Portal Software is Dead -- Really?

  • 28-Mar-2011

You may hear from pundits that enterprise portal technology has become obsolete.  The story line goes like this: Portal tools put heavy demand on infrastructure, are complex to implement, and can prove too inflexible for today's agile use cases.

But is portal technology really dying, and should you still care about it? My answer: the challenges that a portal tool addresses (or claims to address) remain very important.

Consider that your enterprise may still need to:

  • Aggregate content and applications
  • Integrate across applications
  • Provide a unified user interface
  • Support a unified web application development platform
  • Personalize content and services
  • Deploy a framework for publishing dynamic pages

This is by no means an exhaustive list. The challenge for decision-makers, however, is that many of these services are getting subsumed into other categories of software. For example, many WCM tools provide site management capabilities.

I'd argue that enterprise portal technology is not dead (not yet at least) but that it's evolving, away from standalone tools to being a more integral subset of other tools. 

So, when exploring options to create a web front end, you now have different alternatives:

  1. Traditional Portal software: We cover major vendors in our Portals and Integration report. This option is useful when you have a complex architecture with many different applications and you really need a platform purpose-built for offering an independent access layer on top of all of them. These tools typically use components called Portlets (also known by other names such as Web Parts, iViews, and Task Flows).
  2. New evolving alternatives: Newer options use lightweight components such as widgets and gadgets in place of portlets for presentation. For integration and aggregation, you could use them in conjunction with Mashup and Content Integration tools.
  3. Other point solutions: There are many different categories of software -- with varying capabilities -- that provide some sort of presentation framework. These include template frameworks and rich internet application (RIA) toolkits. These may not provide all portal capabilities, such as personalization.
  4. An incumbent system: If you already have an existing WCM or collaboration solution, you could stretch that. Most of these bundle in site management and presentation features that could be used to build portal-type applications. Similarly, many enterprise applications (like SAP and PeopleSoft) provide a portal layer.
  5. Build your own: Finally, for maximum control and flexibility, you could build your own portal-like application from scratch. However, you'd usually apply existing libraries and frameworks and in that sense, this is probably an extension of option 3 above.

We'll explore all these different options in greater detail in a separate advisory briefing for our portal technology subscription clients.  In the meantime,  remember that -- just like mainframes -- portal software will remain relevant long past predictions of its demise.  The feature set and nomenclature will continue to evolve, but If anything, you have many more options than ever.

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