The next-generation portal won't deserve the name "portal," because it will provide much more than portals do now.
Portals are going through a rapid evolution toward a time when their promise of becoming doorways to a broad range of corporate services will come true. In fact, according to Gartner Inc., we're already seeing the third wave.
That phase apparently has two major characteristics. The first is that the major chores of integration are moving toward the back end, requiring much more coordination between applications, sources of data and the portal software itself. The second is that portals will be handling more and more business processesfrom updating benefits to collaborating on wide-ranging customer-focused initiatives.
Those services can be as simple as a set of Web pages that provide deep links to, say, a financials ERP system with a wizard-like interface that walks users through screens they'd only see once or twice a year, such as performance reviews. Or they could be as complex as an end-to-end set of processes connected to dozens of applications, such as a product management sequence that links everything from product development to marketing campaign automation. And it's likely that much of the knitting together of applications and data will be performed by technologies like Web services.
What's that next-generation platform called? That depends on whom you listen to. Gartner calls it a "smart enterprise suite." Accenture calls it a "workspace portal." IBM's term: "e-workplace" or "dynamic workplace." And a few portal software startups, including Vienna, Va.-based Handysoft Corp., call it a "process portal." But by any other name, the portal of the near future will look a lot more like the kind of integrated systems that developers of application suites have been trying to provide. And if the promise of such systems is realized, they should allow companies to better leverage their unique processes for business advantage. "Whether it's the way we brew our beer or the way we make our pizzas, there's something that's a competitive differentiator for us in the way we do those things," says Daryn Walters, vice president of worldwide marketing and strategy for Handysoft. And much of the same work that's being done to integrate data and applications for employees can help provide value to partners and customers.
"Our belief is that the workplace is moving online," says Pam Stanford, director of dynamic workplaces for IBM's software group, "and if the organization doesn't have a strategy and a plan, they're going to lose some of their competitive advantage."
Ask Your IT Architects:
How can these kinds of integrated services link to our future IT architecture?
Tell Your Business Users:
We can't offer these kinds of capabilities today, but you should start helping us define what those services should look like tomorrow.
Tell Your CFO:
I may be coming back your way to finance even fancier portals in the next few years.