The corporate portal market will undergo major changes in the next two years, according to analysts.
Martin Butler, chairman of the Butler Group, explained that the battle will be between dedicated portal companies such as Plumtree, and those like SAP which believe that portals are another asset of a broader platform strategy.
"Portals are the same as a lot of other markets such as customer relationship management in this respect," he said.
John Bell, platform director at SAP, Europe, Middle East and Africa, said that dedicated products are not succeeding in meeting the needs of large businesses. "The first phase of portals is over and done. It's immature and not sufficiently scalable," he said.
According to Bell, there are currently 102 portal vendors in Europe, but from among these he expects only three platform vendors to be offering portal-type services in two years' time. In addition to SAP, Bell believes IBM and Microsoft will dominate in this field, and possibly Oracle.
He claimed that SAP's 'drag and relate' technology provides the company with advantages over other vendors by offering improved interoperability.
But Angela Ashenden, lead analyst at Ovum, identified another class of portal, supplied by high end 'framework' vendors such as BEA and Oracle.
She believes that these companies will begin to integrate portals more closely with traditional areas such as application servers. "Many framework vendors don't see portals as a separate add-on, but will work to make these a part of other offerings," she explained.
Despite this move towards integration, specialist vendors like Plumtree still believe that there is a market for dedicated portal applications.
European managing director Charlie Abrahams said: "Using a product that is platform independent means that companies don't have to be forced down one route for all of their infrastructure."
But regardless of the relationship between portal applications and other systems, standardisation remains a concern.
A lack of standards in the portal field has contributed to the disparities of approach, although there are moves in place to address this.
JSR168 is an evolving portal standard for Java-based applications that will enable the creation of common portlets to facilitate better interoperability. Web Services for Remote Portals will also introduce more standardisation from a web services perspective.
In general, web services are likely to have a major impact on portals. "At present, each vendor has its own set of portlets which are proprietary," said Ashenden. "Web services will reduce the differential for vendors such as Plumtree, whose big advantage is in the variety of portlets that it offers."
Ashenden added that over time, the high cost of portal technology will no longer be justified.
"Connectivity is the major selling point for some vendors at present," she said. "When web services are standardised and companies are actually using them, they will eliminate this benefit and the high costs will no longer be justified."
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