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Just when you were getting comfortable with terms such as “composite applications” and “service-oriented architectures,” now “process portals” have arrived. Although it might sound like the next level in the sales hype cycle, the good news is that process portals represent a real evolution of portal and middleware that provides direct value to your enterprise’s bottom line.

Simply put, process portals allow companies to use components of existing applications to build new applications based on business processes — “wrapping” these existing assets in processes that are based on how people work and shielding users from the intricacies of individual applications. To better understand what process portals bring to the table, let’s examine how portals have evolved, and then explore the increasing business benefit each step in the evolution delivers. Finally, we’ll outline the components that allow process portals to provide substantial business value and return on investment today.

A Brief Portal History

In the late 1990’s, it became easy and cost effective to deploy Web servers, allowing departments and individuals to deploy their own intranet sites independent of centralized IT. The net result was an explosive proliferation of Web sites with tons of duplicated information that was increasingly difficult for users to find. Portals emerged as a mechanism to regain control over information and IT infrastructure, while making information easier to find by providing a central access point where users could get a consolidated view of content spread across distributed intranet sites called an information dashboard. These dashboards could also provide a common security mechanism for enforcing access control policies centrally.

As technology matured, organizations started making portals interactive by providing Web forms and adaptors to legacy back-end applications, and replacing traditional “fat client” or “client-server” user interfaces to customer relationship management (CRM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems with thinner web-based clients. Tools to create new applications were also included. This transformed portals from a one-way information channel to a two-way interactive tool so that users could find information and act on it as well. In addition to improved business insight and increased employee productivity, enterprise portals now allowed companies to shut down servers and reduce the cost of developing, administrating and maintaining separate Web sites and applications.


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