IBM details first step in portal strategy

IBM has put the finer points on its initial enterprise information portal (EIP) offering, unveiling what is ostensibly a foundation for data access and integration upon which IBM's partners will be able to build portal applications.

"You could call it a portal builder in a way, an EIP development tool," said Janet Perna, the general manager of data management at IBM's software solutions division.

The IBM EIP includes a comprehensive set of APIs and an expansive set of tools for building applications that can connect to a variety of back-end data sources. IBM will also provide a number of connectors for what it is calling "federated information access," and will publish the connector architecture so that customers and partners can write connectors that are unique to their own back-end data sources.

The overarching goal of IBM's EIP, which will initially be available for Windows NT and the IBM RS/6000 operating systems, is to provide the foundation for Big Blue's overall portal strategy, which will be rolled out in the months to come.

That strategy, according to James Kelly, vice president of data management marketing at IBM's software solutions division, will see the company supply its partners and customers with a series of services to which IBM's partners can add value. Those services will connect both users and applications to the EIP foundation, allowing companies to build portal applications addressing such areas as electronic-commerce and customer relationship management.

One of the key enabling technologies that IBM will use to extend its portal solution, a technology wrapper code named Garlic, is still under development. As IBM pushes forward with its strategy, Garlic will be used to wrap what Kelly referred to as "connection beans," providing even greater data access and application integration capabilities on top of IBM's portal.

The overall key to IBM's success, it seems, will be the ability to generate partner support and participation for the EIP foundation, ultimately creating a situation in which companies leverage IBM's data management expertise while employing their own core competencies in building applications that can hook into the framework.

To that end, the list of partners who supporting IBM's portal technology as the foundation for portal related applications is already long, and includes a range of vendors from business intelligence players Brio and Cognos to portal vendors Plumtree and Epicentric.

While IBM's entry into the market may seem to be a threat to such companies, Epicentric's Chairman and founder Ed Anuff said he views the strategy as an enormous opportunity to provide greater value to the company's customers.

"Where this is really synergistic is in cases where companies haven't tried to do end to end data access," Anuff said. "I know we can already point to at least five customers who will be immediate beneficiaries of this technology."

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