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THE ENTERPRISE NEWSLETTER

Issue No 6:
CORPORATE PORTALS FOR BUSINESS

 The Convergence of Data Warehouses, Internet and Intranet Technologies within Enterprises

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Corporate Portals for Business


CORPORATE PORTALS FOR BUSINESS

PERTH, AUSTRALIA – June 15, 1999: Previous issues of TEN discussed Metadata, XML (Extensible Markup Language) and Virtual Reality Markup Language (VRML). We discussed changes in the Internet that will help businesses not only survive the coming Competitive Armageddon – but also grow and prosper in the resulting turmoil (see previous issues below). This issue discusses the convergence of Metadata, XML, Internet, Intranet and Data Warehousing technologies to build Corporate Portals for business.

Clive Finkelstein
TEN - The Enterprise Newsletter

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Data Warehousing and Intranets

The last few years have seen rapid growth in the implementation of Data Warehouses within enterprises, including public sector, private sector and Defense organizations. These have provided ready access to information derived from data sources such as relational or legacy databases. Extracted periodically as time-based snapshots from these operational databases, this source data is cleaned, summarized, categorized and loaded as non-volatile information into enterprise-wide Data Warehouses. Or it may be loaded into subject-area Data Marts that focus on information needed for specific business purposes - such as marketing, sales, customer relationship management, products, finance and many other areas. 

From the Data Warehouse (or from Data Marts) this information is further analyzed, categorized and reported using Executive Information System (EIS), Decision Support System (DSS), Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) and other related Business Intelligence (BI) tools. The result is information to assist decision-making, made available through client workstation environments that are specifically supported by those BI software tools. 

But increasingly, this information has now begun to be delivered directly to the desktop by using Intranet technologies and Web browsers. This open architecture Intranet environment allows ready access to information by authorized staff anywhere within the enterprise. It can also allow access to the Internet, making other knowledge resources available to the Data Warehouse or Data Marts. 

An excellent book that addresses this extension to the Internet was written by Richard Hackathorn, titled: "Web Farming for the Data Warehouse", Morgan Kaufmann (1999) [ISBN: 1-55860-503-7].

We have also seen the emergence of software tools designed to deliver information from the Data Warehouse or Data Marts to anywhere in the enterprise. These tools allow managers and staff to subscribe to receive regular reports and other information on a scheduled basis, or to receive exception or special reports when certain events occur. Many types of devices can be selected by the recipient so that this information can be delivered automatically. These devices include client workstations, web browsers and printers. They also allow information to be sent via email, fax or pager, by Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), or by phone or voice mail. The requested information can be delivered anywhere within the enterprise, or via the Internet anywhere in the world.

An example of one product with such an automatic information delivery capability is DSS Broadcaster (from MicroStrategy, Inc) at http://www.strategy.com/.

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The Role of XML

We have discussed the importance of metadata and XML in previous issues of TEN. The metadata defining the structure and content of relational and legacy databases, used as operational data sources for a Data Warehouse or Data Marts, is extracted using reverse engineering techniques applied by Computer-Aided Software Engineering (CASE) tools. This metadata is then used to extract, transform, summarize and load information derived from the source data to the Data Warehouse or Data Marts using Extract, Transform and Load (ETL) tools. 

A typical example of an ETL tool is DataStage (from Ardent Software). More information can be found at http://www.ardentsoftware.com/

In the future, XML will provide assistance to these ETL tools to integrate otherwise dissimilar databases during the Extract, Transform and Load stage. We discussed in TEN #4 that many legacy and other systems cannot be easily integrated because they were built using different metadata. XML can use metadata derived from the legacy and relational databases used by these systems to integrate them. As for Data Warehouses and Data Marts, this metadata is defined by using reverse engineering techniques and CASE tools. XML offers great promise in integrating legacy and other systems that operate against those source databases.

Introductory XML articles can be found on the White Papers page of the IES web site at http://www.ies.aust.com/~ieinfo/. These include "OK, So What is this XML Thing?" by David Hay and "The Role of XML in Business Reengineering" by Clive Finkelstein.

