IBM boosts portals

Building on its first version shipped last November, IBM Wednesday showed off an improved release of its Enterprise Internet Portal (EIP) that allows users to do broader Web-based document searches across both IBM and non-IBM data sources.

EIP Version 7.1 also contains the promised Unified Content Application Programming Interface that allows developers to more quickly deploy portal applications. For instance, developers can write an application once that can access five different data sources instead of having to adapt that application five different ways in order to access that many repositories.

The product also features improved federated search and access across a variety of e-business applications, allowing users to integrate data across their transactional, business intelligence, and content management systems, according to company officials.

"In Version 1 we had federated search and access, but it did not go across all content, only a limited subset of it," said Armando Garcia, vice president of Content Management Solutions for IBM's Software Group, in Hawthorne, N.Y. "But with this new release we are able to access not just structured content data sources but unstructured data in traditional databases that support things like OBDC APIs and JDBC [Java Database Connectivity] so you can get at non-IBM content," he said.

Through the Unified Content API, IBM has added the capability of classifying and categorising documents based on their content. Users can now scan e-mail and automatically put their messages into predefined categories based on their content. The product also includes a summarisation service capable of producing views of the information that are based on the content of these documents from the results of a search.

"We had this [categorisation] technology but it was not integrated. So now it doesn't matter how users have categorised their existing data, they can define it with taxonomy so they can view it however they want or need to. It then learns how to build a model for how it navigates, Garcia said.

The summarisation capability can collect thousands of documents but, if the user so selects, can present a paragraph summary of each document. If users are interested in knowing more, they can drill down to get the full contents of a particular document, Garcia said.

The Unified Content API also allows users to work in a variety of different languages, including Java, C++, Visual Builder, and several others.

IBM officials Wednesday made it clear that they intend to continue focusing hard on the portal and portal-related markets, which researcher Summit Strategies recently predicted would be worth some $14 billion by 2003. Big Blue appears prepared to back up that effort with financial and human resources.

IBM now has 1,500 technical and marketing people across its software groups working on portal and portal-related projects; it intends to spend $100 million on marketing programs during the next year or two.

During the last few months IBM also has set up an in-house organisation, under the direction of vice president Larry Bowden, that will be primarily responsible for coordinating all e-portal initiatives across the company.

In talking to users the past few months, Bowden said they are mainly interested in implementing rather specific types of vertical portals for things such as sales forces, procurement, human resources, competitive analysis e-marketplaces for trading, and, most recently, portals for users with handheld devices.

Based on that feedback, Bowden said IBM has identified three primary portal segments, which include corporate, commercial, and pervasive.

"When you look at those three segments, there is a lot of commonality in terms of requirements they need from a strategic vendor in providing that portal structure. So functions like navigation, presentation, personalisation, and security are all capabilities they want in a horizontal portal that allows them to implement multiple vertical implementation across," Bowden said.

Consequently, IBM has pieced together a horizontal portal strategy made up of three elements, including a presentation layer, a portal services layer, and an access and connectivity layer. This approach, Bowden believes, allows users to connect to all the information, applications, and people that a corporate commerce or pervasive portal needs in order to be effective.

Wednesday's announcement was supported by Armonk, New York-based IBM's Global Services, which unveiled a new Community Knowledge Portal that is based in EIP. The new solution is intended to enable businesses to build and connect communities of people as well as target information at either groups or individuals.

EIP Version 7.1 will be available in August with National Language Support in September. Pricing for the product will be announced when the product ships.

For more information about IBM's portal products, contact www.ibm.com/software/eip.

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