IBM Expects Speedier Portal Projects
Published: April 24, 2007
by Dan Burger
Long implementation timeframes have plagued portal projects since this technology became widely available. That's not to say that companies are unable to successfully deploy portals. IBM and other portal software companies have documented numerous achievements. However, portals have yet to gain widespread acceptance, and the burden of prolonged implementation has been a factor. Some of that responsibility rests with the complexity of the software and some of it rests on companies' failure to have a clear business plan.
IBM's WebSphere Portal product development group is currently shining the light on ease of implementation, knowing that this is the origin of much portal pain. In its bid to simplify and shorten the implementation process, IBM has developed what it refers to as "accelerators." There should be no misunderstanding about what these are meant to do, right? They make things go fast--at least faster than before.
In the case of the WebSphere Portal accelerators, IBM is steering its software to address five goals that it believes organizations are interested in reaching quicker. These include building dashboards, managing content, improving productivity through collaboration, providing employees with self-service capabilities for managing personal information, and integrating all of the above.
"Our research indicates that these are the drivers for portal purchases," says Lauren Wendel, a product manager for WebSphere Portal. "Organizations are interested in building composite applications that are aggregated to a single interface point, which is the portal."
The interests may be there, but the journey has been arduous. IBM, which sits atop the portal software market according to the most recent IDC report on portal technology, knows this turf well. According to the IDC report, no other company generates as much revenue from software licensing and maintenance, and IBM has been in this position for four consecutive years.
To continue its success, IBM is looking to out-simplify the competition. The key to simplification is reducing the cycle from concept to completion, and one way to do that is providing more "out of the box" utilities and templates. WebSphere Portal Express, which was updated to its Version 6 release in February, is IBM's leader in portal simplicity. It's the wading pool, if you will. The walk before you run approach for companies testing the composite application and service oriented architecture approach to combining business and information technology.
The accelerators, which are applicable to both Portal Express and Portal Enterprise Edition, will be released throughout the course of 2007. Only one, the Dashboard Accelerator, is available now. It was designed as a tool and a framework for assembling dynamic dashboards, which are put in place to monitor business objectives in relation to real-time performance information. Dashboards are synonymous with key performance indicators (KPIs) such as top sales opportunities, customer satisfaction rankings, and quality and service activities. The accelerator provides portlets that can be snapped together and assembled into applications that save time compared to the "built from scratch" alternative.
In a timeframe that IBM refers to as mid year availability will be the Collaboration Accelerator and the Self-Service Accelerator.
Team collaboration is getting a lot of play in the WebSphere Portal software. Later this week, Google Gadgets become available, bringing access to utilities that provide links to research databases, package delivery tracking tools, Google Maps utilities, traffic information, and applications such as Google Docs & Spreadsheets. You can read more about that here.
The Collaboration Accelerator will provide templates for incorporating features such as team workspaces, document libraries, Web conferencing, people profiles and directories, and enterprise social networking features like blogs, wikis and shared bookmarking. Although IBM says customers are making this a priority, it seems less important than the Self-Service Accelerator, which is expected to make an initial impact in companies' internal affairs, specifically within the human resources departments. The main benefit relates to employee self-service: viewing paycheck and tax information and managing other personal information.
Self-service accelerator addresses what Wendel calls "one of the top priorities for customers going to Portal." It emphasizes the internal efficiencies realized by organizations that have employees answer their own questions about personal work-related information.
"I think that internal-facing projects have been a strong motivator for launching portal projects," Wendel says. However, not wanting to get pinned into a specific niche, she also says, "customers are increasingly interested in leveraging portals to manage their partners' interactions and building customer-facing portals."
The second half of 2007 is supposed to bring two additional accelerators to market. The first is Content Accelerator, a prefabricated framework for building Web sites, intranets, extranets, and portals with advanced search services that allow organizations to maintain current and accurate Web content. The second tool is the Enterprise Suite Accelerator. Its purpose is to provide the integration of multiple portals. These could be portals that were built from scratch or built using the above-mentioned accelerators.
Pricing begins with the WebSphere Portal Server, which is $51,500 per processor, and the Dashboard Accelerator, which is $67,000 per processor. For those choosing to travel the WebSphere Portal Express route, it is available to companies with fewer than 1,000 users and departments of larger organizations. Portal Express pricing ranges from $2,300 for a 20-user pack to $39,999 per processor for extranets.
The IBM Portlet for Google Gadgets is a no charge feature of WebSphere Portal Server. More information can be found at www.ibm.com/websphere/portal and the Portal Solutions Catalogue can be found at: http://catalog.lotus.com/wps/portal/portal.
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