Typical CASE tools for both reverse engineering and forward engineering to build Data Warehouses or Data Marts, and to integrate legacy and other databases, are Visible Advantage and Visible Analyst (from Visible Systems Corporation). More information can be found at http://www.visible.com.au/ or at http://www.visible.com/.

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The Emergence of Enterprise Information Portals

During 1998, Internet Portals became very popular. These provide consumers with personalized points of entry (or gateways) to a wide variety of information on the Internet. Examples include MyYahoo (Yahoo), NetCenter (Netscape), MSN (Microsoft) and AOL. A Merrill Lynch report (published on November 16, 1998) was the first time that "portal" was also used for enterprises ... coining the term: "Enterprise Information Portal" (EIP). The report indicated that Data Warehouses were expected to follow the trend of Internet Portals, evolving over the next 2 - 5 years into EIPs. They described them as follows:  

“Enterprise Information Portals are applications that enable companies to unlock internally and externally stored information, and provide users a single gateway to personalized information needed to make informed business decisions."

"Enterprise Information Portals (EIP) are an emerging market opportunity; an amalgamation of software applications that consolidate, manage, analyze and distribute information across and outside of an enterprise - including Business Intelligence, Content Management, Data Warehouse and Mart, and Data Management applications.” 

They estimated the size and growth of the EIP market as follows:

“We have conservatively estimated the 1998 total market opportunity of the EIP market at $4.4 billion. We anticipate that revenues could top $14.8 billion by 2002, approximately 36% CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) for this sector.”

The complete Merrill Lynch report is available from the SageMaker web site at http://www.sagemaker.com/company/lynch.htm. This was also widely reported in a front page article by InfoWorld. This latter article is on the InfoWorld Electric web site at http://www.infoworld.com/cgi-bin/displayStory.pl?/features/990125eip.htm

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The Potential of Corporate Portals

Enterprise Information Portals are also called Corporate Portals or Enterprise Portals. They provide ready access to information from the Data Warehouse or Data Marts via the Intranet and Internet, based on web farming and other techniques as we saw earlier. But the attraction of Corporate Portals is that they can move beyond the delivery of data as discussed above. They also provide a way to integrate the many disparate systems and processes that are typically used within an enterprise. 

Corporate Portals use XML to integrate previously separate legacy systems with previously discrete, non-integrated systems. They provide a single point of entry, or gateway, to these processes - as well as to information from the Data Warehouse - via a web page that is personalized to the needs of each staff member. This offers easy access to the workflow and other processes that staff require to carry out their jobs. 

In discussing the move towards Corporate Portals over the coming years in "The Portal is the Desktop", Gerry Murray (Director of Knowledge Technologies research at IDC) says:

"Corporate portals must connect us not only with everything we need, but (also) with everyone we need, and provide all the tools we need to work together. This means that groupware, e-mail, workflow, and desktop applications - even critical business applications - must all be accessible through the portal. Thus, the portal is the desktop, and your commute (to work) is just a phone call away." 

"This is a radical new way of computing. It's much more effective for companies than traditional approaches, since they can outsource the entire infrastructure as a monthly service." He makes the point that: "Corporate Portals will provide access to everything from infrastructure to the desktop, so portal vendors will be the Microsofts of the future."

He discusses four stages in the evolution of Corporate Portals:

  • Enterprise information portals, which connect people with information
  • Enterprise collaborative portals, which provide collaborative computing capabilities of all kinds
  • Enterprise expertise portals, which connect people with other people based on their abilities, expertise, and interests
  • Enterprise knowledge portals, which combine all of the above to deliver personalized content based on what each user is actually doing.

You can read Gerry Murray's article: "The Portal is the Desktop" on the Intraspect web site at http://www.intraspect.com/news_press_a24.htm. He discusses products that are starting to appear in each of these Corporate Portal evolution stages. Another article on the Decision Processing web site: "The Enterprise Information Portal" discusses and categorizes a number of EIP products. This article can be found at http://www.decisionprocessing.com/dp_portal_overview.htm.  

