Portaling like it is 2001.

Warning, long rambling post….

Dan Farber picks up on JP’s four pillars. I’d been meaning write something about JP Rangaswami’s four pillars thinking for some time.   Dan has done the job for me.  JP’s Confused of Calcutta is one of my favourite blogs, he writes with a lyrical yet jaunty style, and he covers a broad range of topics insightfully. I would like to meet him one day. We could talk about cricket and old books.

JP’s 4 Pillars: 

information–syndication(smartly disseminating content),

search (collaboratively filtered),

fulfilment (the transaction chain) 

conversation (collaboration)

Some other time I ought to compare this with Andrew Mcafee’s model. –  Function, Enterprise, and Network IT. Both provide excellent frameworks to analyse and understand enterprise applications. 

JP points to  Netvibes. He discusses its strengths and weaknesses. 

I’m still trying to work out whether this is a revolution, evolution or rerun of the earlier wave of the portal. If I think back 5 years, portals were all the rage. Plumtree was riding high, SAP bought TopTier, signed a partnership with Yahoo!, and formed a separate company called SAP Portals. Herewith the slightly giddy 2001 press release.

Partners Share a Vision
The vision of SAP and Yahoo! for enterprise portals is aligned: to provide employees – as well as the extended business community of customers, partners, suppliers and other stakeholders – with convenient access to the resources they need to manage the immense flow of business information, processes and transactions. The new enterprise portal will provide interactive information, application and process services to support people in the new e-business work force.

The enterprise portal will leverage role-based personalization so people can view information that is important and relevant to them. The content will be determined by their roles within their organization, with services and applications based on their tasks and responsibilities. In addition, people will be able to customize content to meet their unique needs and preferences. For example, an individual may have everything from human resources information or sales tracking applications to financial news, industry marketplaces, personal stock portfolios and collaboration tools all in one easy-to-use place. SAP will supply key e-business applications and services, SAP Portals will provide tailored role-based business information, analytics, enterprise portal services and third-party unification, and Yahoo! will provide a global Internet platform and access to content and personalization services.

I’m not sure why the Yahoo-SAP partnership never really blossomed. It may have been a case of the vision being ahead of the technology, standards, and the market, or the business model?

I dug out a screen print of the SAP portal from 2001. (It looks less dated than I thought it would..!-)



Even back then this had some neat features, including linked iviews (change the data in one and then the others change too)

Dan mentions the command and control nature of enterprise portals.

Enterprise portals and portlets have more constraints, driven by security issues and command and control cultures. They are also costly and complex to implement, which is another reason JP is rethinking enterprise software in a new context, taking a lesson from consumer technology, just as he did in bringing blogs and wikis into the enterprise.  

Dan has a point, but command and control has its place.  I think it is a key part of the fulfilment bit of JP’s model.  The role concept is partly  about the organisation determining what “should” appear on the desktop of the user.

For many roles and many processes, this is still needed. The reality of many jobs is not “what do I want to do to day” but “what do I have to do today.” An accounts payable supervisor portal can be pretty structured and predefined, and the stronger the role is linked to transactional activity the more structured the role is likely to be. I also believe this requirement won’t vanish. The emergent-pull processes will grow dramatically, but this doesn’t mean the death of push.

What has changed since August 2005 when  Forrester commented?

The portal market vanished as quickly as it appeared by morphing into application server platforms, interaction platforms, and information workplaces. In the past four years, independents have been gobbled up by Sun Microsystems (iPlanet), SAP (TopTier), and Vignette (Epicentric). And now BEA Systems is buying Plumtree Software, the last of the portal pure-plays.

The 2.0 goodness (RSS, RIA and so on) is part of the new story, but is there something else I’m missing? Are we heading for a portal renaissance?

Anne (the rednun), in a post this week on the webworker blog, reviews top AJAX start pages.  She praises Netvibes for the dynamic ecosystem of add-on modules and the feedreader, but she is critical of the mail integration.

Con: The POP mail module is virtually unusable with its inability to mark items as read. Showing a total of unread items at the top based on inaccurate numbers in the mail modules is just pure noise to the brain. Needs a quick email send capability.

