Lose the Fat Embrace Lean Portals

In its recently published Magic Quadrant for Horizontal Portals, Gartner identified a number of trends.

Among the most important: the convergence of web content management (WCM) customer demands with lean portal functionality and social technologies. The concept of lean (as opposed to bloated) portals has gained traction recently, with lean portal vendors starting to work their way further up the Magic Quadrant.

Large vendors claim they can offer all the functionality an enterprise could want and more — what smaller vendors describe as "bloat." Lean vendors claim they can respond rapidly to changing business conditions and have enough functionality for any office or mobile worker.

Moving on Up

There is anecdotal evidence that smaller vendors and their lean offerings are capturing the appeal of enterprises that view large vendors as too slow to adapt to their rapidly evolving business needs. Enterprises are also pushing back against big vendors who force them to buy every product in their technology stack.

So it's not surprising that smaller vendors made progress in this years’ MQ for Horizontal Portals.

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.

Since the MQ was released last month, we have been in contact with three of these lean vendors to find out where they see themselves in the market and how they believe that market will evolve in the coming months and years. The companies we are including, in alphabetical order, are Backbase, Jahia and Liferay, all of who appeared prominently in this year’s MQ.


Backbase entered the MQ for Horizontal Portals five years ago as a niche player, and climbed higher each successive year. For the past four years, Backbase has been strongly positioned in the Visionary Quadrant, even arriving at the point where the Quadrant was describing it as the most visionary portal software vendor in the market.

Jelmer de Jong, Global Head of Marketing with Backbase said the company has ensured its place in the market by evolving the Backbase lean portal into a lean customer experience (CX) platform, based on a widget-based architecture

According to de Jong, this Quadrant continued to demonstrate trends that emerged in 2013, notably the scaling down of the rating of the traditional portal vendors. He noted that the billion-dollar giants such as IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and SAP are taking big hits as they continue to slide further down the axis adding:

The essence of the portal market as it stands today, and according to what we are hearing from customers is that the big, traditional ‘suite’ solutions of the old vendors are no longer working. Buying 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 also points out that even Gartner appears to favor lean and agile vendors like Backbase because they promise fast time to market and are mobile optimized and omnichannel ready.


Elie Auvray, CEO of Jahia, said his company's entry in the MQ this year underscored the progress it has made and the attraction lean portals have for enterprises.

He said that the development of the product has been rapid, adding that the only reason it is still in the lower left portion of the quadrant is because Jahia has fewer customers than the large vendors. The question now: Is this likely to change with the appointment of Kevin Cochrane to the board?

Auvray also said that Jahia's customers are sophisticated, spans a wide range of industries and use Jahia as the platform on top of which they standardize. Technology convergence is key:

The portal quadrant is the antechamber of the emerging User Experience Platform (UXP) market, which is defined by the convergence of portal, Web content management and application integration technologies. This convergence has been Jahia’s vision since its inception and the capabilities we've developed to deliver digital industrialization puts Jahia in a unique position to answer the need of Enterprises to be digitally agile."

In other words, he said large organizations are too slow to integrate applications, content, e-commerce and/or marketing campaigns, while Jahia can deliver exactly that with Jahia Studio or its Private App Store software. As a parting shot, he said it is it is more important for software vendors to provide tools that make organizations digitally agile than provide mundane features that don't enhance deployment speed.


Liferay has made more progress over the past five years than any other vendor that is in the portal. It has managed to maintain that momentum despite increasingly rigorous criteria for inclusion, including  a change in the revenue threshold to $6 million.

Like Jahia, Liferay is an open source portal. It does not have a full technology stack, which has its own advantages.

According to Bryan Cheung, CEO of Liferay, portal projects are successful when the software platform ties in with existing enterprise assets As a result, a stockless, open source portal is always going to do well in heterogeneous technology environments as opposed to a product from a vendor that makes it hard to integrate and forces enterprises to use the vendors’ database, document repository or social tools. But Liferay is expanding its portfolio. Cheung says:

We’ve built some great features around digital marketing and mobile this year that will extend Liferay’s usefulness beyond traditional portals. We’re going to make it easy, for example, for mobile app developers to reuse things like authentication, localization, content management, social, and other Liferay features across every mobile app they develop. That's something that other industry players are just starting to look into."

Market Characteristics

Portals have come along way since 2010, when the Quadrant only contained 10 vendors. 

The stagnant, contrived dashboards of the past have been replaced by personal, relevant and dynamic user experiences. Websites, mobile experiences, and customer portals aren’t just channels for pushing out information. Interaction is key. Relevance is key. Personalization is key. The fact that so many WCM vendors are trying to add portal-like features to their offerings underscores this point.

Interestingly, some of the big players may be changing their level of commitment to the portal market. Microsoft, for example, seems to be moving SharePoint away from being a portal server to being a complement to its Office 365 SaaS offering, which means SharePoint won’t be suitable for building custom intranets and portals.

…The balance is at the crux of every product decision we make at Liferay. We aim to create a platform that enables customers to have a “T” shaped solution: a breadth of well integrated, well designed features across portal, content, collaboration, workflow, analytics, and search capability, with an architecture that makes it easy to swap one or more of those feature areas with a deeper third party package when needed. This eliminates the complexity that comes from having to do best of breed integration, without taking away the flexibility to integrate when needed."

The challenge is to be just lean and agile enough to avoid being bloated and difficult to manage, Have too few features and capabilities and “lean” turns into “skimpy” or “lightweight.” Have too much complexity and – in addition to excessive costs – the solution becomes bloated.

Title image by allen watkin  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.