SAN MATEO (03/06/2000) - Until recently, the concept of an EIP (enterprise information portal) invoked an image of a complicated mesh of heterogeneous systems, middleware development tools, report writers, information repositories, and data conversion routines. Even when a single point of access to enterprisewide information resources could be created, access to corporate data was usually reserved for a chosen few within the organization and often required extensive training. With the arrival of XML, however, the promise of a widely accessible and easy-to-use entryway to corporate information is being fulfilled.
By leveraging an XML backbone, DataChannel Server (DCS) 4.0 (formerly DataChannel Rio) from DataChannel Inc. gathers and organizes data, application files, and links located throughout your enterprise and presents them to users via a single Web-based interface. By abstracting information from its source, DCS 4.0 can be accessed via a variety of methods, including wireless products, such as PDAs (personal digital assistants) and Internet-enabled cellular phones, as well as standard Web browsers.
DCS 4.0 serves the same purpose as the enterprise portal solutions from Brio Technology, Plumtree Software, and Verano that we tested in our Nov. 22, 1999, Test Center Comparison. However, the use of XML makes DCS an effective means not only of centralizing access to disparate data sources, but also of exchanging information with business partners or integrating data from multiple systems. Via XML, DCS provides an easier, more cost-effective way to integrate enterprise applications than EDI (electronic data interchange) or custom integration solutions.
Extending information to the corporate masses carries a fairly hefty price tag.
Pricing of DCS 4.0 starts at $100,000. Client access licenses and DataChannel-led integration services will run your total even higher. But given the feature set and technology built into the DCS server, any initial investment should pay off in the long run.
Given the complexity of the software, you should expect to spend a significant amount of time adapting DCS 4.0 to the particulars of your environment. DCS 4.0 should not be considered an out-of-box portal solution; its strength lies in the degree to which it can be customized.
Similar to a traditional file system, DCS uses a hierarchical folder model to organize content. To match your current storage hierarchy, an unlimited number of folders and folder levels can be created. To secure information, permissions can also be set on a per-folder basis and applied to a single user account or to groups of users. Depending on the configuration, users can be allowed to view, publish, or view and publish content in a folder. Because subfolders automatically inherit permissions from their parent folders, it is relatively easy to implement a security model across large amounts of data.
View, publish, collaborate
The nested-folders metaphor is quite apparent throughout DCS 4.0's default user interface. After logging in, each user sees a personalized start page that can be tailored to display only relevant information.
Outside of organizing information, DCS also includes a subscription and notification system that will alert you whenever content is added or changed.
For example, a hiring manager could be alerted when a new resume is copied into a specified folder on the network. You can receive notifications via e-mail or by logging in to DCS and viewing your My Notifications page.
To aid in information retrieval, DCS 4.0 includes robust search-engine capabilities. Using technology borrowed from Excalibur Technologies, DCS 4.0 offers natural language concept, keyword, idiom recognition, and query by example searching. I found the degree of search granularity available to be quite impressive.
An interesting new feature of DCS 4.0 is the integration of the Inso Outside In Server. Dubbed WebView, the program converts more than 200 different document types into HTML on the fly, allowing Web browser users to view documents that have been created with applications not installed on their local workstations.
In my tests, I found that WebView worked as advertised. The ability to customize the Web templates that WebView uses to display documents is an added bonus.
Finally, DCS 4.0 not only allows users to access a wide range of corporate information, but also to publish documents and collaborate on documents via a standard Web browser.
Decision makers throughout the enterprise, from purchasers to salespeople, can do their jobs better with complete information at their fingertips. A universally accessible, personalizable portal to corporate information resources is compelling. Through their extensive use of XML, products such as DataChannel Server 4.0 are moving closer to making this dream a reality.
Todd Coopee (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the technical director at Industrial Media, a new media consultancy in Ottawa.
THE BOTTOM LINE: EXCELLENT
DataChannel Server 4.0
Business Case: By creating a single, easy-to-use repository of information from a wide variety of data sources, DataChannel Server 4.0 enables enterprise users to make fully informed business decisions.
Technology Case: DataChannel Server 4.0 provides access to heterogeneous data sources and application files via a personalizable Web interface. Users can access, publish, and collaborate on documents using only a Web browser.
+ Easy exchange of data between systems or business partners via XML+ Personalizable, filtered views of information resources+ On-the-fly conversion of documents to HTMLCons:
- No Linux version
Cost: Starts at $100,000 for 250 users; does not include implementation and integration servicesPlatform(s): Windows NT 4.0 or later; Sun Solaris 2.6DataChannel Inc., Bellevue, Wash.; (425) 462-1999; www.datachannel.com.