Over the next few months, this column will discuss how the success of an enterprise portal depends on the degree of integration of an enterprise's front- end systems with its back-end systems. Success depends on how the portal is integrated into the architecture of the enterprise ­ its enterprise information architecture and enterprise architecture.

There has been great interest during the past two years in the emergence of enterprise portals (also called corporate portals). The terms enterprise portals and corporate portals evolved from a Merrill Lynch Re-port dated Novem-ber 16, 1998, on enterprise information portals (EIPs). In this report, Merrill Lynch indicated that EIPs provide companies with great competitive advantage. They said that corporate management was beginning to realize the competitive potential lying dormant in the information stored in enterprise systems. Merrill Lynch identified a new category for integration of systems in an EIP ­ with integrated applications that combine, standardize, index, analyze and distribute targeted, relevant information that end users need to do their jobs more efficiently and productively. They identified benefits that include lowered costs, increased sales and better deployment of resources.

Merrill Lynch suggested that EIP systems could provide companies with high return on investment (ROI) from "packaged" EIP applications that can be more attractive to customers because they are normally less expensive than customized systems. They can contain functionality that caters to specific industries. They are easier to maintain and faster to deploy ­ and help companies cut costs and generate revenues. Above all, Merrill Lynch quantified and legitimized the EIP market with market growth projections (expressed in USD) as follows, "We have conservatively estimated the 1998 total market opportunity of the EIP market at $4.4 billion. We anticipate that revenues could top $14.8 billion by 2002, approximately 36 percent CAGR for this sector."

Many products have appeared in the two years subsequent to this report. Two portal categories have emerged ­ decision processing portals (evolving from data warehouses and data marts) and collaborative portals (based on Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange, for example). Decision processing portal examples include Viador e-Portal Suite and Oracle Portal. Collaborative portal examples include InfoImage Freedom and Plumtree Portal. An enterprise portal is a single gateway via a corporate intranet or the Internet to the relevant workflows, processes, application systems and databases ­ integrated using XML and tailored to the specific job responsibilities of each individual.

A corporate portal or enterprise portal can appear in many different forms, depending on the job responsibilities of each person accessing the portal. For example, an employee portal enables employees to access via an intranet or the Internet all of the processes, systems and the databases that each employee needs to carry out allocated job responsibilities, with full security and firewall protection.

A customer portal, another example of a corporate portal, is defined as a single gateway across the Internet, or via a secure extranet, to details about products and services, catalogs and order and invoice status for each customer ­ integrated using XML and tailored to the unique requirements of each customer.

Because of this tailoring, a customer portal offers great opportunities for one-to-one customer personalization and management ­ for customer relationship management (CRM).

Similarly, a corporate portal that is a supplier portal is defined as a single gateway to the purchase orders and related order status information for the suppliers of an enterprise.

A decision processing portal provides access to business intelligence, knowledge management, online analytical processing (OLAP) and other data warehouse decision support functions and represents the next step of evolution from the warehouse.

Data warehouses and information systems provide access to structured data in the databases and data files of an enterprise. However, these data and information resources represent only 10 to 20 percent of the total knowledge resources in most enterprises today. The other 80 to 90 percent of a typical enterprise's knowledge resource exists as unstructured data in documents, reports, e-mail, graphics, images, audio and video files. These data sources are largely inaccessible from data warehouses and information systems. Collaborative portals are used to provide access to these unstructured data sources.

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