The use of portals is growing rapidly as is the number of portal products. As the portal marketplace becomes saturated, watch for an increasing number of product acquisitions and failures. Given the volatility of the portal industry, it is important that organizations build a flexible portal framework that can adapt to marketplace changes and product advancements. A portal framework will also help with integration issues as portal technology is absorbed into related software areas such as Web application servers, e-business packages and enterprise application integration software. To help you to sort out the current marketplace confusion and plan your portal implementation, this article reviews the current state of portal technology and presents a flexible framework for deploying portal applications.

Like many information technology (IT) solutions, portal applications can be built from the bottom up or the top down. The bottom-up approach encourages rapid deployment by allowing each group or department within a company to implement its own portal without having to consider issues such as integrating portal applications into an overall enterprise architecture or creating portal business terminology that is consistent throughout the organization. The top-down approach takes the opposite tack by carefully evaluating corporate business requirements and defining a portal framework that allows portal applications to be integrated into a single enterprise-wide solution. Which approach is better? The answer will vary by organization and will depend largely on IT budgets and the ability of the IT department to enforce corporate-wide standards. Ideally, a combination of both approaches should be used. Individual portal projects should be encouraged to gain experience with portal implementation, to rapidly fix business "pain-points" and also to achieve a quick return on investment (ROI). At the same time, these point solutions should, without significant integration effort, be able to be plugged into a federated portal framework as shown in Figure 1. As mentioned earlier, such a framework is also essential to be able to adapt to changing marketplace forces and product enhancements.

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