She concluded.

We’re Not There Yet

What did this review of Ajax start pages (and one Flash start page) tell us? That they have a ways to go before they provide the informational richness and immediate action that this web worker needs.

For now, my web start page is Firefox with one tab for email, one for my calendar, and one for my RSS reader. What’s yours?

Over on her Tech decentral blog she is a tad more direct.

Some have asked if these personalized home pages represent Portals 2.0. Absolutely not. They have barely progressed beyond My Yahoo! circa 1999. Yes, most of them have open APIs for module development and they’re trying to build active developer communities to create cool widgets. But the platforms themselves aren’t a revolutionary improvement over what we already had

The Netvibes ecosystem looks impressive, but I couldn’t find any examples of enterprisey integration yet.Perhaps there is some scripting whiz out there that could get SAP Self Services working there.  I’ve commented before on the iview studio, this began as an early attempt to build a market for custom built portal content. It has been mildly successful, but I’m  hopeful that it will develop new lease of life as SAP invests in the powered by Netweaver ecosystem model.

Here at SAP we have to do a better job at tools for managing unstructured, emergent data. I see a lot of stuff bubbling in research and development,  and expect to see it moving into the mainstream SAP experience soon. To get a sense of this trend, have a look at SAP second life development. RSS and widgets are also receiving a lot of attention here in starship enterprise. The power of the wiki has not gone unnoticed, and this too, is influencing application design thinking.

Yet I’m also not convinced that the portal model is the centre of the universe that it was 5 years ago. I have written before about SAP UI strategy, moving away from the portal über alles mode to multiple access modes, Duet being just one example of this. If you want to learn more about what is going on with the SAP Portal stuff, check out this event.

IBM aren’t sitting still either. Cote writes here about the glass bus and QEDwiki. He comes up with a great new motto.

If successful, we might actually get those widgets that know your time zone without you telling them. That is, software that does the right thing without you rubbing its nose in the steaming pile of righteousness.

Cote goes on to note.

Now, savvy coders have created bridges and adaptors between ERP and behind-the-firewall systems. I’d like to see more vendors going full-bore on these approaches rather than having them in the “research” arms of development. It’s why we get so excited over seemingly boring things like layering Ruby on-top of ABAP…….

The hope is that taking previously boring data and workflow into a new context and adding in new data will result in exciting new software.

Hear hear….

There is a lot to learn from the consumer start page, and the need for a much greater focus on aesthetics, but at the risk of quotation repetition syndrome, Einstein said it best, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”




7 thoughts on “Portaling like it is 2001.”

  1. “Yet I’m also not convinced that the portal model is the centre of the universe that it was 5 years ago.”

    I agree: portals are not, in and of themselves, all that important.

    Like you say, users need all sorts of ways of interacting with their data and participating in work processes–via portals, through dedicated apps, and by integrating the data and participating in the processes through the apps they already use (e.g., Duet).

    But making a better portal can make it easier for all those things to happen, because portals depend on the easy availability of data (through a SOA or via RSS maybe) and on being able to push changes back to the data store.

    Cote’ and I saw a demo of IBM’s QEDWiki and it was really impressive, not just for what their mashup maker can do but for what sort of stuff is happening behind the scenes, stuff that could ultimately be used for all kinds of UIs. It makes SOA benefits obvious to end users too–so maybe it will be a way to take SOA from architect’s dream to business user’s demand.

  2. Yes, what happens with Notes… hmmmm.

    Will IBM be willing to let something like QEDWiki cannibalize it? Probably not–the pressures on a public company of IBM’s size are too great.

    Would be cool if they could spin it off, though I guess M&A is way more hot than spinoffs these days.

  3. Notes get “cannibalised” by Ventura if anything. but the Lotus Hannover release is pretty frigging slick, so i wouldnt be writing it off soon. IBM has just completed a multi-year refactoring of Notes/Domino and the benefits are going to be felt from here on in.

  4. I found your article on google and read a few of your other posts. I just got many idea from your site. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

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