Of portals and small intranets

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

“It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead,” quips Miracle Max in the famed bedtime story-come-movie, The Princess Bride. “There’s a big difference between mostly dead, and all dead. Now, mostly dead: he’s slightly alive.”

The enterprise portal industry is much like the supine Cary Elwes in the Princess Bride: mostly dead, but deceptively healthy.

“There’s a myth circulating that “portals are dead,” writes Tony Byrne, founder of CMS Watch and The Real Story Group. “This myth recurs every few years, and it’s always wrong.”

Portal solutions are rare, expensive and not as visible as the content management solutions that are far more popular and usually more affordable as a website or portal solution. And they are mostly dead, when compared to the form they existed in the late 1990s when they first appeared.

Gone are the portal solutions, and the companies, from Plumtree, BEA, Vignette, and others. Microsoft no longer calls, and hasn’t called for some years, SharePoint a portal solution; neither does Oracle. Oracle has one overarching product that replaces all previous portal solutions, called Webcenter Suite, which is labelled as “a user experience platform.” Microsoft likes to avoid any specific label of SharePoint for fear that it will pigeon-hole them into a market that isn’t the everything-for-everyone solution that it wants SharePoint to be. Most recently, however, MS has referred to SP as a “web development platform.”

The only true remaining commercial portal solution with any market share is IBM’s Websphere Portal. However, Websphere Portal more closely resembles the “platform” solutions of SharePoint and Webcenter than old-school portal solutions that no longer exist. Frankly, I’m still surprised that IBM still uses the portal label and I have wrongly stated in the past year that I expected them to drop the label.

There are a couple of pure-play open source solutions like Liferay and J-Boss that have such miniscule market shares that is rare to find a meaningful case study from them that provides very few organizations the necessary intelligence and justification to seriously consider them in a complex market.

The truth is, the portal as we one know it, really doesn’t exist anymore. The portal solutions that remain are so far removed from the initial versions, and more closely resemble enterprise content management platforms with bundled applications (hence the new moniker “platform”) than any of the original portal solutions like Plumtree.

One of the troubles is that there really is no single definition of a portal: each vendor has their own definition. In fact, the market has evolved so much that The Real Story Group no longer has a dedicated portal report, it’s now called the Portals & Content Integration Report. However, it’s an outstanding report and a must for any organization considering the hefty investment that comes with purchasing a portal solution.

Also read: Intranet portal solutions die, evolve & move to Web 2.0

On the other side of the scale, small business (SMB) intranet solutions are doing very well, thank you.

Small businesses are typically fast, nimble and eager to root out and invest in technology that delivers competitive advantages. Most small businesses don’t have half or a fraction of the problems that are associated with complex and expensive portal and enterprise content management systems. What’s more, many plug-and-play technology platforms for SMB intranets have become so robust and inexpensive that the smaller organizations have more than closed the gap on their bigger brethren, they are, in many cases, outpacing bigger enterprises.

Read more: Bigger intranets are not always better

Many organizations cannot afford $50 to 150 per user for a top flight intranet. Enterprise content management systems (ECMSs) and portals such as SharePoint, and the like, traditionally cost a pretty penny up front, and a shocking amount in annual licensing, support, maintenance and staffing. The costs of these systems have naturally created a niche for small market solutions that have grown and evolved considerably in the past 10 years.

If you’re a small organization looking to invest in an SMB intranet solution, then look at the pros and cons and some of the key vendors.

Read more: Small Business Intranets, There’s More Than SharePoint


Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn


  1. Anonymous

    Here a new intranet solution available at small business prices, only $1 per user per month. It's at Odysen, http://www.odysen.com.

  2. Anonymous

    Really I think its a semantics issue and the Real Story Group research confirms that.
    Portal with a “small p” – a type of web or intranet site, a portal being a “way in” to something. There are lots of intranets that can be considered to be portal type sites.
    Portal with a “big P” – or portal system platforms is not actually necessary to build a portal type site.
    Mind you in my current company, which uses SharePoint (MOSS2007) everyone talks about “the portals” environment, no one talks about the intranet. As we are a large global organization of over 150,000 people, there are lots of portals !
    So whether MS marketing likes the term or not, how many of those SharePoint licences are in fact portals I wonder ?

  3. Anonymous

    I think it is somewhat a semantics debate – but the reality is for most organizations, the scope of delivering a true “portal” would involve rewriting and replacing so many legacy applications, and securing so much buy-in from so many stakeholders that the cost (both real and perceived, both financial and time-to-market) is just not manageable.
    Unless you are committed to a wholesale re-engineering of the way your business runs — and very few businesses can afford to undertake that kind of exercise — a WCM-based solution acting as a thin layer over many other applications is essentially filling the role of a portal. IMHO, of course.

  4. Anonymous

    Dear Blogger,
    Please help us! We recently invited you to participate in an online survey run by the Berkman Center at Harvard University about your experiences and opinions as an active blogger. To the best of our knowledge, we have not received your response to the survey. You can participate in the survey by following this link:
    Thank you in advance for your help.
    The Blogging Common Team
    Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University