With this week's release of WebLogic Portal 10, BEA Systems Inc. aims to "ignite" corporate Web 2.0 application development with Ajax powering a user interface that will make lovers of YouTube feel right at home.
Despite skepticism that the corporations still ruled by board room graybeards are ready to embrace the mashup world of twentysomethings, Jay Simons, senior director of product marketing at BEA, sees a growing expectation for what his product can provide in terms of both ease of use and productivity improvement.
"The business now expects Web 2.0 capabilities," he argues. "When most of us shut down the computer at night and go home and turn it back on and then we're on Flickr and YouTube and Digg and all these experiences that are simple and intuitive. Then we come into work and fire up the HR system, it seems clunky. It takes forever to load. Everything you do requires that pages to reload."
He envisions office workers saying: "Hey, if I'm using a sales productivity application, I want it to feel like applications do on the consumer Web."
With its new portal product, Simons says BEA is offering developers in corporate IT departments the tools to satisfy the demand for a Web 2.0 experience in cubicles and corner offices.
"There's an expectation increasingly from business users," he says. "I think that's a fair expectation."
Analysts familiar with WebLogic Portal 10 say BEA is giving developers the right tools, but there is skepticism as to how Web 2.0 mashups will do in the larger service-oriented picture.
"I think the technology is excellent," said Bradley F. Shimmin, principal analyst of application infrastructure for Current Analysis LLC. He sees BEA being on the right track in pursuing the advent of corporate Web 2.0.
Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst with ZapThink LLC., is also impressed with BEA's latest portal offering, but is skeptical about its successful adoption.
"BEA is definitely on the right track with WebLogic Portal 10," Bloomberg said. "They understand that Web 2.0 is about more than just Ajax -- it's about incorporating rich Web capabilities in collaborative environments."
He said the combination of the Ajax support with technology that frees portlets from the portal container and the ability to deliver services as portlets makes the prospect of building Web 2.0 applications with WebLogic Portal 10 exciting.
Simons explains that these portlet delivery capabilities in the new BEA portal product move the portal from its traditional role as a consumer of services to a publisher of services.
"Think of the portal as becoming a publisher of services," he explains. "If we service-enable a system and we built an interface on top of that into our portal framework, now we can have the portal publish out that interface as a portlet to other Web applications to consume. Any other Web application can potentially include that interface."
As an example, he said a portlet for doing a quick search to get employee phone numbers from the corporate directory, could be published on Web services applications for sales and marketing. A productivity gain would come from the sales person's ability to find contact information for a support team member without having to leave the application providing customer information.
Exciting as this sounds in theory, Bloomberg questions how the actual adoption will go in the corporate world.
"The challenge for BEA's enterprise customers, however, will be in knowing how best to use the capabilities of WebLogic Portal," Bloomberg said. "For example, while Portal 10 supports SOA, it doesn't require or even encourage SOA best practices, so it's left up to the architect to use the tool properly to maintain the service abstraction. Given most organizations' current struggles with SOA, I wouldn't be surprised if few of BEA's customers will be able to make the most of Portal 10 in an SOA environment."
However, from the BEA point of view, Simons sees the portal becoming a driver for advancing SOA application development by delivering the services to end users.
"If you think about service-enabling existing infrastructure, an SOA is a broad range of requirements," Simons said. "Once you've service-enabled things you need a way to channel them into end user experiences. Just service-enabling a customer relationship management system, so it's simple to say 'get customer record' just for the sake of doing that is in some ways meaningless."
If the goal is improving sales productivity, then providing the information and functionality through a portal is what ultimately helps the sales people be more productive, Simons argues.
"In a sales productivity Web application deployed through a portal framework, you now have the ability to target that 'get customer record' Web service into something that could yield meaningful business impact," he said.