We are beginning to see the early moves into the portal environment described above by Gerry Murray, with the emergence of Application Service Providers (ASPs). Early ASPs will typically also be Internet Service Providers (ISPs). They will not only provide ready access to the Internet, but also offer access to much of the software that you need from your desktop, as well as to other products such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems from SAP and others. 

This will be the true realization of Network Computing. Not by using Java as a portable language as promoted by Sun and Oracle. But by outsourcing hardware, servers, networks and network management, software and software management, help desk, maintenance and other Total Costs of Ownership (TCO) to ASPs. This is a radical move that will transform desktop computing as we know it. It will provide ubiquitous computing through the Internet and the Intranet. And with a move to wider bandwidths on the Internet - with higher data rates available also through wireless computing via PDAs or mobile phones that access the Internet for email and browsing - we will soon be able to work not just from the office, but from anywhere. In a few short years these ASPs will become Information Utilities for the future. 

Seeing the potential threat to its desktop monopoly that is presented by Corporate Portals and by ASPs, Microsoft has decided that it will adopt a win - win strategy by also becoming part of this ultimate move to Network Computing. The recent release of Internet Explorer 5.0, followed on June 10 by the release of Microsoft Office 2000, provide some support for this capability. With Office 2000, Microsoft Office Web Server extensions for Intranet web servers within the enterprise can support collaboration and other groupware applications. But Microsoft will also offer these extensions to ISPs to help them become ASPs. In the future, many of these ASPs will offer rental access to Microsoft and other applications, either for a fixed monthly fee, or on a pay-for-use basis. So Microsoft will benefit both ways: not just by new product sales and upgrade sales as we have today, but also by pay-as-you-go license fees that are paid by ASPs to Microsoft.

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New Book: "Building Corporate Portals using XML"

With the emergence of Corporate Portals (Enterprise Portals) over the next few years, we will see radical changes in the way we use computers. The Internet and Intranet will become more and more a part of our daily work lives. Instead of commuting by road, rail or bus to work, increasingly we will be able to telecommute from wherever we are via the Internet or Intranet. The Corporate Portal will be our desktop, available anywhere we log-on to our personalized portal page. From there we will have access to all of the software, systems and other knowledge resources that we need to do our job. 

Data Warehouses and Data Marts will evolve to the Intranet and Internet, using the power of XML to integrate structured and unstructured data sources and systems in Corporate Portals. To help you achieve this, in September McGraw-Hill will publish a co-authored book by Clive Finkelstein and Peter Aiken. This is titled: "Building Corporate Portals using XML". Peter is the author of "Data Reverse Engineering: Slaying the Legacy Dragon" (1996). Clive is the author of "An Introduction to Information Engineering" (1989) and "Information Engineering: Strategic Systems Development" (1992). (Each of these links will take you directly to the relevant book on Amazon.com.)

We will provide more information about this book and selected extracts over the next few months at http://www.ies.aust.com/articles.htm - which is the White Papers page on the IES web site. You will also find articles on Data Warehousing, XML, Internet and Intranet, Corporate Portals, Enterprise Architecture and on Business Process Reengineering.  

Some of the latest information on Corporate Portals can also be found on the Web Farming web site at http://webfarming.com/. You will find past issues of the monthly WebFarming newsletter, published by Richard Hackathorn (author of the Web Farming book above) available for your review. To keep abreast of new developments in this rapidly emerging field, you should also register to receive future issues of the free WebFarming Newsletter. 

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AUTHOR

Clive Finkelstein is the "Father" of Information Engineering (IE), developed by him from 1976. He is an International Consultant and Instructor, and was the Managing Director of Information Engineering Services Pty Ltd (IES) in Australia. 

Clive Finkelstein's books, online interviews, courses and details are available at http://www.ies.aust.com/cbfindex.htm.

For More Information, Contact:

  Clive Finkelstein
59B Valentine Ave
Dianella, Perth WA 6059 Australia
 
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