Bowstreet promises easy portal customization

Bowstreet Software Inc., which uses XML-based technology to automate the process of managing and creating Web-based applications and services, has joined the list of software vendors that have jumped into the portal market in recent months.

This week, the company unveils Business Web Portal Solutions, a portal server and portal tools that Bowstreet officials say will save customers time and money as they create portals to handle the growing number of Web-based data, content and services they use.

The offering is based on Bowstreet's Business Web factory, a vendor-neutral Web platform that uses standards such as XML to integrate Web services. The Business Web factory automates the process of creating Web-based applications because programmed components are stored and can be reused, eliminating the need to code changes every time, says Steve Chazin, Bowstreet's director of marketing.

The portal product includes point-and-click wizards that make it easy for non-IT business managers to make changes, freeing developers to focus on creating models of links to different services, rather than having to code new links each time, Chazin says.

Portals are then created on the fly according to user specifications, assembling business process components from legacy systems and client/server applications such as customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning. The portals also can incorporate Web services from other vendors as they become available. In addition, Bowstreet offers plug-and-play portal modules - ready-to-use, Web services such as news feeds, search engines, and discussion forums.

Gene Ostrovsky, vice president of operations at The Thread, a provider of Web-based supply chains for the apparel industry, says other portal vendors couldn't match the flexibility that Bowstreet offered.

"One of the fundamental requirements of The Thread when we set out to build our software was that it has to adjust to individual customer business needs, it has to be flexible and very personalized," Ostrovsky says. He notes one business may run dozens of different supply chains in each fashion season.

Leo Massarani, The Thread's CTO, says Bowstreet's technology helped the company save time and as much as US$4 million in development costs. "We expect similar savings in building applications that require combining multiple Web services into a single Web page," he says. "As Web services mature and become more prevalent, using [the Bowstreet portal technology] has a potential for even greater savings."

There is no question Web services are maturing, observers say. Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Oracle Corp. and Hewlett Packard Co. are all moving into an area that has been Bowstreet's target since it was founded in 1998: moving applications, data and business processes beyond the PC and intranet by making them accessible via the Web.

This industry-wide move is making portals even more important as enterprises strive to manage disparate content and business processes with the aim of customizing their delivery to employees, customers and partners, says Chazin. Consider that Microsoft, IBM Corp. and SAP AG all have announced portal initiatives in recent months.

"It's almost evolved to the point now," says Chazin "that [the portal] becomes the killer app, if you will, of what a business Web is."

Indeed, studies show businesses in larger numbers are looking to launch portals, and are finding that a single, overarching enterprise portal won't do. In fact, because large enterprise customers are looking for flexibility and scalability, a portal platform is becoming more important than the portal interface, says Larry Hawes, an analyst with the Delphi Group Inc. That's why it's not surprising to see companies such as Bowstreet, and other e-platform providers such as Iona Technologies Inc. and Tibco Software Inc. offer portal features, Hawes says.

Chazin says traditional portal vendors have approached the market differently from Bowstreet, offering static products that aggregate content and services and have to be hard-coded for customization.

"All of the portal vendors grew up in a world trying to emulate a Yahoo and Excite, and we recognized that isn't scaleable," Chazin says. "They have to have at their heart a way to deal with aggregating data, aggregating content, aggregating services and dynamically generating customized views for anybody, anywhere, anytime. "Bowstreet's Business Web Portals package starts at $300,000 and is available now, Chazin says.

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