it tended to be read-only, but then it became a bit of a two-way [system] as people thought about connecting into some more active back-end systems. Some people call that a transaction portal,” said Pehong Chen, founder and CEO of BroadVision Inc., Redwood City, Calif.

From the point of view of Sun’s Bryant, recent areas of interest in portals revolve around secure authentication and single sign-on. “People separated the presentation from the business logic years ago. Now you can glue them together in a portal in a variety of ways.” Both Bryant and Chen note the importance of XML as a data descriptor, and as a standard that has been helpful in portal development. Both avow interest in the new JSR-168 Java API standard for portlet developers. And both picture the next step for portals as process- or workflow-driven.

If that is so, the portal may play a key role in delivering “right-time” feeds to the user’s desktop, and standard portal APIs would play a role in simplifying the developer’s task of delivering the apps that deliver those feeds. But things will not get simpler overnight. “There is a whole host of issues around data models for different processes for different user experiences,” said BroadVision’s Chen.

With greater complexity in the offing, right-time may be the way to go. “People realize real time is relative,” said Chen, “and that it is more efficient sometimes for people to work on a time-shifted basis.” He points out that sometimes people are involved and that the cost of real-time collaboration can be too high.

He gives as an example the problem of an insurer, health-care provider and patient trying to resolve a $50 billing issue; here, data models, business processes and user roles must be prioritized to avoid the equivalent of a conference call that draws everyone away from more efforts that may be more immediately crucial.


Please see the following related stories:

Special Report: Right-time enterprise on the rise” by Jack Vaughan

Scouts Canada blazes trail in membership data access” by Rich Seeley

A sampling of recent BI products” by Lana Gates

About the Author

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

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