Web sites such as Yahoo and Excite made the concept of portals popular. They offer Internet users a convenient launch pad, replete with search engine, customizable interfaces, and quick links to popular features such as sports, maps, and weather. The idea is so appealing that many companies are racing to retool their clunky intranets into sleek corporate portals, giving employees access to everything from strategic company data to insurance forms and dress codes.
IBM recently released the latest version of its Enterprise Information Portal (EIP) product (www.ibm.com/ software/data/eip), which aims to help companies throw their arms around the vast amount of data employees might need and present it to them in a way that is easy to access and manage. Now companies can build portals that reach into relational databases, Internet and intranet sites, and a variety of unstructured data such as multimedia presentations. And new functions, such as a search engine and a summarization facility--which allows users to, for example, automatically scan E-mail messages and place them in different files depending on content-- are designed to help users manage information more effectively.
At Atlanta-based SunTrust Bank, credit managers will soon use an EIP-based portal to access deposit, loan, and other systems. "Our front-line people deal with lots of documents," says Rhonda Thomas, vice president of document-image services for the bank. "These can be scattered across many different systems, but a portal can present them all in a single place that's easy to navigate." SunTrust plans to roll out its first version by October.
SunTrust is hardly alone; Merrill Lynch & Co. says the market for portal technology will reach $14.8 billion by 2002. Companies that specialize in portal software, such as Iona, Hummingbird Ltd., Viador, and Plumtree, are booming.