Enterprise architecture will be imperative for success and survival in the information age. But time is running out. Enterprises and the IT industry no longer have any other alternatives. This task has been delayed in most organizations for too long. It cannot be deferred any longer. The technologies are available. The methods have been developed.

The Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architecture provides the blueprint; the Internet, intranet and extranet, together with XML, provide some of the technologies. Enterprise portals provide an effective deployment capability for these technologies. Together, they remove many constraints and limitations of the past. Enterprise portals evolve from data warehouses. With XML they provide ready access to structured and unstructured data and information within and outside the enterprise.

Enterprises are now applying these technologies and methods to their own environment to develop solutions that present significant competitive advantages. These organizations want to ensure that they are counted among the survivors ­ who will grow and prosper in the turbulent years ahead.

To assist you, John Zachman and I have developed a two-day, joint seminar for in-house presentation titled: "Enterprise Architecture and Enterprise Portals." This alerts senior business and IT managers and their staff to the dangers of the competitive minefield ahead. It shows how enterprises can negotiate the minefield unscathed. It may destroy their competitors, but not them. You can find more about this seminar from the link on the home page of http://b ne002i.webcentral.com.au/catalogue/visible/default.shtml.

Visit this Web site for details of in-house seminars and workshops on XML and on building enterprise portals. Modeling tools for enterprise portal technology planning, together with an overview workshop and detailed project workshops are also described. This Web site is an up-to-date extension of the book Building Corporate Portals with XML, by Clive Finkelstein and Peter Aiken. It contains the latest information on building enterprise portals with XML and related technologies and methods. Also visit the IES Web site, http://www.ies.aust.com/~ieinfo/, for links, resources, papers, other in-house seminars and self-study courses.

Applications in an enterprise portal are Web enabled. The user interface is simplified. It is a common point-and-click browser interface with online forms for data input. Tables, reports and other results are dynamically generated. These replace the different interfaces used by legacy systems, relational databases, client/server products and offline reference documents. Instead of a multitude of input formats and user instructions with significant operator training overheads, we see a simple, well-understood interface that can be used with any application. Staff is easier to train and people can provide input related to their job.

The difficulty of providing ready access to unstructured data in text documents and reports with graphics and images is resolved by using XML. Resources that exist as unstructured data in Word, PDF or other document formats can be seamlessly integrated by XML with structured data in databases to support reengineered processes. Audio and video resources can also be easily included, accessible from a browser at the click of a mouse.

Legacy processes can be transformed by XML. In some cases, radical transformation is the result: a major characteristic of business reengineering. This can be achieved by the application of XML and Internet/intranet technologies. Once the constraints of legacy systems and the limitations of offline or batch processes can be overcome, information flows can be changed. Processes can be fundamentally altered. More efficient workflows can be used.

Process and change constraints that were difficult to overcome with business reengineering may be somewhat reduced with XML. Rather than requiring complete redevelopment of applications and systems to implement reengineered processes, some systems and process transformations can be eased by using XML front ends. With XML, some legacy systems may still be able to be used in part or in whole without complete replacement.

Enterprise portals present process reengineering opportunities, with transformed processes or new processes that bring competitive advantage. They offer the promise of casting aside the shackles of past legacy systems and databases, producing enterprises that have been designed to change and compete more nimbly and aggressively than ever before. In the information age of the 21st century only strong, rapid-response organizations will have the greatest potential for success. The law of the jungle will decide the winners.

This column is an extract from Building Corporate Portals with XML by Clive Finkelstein and Peter Aiken.

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