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XML-based portals equal less Web services pain

Experts at last week's DCI show said that the portal is becoming a crucial infrastructure component of Web services, and that basing them on standards such as XML will help enable future Web services implementations.

BOSTON -- While portals are already serving as powerful enablers of enterprise integration at many businesses, some experts feel that issues related to standardization, content management and collaboration must be addressed to maximize the systems' impact and create a solid foundation for building Web services.

A panel discussion at DCI's Enterprise Portals & Web Services conference last week pulled together a slew of interested parties who debated the role that portal technology will play as businesses deploy standards-based Web services. The panel also addressed shortcomings in existing portal initiatives.

Perhaps the most jaded perspective was offered by Rose O'Donnell, vice president of engineering at application development toolmaker Bowstreet Inc., in Tewksbury, Mass. O'Donnell said that portals are merely another piece of the puzzle in building Web services and are moving away from traditional "log-in, log out" systems.

"Portals are nothing more than another layer in the deepening technology stack, and nothing more than a framework for organizing applications and companies," she said. "Most software is like a ladder in quicksand, sinking into the infrastructure, [and] portals are heading this way."

However, O'Donnell reinforced the idea that organizations that build portals must utilize standards, such as XML, in order to enable the future adoption of Web services.

"[XML] is ultimately what will equate to less pain, or less churn in the way businesses communicate with partners and customers," she said.

A quick poll of the attending audience evidenced that there were more internal portal initiatives being pursued by the companies present than there were ongoing projects with external partners or customers. The experts agreed that this remains the case among most businesses today, but the group concluded that, over the last six months, more organizations have moved to establish external portals.

Evan Sheehan, senior manager at New York-based consulting firm Deloitte & Touche, said that one of the ways to support this wave lies in persuading business managers to more wholeheartedly embrace adoption.

"Many of these portals are waiting to get sufficient business interaction before they can truly take root," he said. "People are still struggling to establish the business case, or to define requirements and governance issues."

Sheehan said governance remains the least-addressed issue within most portal projects, in particular external efforts, and he feels that paying more attention to data and management controls will equate to more widespread adoption.

Another major issue within companies pursuing portal initiatives is determining just what part of the business owns or controls the portal, Sheehan said. Since an enterprise's IT efforts often strive to eliminate redundant processes across different arms of a business, such as those related to creating a centralized view of customers, managers often quarrel regarding who controls how the data is supported and used, he said.

"There's a need for a consistent message, and the boundaries must be clear," Sheehan said. "Whoever owns the content should own the portal."

Clive Finkelstein, managing director at the London consultancy Information Engineering Services, said that part of the problem in communicating management issues around portals is the lack of a common vocabulary when pulling together disparate systems. The consultant said this is another issue that should be addressed before companies attempt to move initiatives outside of their own walls.


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