In recent weeks we have spent a lot of time talking about data search and discovery. While there are many ways of finding content, access through portals is still one of the major pathways. This week, Gartner has published what it believes are the top horizontal portal vendors in a market that is changing rapidly.

While there are many trends in play, one of the most notable, Gartner noted, is convergence of Web Content Management (WCM) demands through lean portals that are also incorporating social technologies in the enterprise.

Market Definition/Description

It is also a market that is turning away from the larger, full-fat portals provided by the likes of IBM and Microsoft, with businesses looking for agile, lightweight and lean portals that can be adapted easily too many situations.

Gartner describes horizontal portals as personalized points of access to relevant information, business processes and, increasingly, other people. Enterprise portals support a wide range of business activities and address various audiences, including employees, customers and partners. There are two principal types:

  • Vertical: A portal that offers access and interaction with specific applications and business functions
  • Horizontal: They integrate and gather information form cross-enterprise allocations as well as from line-of-business tools

Jelmer de Jong is global head of marketing at Backbase, which was placed in the Visionaries Quadrant this year after making its way across the Niche player quadrant over the past few years. He said this year’s quadrant confirms a trend that we saw last year that shows organization are paying less and less attention to the larger providers.

He points out that Gartner has drastically scaled down the rating of the traditional portal vendors. He noted that the billion-dollar giants such as IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and SAP have been taking big hits in recent months and that they continue to slide further down the Quadrant.

Big Isn't Always Better

There are a number of reasons for this, but the principal one is that traditional bloated portal vendors and their unwieldy architectures are rapidly falling out of favor with organizations that need to respond to rapidly changing business realities.

Dominating the discussion in the portal market is the debate over lean or bloated offerings, with many customers indication that the big, traditional ‘suite’ solutions of the old vendors are longer taking care of business needs.

Acquiring up to 10 different companies and putting their products in one big box and calling it a ‘Customer Experience Suite’ might have worked for Oracle and IBM in the past, but customers don’t fall for this trick anymore. Customers want fast-time-to-value, and an integrated customer experience product instead of a mix of multiple acquired companies that don’t work well together," he said.

But for the moment, the Leaders Quadrant is again dominated by the bigger vendors. The Leaders are, in this order: IBM, Liferay, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. They bring value to three different ways:

  • Unified access across soloed content through a single and consistent interface
  • Unified place to engage, support, learn from and respond to customers
  • Agile, scalable means to deliver Web applications along with an environment that enables collaboration

In pursuit of these three value propositions, six significant trends are starting to emerge. Today we will look at these trends and later, the vendors that made it into the quadrant.

1. Portal and WCM Demands Converge

According to Gartner, one of the most noticeable trends in the portal market is the inclusion of a number of vendors that would normally be included in the Web Content Management magic quadrant.

Over the years, organizations have typically differentiated these systems, which is not without merit given that WCM focused on the creation of content, and editing, revising, approving, targeting and deploying that content. Portals, on the other hand, offer personalized access to information and applications that exist in many different places.

Over the past decade, organizations have typically looked toward these software categories — horizontal portal platforms or WCM systems — as the primary software foundations for their websites. The categories have certain strengths: WCM centers on the process of creating content and editing, revising, approving, versioning and targeting, and deploying it. Portals tend to emphasize personalized access to information and applications that may exist in many places.

However, many companies need both portal and WCM capabilities, and are looking for these products from the same vendor rather than two different vendors. The result is the convergence of the two technologies and needs.

For most of them, this would likely have meant integrating two products from two vendors — and in most cases, dealing with the complexity of two platforms from two vendors trying to serve similar purposes.

2. Market consolidation

Portal providers have either built or acquired WCM capabilities and are integrating them into their existing products. WCM vendors for their part are increasingly adding portal-like capabilities with richer mechanisms for integration, personalization and application delivery.

There is another group of vendors that no longer distinguish between their portal and WCM capabilities with the platform and WCM systems rolled into one. A number of portal providers with a background in WCM were added here for two reasons:

Functionality now supports dynamic content delivery, personalization, identity management, component frameworks and other capabilities that were originally the realm of portals. Gartner received more client inquiries regarding these packages in competition with established portal platforms.

3. Towards the UXP

The general move across portal and WCM offering is towards even wider and more comprehensive offerings. UXP (User Experience Platforms) provide support for the current trajectory of authoring, design process, management and delivery of rich experiences across Web channels and mobile platforms.

These are particularly attractive for organizations that are looking for all the tools necessary to build and manage a variety of websites, portals and mobile applications.

As well as the portal and WCM functionality, they also incorporate other parallel capabilities like search, BPM, collaboration and social technologies and web analytics. One of the emerging trends here is investment in portal platforms that also provide UXP potential.

4. Lean Portals

Another emerging trend is for developers and architects to favor lean portals over traditional portals that are bloated in comparison. This means that they prefer to use lightweight, low-cost and easy-to-deploy portals that offer just enough capability to suit essential portal requirements.

Meanwhile, as a counter trend to the consolidation of WCM and portals and emerging UXPs, many developers and architects favor lean portals. That is, rather than using bulky, complicated platforms .

These kinds of portals tend to suit heterogeneous environments and integrate with rather a supplant systems in adjacent categories. They also use service-oriented architecture (SOA) principles, keeping the portal as a thin front end while leveraging business logic that lies elsewhere. Backbase and Jahia are typical of these kinds of systems.

5. Impact of Marketing on Portals

Gartner also says it has noticed that business leaders are becoming more influential in decisions around the kind of portal organizations invest in. This is the result of the growing importance of the web as a core element of their business strategies.

This is becoming particularly noticeable with customer facing portals with portal vendors now being forced to provide comprehensive solutions rather than a disparate array of tools and platforms.

If many vendors have focused on digital marketing here, increasingly customer service is emerging as the greater challenge and opportunity for vendors with strong portal capabilities. Customer service and self-service initiatives use the portal's ability to integrate content and applications that exist in many places.

6. Social Technologies

Like all other areas of computing social technologies are becoming increasingly important for customer facing portals with many companies replacing or renovating their intranets to cover this.

Almost invariable, Gartner says, they are planning to incorporate social technologies with a view to improving adoption, or to foster communication across the organizations. Approaches range from the addition of a few social capabilities to, at the other extreme, the uprooting of their existing portal-based intranet and its replacement with an enterprise social network. Portal vendors have responded to these scenarios by either adding social capabilities to their portal, or developing entirely separate systems.

These are the major trends dominating the portal space. In the coming days we will look at the vendors that made it into the quadrant for this year.