In discussing the move toward corporate portals in "The Portal is the Desktop," Gerry Murray, director of knowledge technologies research at International Data Corporation (IDC), says, "Corporate portals must connect us not only with everything we need, but (also) with everyone we need and provide all the tools we need to work together. This means that groupware, e-mail, workflow and desktop applications ­ even critical business applications ­ must all be accessible through the portal. Thus, the portal is the desktop and your commute (to work) is just a phone call away."

Murray continues, "This is a radical new way of computing. It's much more effective for companies than traditional approaches, since they can outsource the entire infrastructure as a monthly service." He makes the point that, "Corporate portals will provide access to everything from infrastructure to the desktop, so portal vendors will be the Microsofts of the future."

Murray discusses four stages in the evolution of corporate portals:

  • Enterprise information portals which connect people with information.
  • Enterprise collaborative portals which provide collaborative computing capabilities of all kinds.
  • Enterprise expertise portals which connect people with other people based on their abilities, expertise and interests.
  • Enterprise knowledge portals which combine all of the above to deliver personalized content based on what each user is actually doing.

He describes a number of products that are starting to appear in each of these corporate portal evolution stages. Murray's article, "The Portal is the Desktop," is available at http://www.groupcomputing.com/ Issues/1999/MayJune1999/mayjune1999.html.

We are beginning to see the early moves into the portal environment described by Murray with the emergence of application service providers (ASPs). Early ASPs will typically also be Internet service providers (ISPs). They will not only provide ready access to the Internet, but also offer access to much of the software that you need from your desktop and to other products such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

This will be the true realization of network computing. Not by using Java as a portable language ­ as promoted by Sun and Oracle ­ but by outsourcing hardware, servers, networks and network management, software and software management, help desk, maintenance and other total costs of ownership (TCO) to ASPs. This is a radical move that will transform desktop computing as we know it. It will provide ubiquitous computing through the Internet and the intranet. And with a move to wider bandwidths on the Internet ­ with higher data rates available through wireless computing via PDAs or mobile phones that access the Internet for e-mail and browsing ­ we will soon be able to work not just from the office, but from anywhere. In a few short years, these ASPs will become information utilities for the future.

Seeing the potential threat to its desktop monopoly that is presented by corporate portals and by ASPs, Microsoft has decided that it will adopt a win/win strategy by also becoming part of this ultimate move to network computing. The release of Internet Explorer 5.0 and Microsoft Office 2000 provided some support for this capability. With Office 2000, Microsoft Office Web Server extensions for intranet servers within the enterprise support collaboration and other groupware applications. But Microsoft will also make these extensions available to ISPs to help them become ASPs. In the future, many of these ASPs will enter into license agreements with Microsoft; two initial ASP licensees were announced with the release of Office 2000. ASPs will be able to offer rental access to their customers so they can use Microsoft and other applications. These will be rented for a fixed monthly or annual fee or on a pay-for-use basis. So Microsoft will benefit both ways ­ not just from new product sales and upgrades, but also from license fees that are paid by ASPs to Microsoft.

With the use of XML and the emergence of corporate portals (enterprise portals) over the next few years, we will see radical changes in the way we use computers. The Internet and intranet will become more and more a part of our daily work lives. Instead of commuting by road, rail or bus to work, increasingly we will be able to telecommute from wherever we are via the Internet or intranet. The corporate portal will be our desktop, available anywhere we can log on to our personalized portal page. From there we will have access to all of the software, systems and other knowledge resources that we need to do our job ­ with XML integrating these various data, information and knowledge resources seamlessly across the Internet, intranet or extranet.

The column is an extract from Building Corporate Portals with XML by Clive Finkelstein and Peter Aiken. Clive Finkelstein, the "father" of information engineering (IE), international consultant, instructor, managing director of Information Engineering Services Pty Ltd (ES) in Australia and a member of the International Advisory Board of DAMA International. The above book and many other books, as well as in-house seminars, workshops and modeling tools for building enterprise portals can be found in the IES Online Store at http://b ne002i.webcentral.com.au/catalogue/visible/default.shtml.

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