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Digital Transformation

What is a Portal

What I find interesting is that in spite of the fact that portals have been around for about a decade, many people still have a hard time defining it.  That’s interesting when you think that a decade is like 30 years in non-technology terms.  I still have “techies” asking me if portal is old and done for.  I still tell them it’s got a lot of growth yet to go.

So what exactly is a portal?  If you asked me that 4 years ago I would have given you a slightly different answer than the one I would give today. Basically a portal is a piece of software that makes it easy to combine applications, processes, and content in an efficient manner.  A portal provides site, navigation, page creation, single sign on, security, personalization, and a lot of other services to make the combination easier to do.

Notice what I did not say.  I didn’t say a portal combines all of that in one site.   Originally portals focused on one site, then they supported multiple web sites using the same portal infrastructure.  Today, you start to see portal services used in all sorts of places.  Let me give you some examples:

  • Application servers like WAS and WLP now run portlets and support standards like JSR 168
  • Oracle’s Web Center Interaction (formerly ALUI or Plumtree) supports the use of portlets in a variety of locations. Those portlets can be written in php, .NET, Java, or a variety of other languages or standards.
  • IBM’s WebSphere Portal has a REST API that allows you to surface portal services in a variety of sites.  A RESTful service is basically a URL and a url is something any web browser understands implicitly.  So now portal navigation, portlets, and a variety of other services are now available on pretty much any web site.
  • Most portals find it very easy to surface Google Gadgets or simple widgets as portlets

There are other examples but you get the idea.  In the long term, I think portal value will be proven not just by how fast you can build a portal site but also by how fast you can use portal services in existing sites without having to go to the cost of migrating it.  In many ways, it might actually make the uber portal concept a reality.  In this case the uber-portal won’t be the top portal among many portals but will instead be the portal used to drive a variety of web sites and web site functionality.

I myself can’t wait for this trend to continue.  While it may make it harder to define just exactly what is a portal, it guarantees the relevance of this type of technology.

Thoughts on “What is a Portal”

  1. It has been a long time since the days of presentations on “What is a portal?”, but lately the subject has been coming up again. This time the question seems to be around what is so special about a portal when there seem to be so many other ways to accomplish the same thing. I think the key factor is that now there are many different ways to accomplish the aggregation of multiple sources into a single browser user interface. That used to be the exclusive domain of portals. Now mashups do that, and many products have adopted an aggregated user interface including IBM Mashup Center, Lotus Connections and the Business Space component of WebSphere Process Server. So portals aren’t just about aggregation anymore. They are more about role-based access–personalization and security. And they are also more about an application framework. Many of IBM’s customers are using portals to build web applications like internet banking and call centers.

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Michael Porter

Mike Porter leads the Strategic Advisors team for Perficient. He has more than 21 years of experience helping organizations with technology and digital transformation, specifically around solving business problems related to CRM and data.

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