E-business is just the latest in an onslaught of e-words taking over our vocabulary, and possibly one with the broadest definition. Not just confined to buying and selling over the Internet, e-business is about transforming key business strategies and processes by harnessing the power of the Internet and associated technology. It's a big task, and one made even more complex by the huge range of technology providers, each hawking their own unique vision of e-business.
The latest vision to hit the industry is the enterprise portal. The actual term has been trademarked by Sybase for their newly released Sybase Enterprise Portal product, but you can expect the concept to become very familiar, regardless of what each company calls their version.
According toáLane Leskela,áprincipal analyst for e-business at GartnerGroup, the growth of enterprise portals is an obvious evolution from the mega-portals that cater to the whole Internet community. And although enterprise portals cater only to that enterprise's employees, partners and users, they share many of the same characteristics. In bringing all of an enterprise's knowledge, processes, applications and outside links together online, issues such as content aggregation, personalisation and security need to be addressed.
"We believe enterprise portals will abound," says Leskela. "They will go through a rapid maturation through this year and into 2001, and the functionality gaps that we've seen to date are being closed by key providers."
The market for these all-encompassing platforms is relatively new, and although most of the major players have entered the race, there's currently no recognised market leader. Sybase is betting on their Enterprise Portal solution, Intel has recently unified their separate channel programs into the Intel e-Business Network and Oracle has teamed up with Cisco and ECM to work on infrastructure blueprints to enable smooth integration of e-business platforms.
Other major e-business players include an alliance made up of IBM, Ariba and i2; and Commerce-One, who are pushing their trading portal solutions as a means of accessing their Global Trading Web.
One thing that most vendors agree on is that solutions should be built with an open architecture, supporting common standards such as Java, XML and CORBA. This, in theory, will allow easy integration of various products as well as an open partnering environment, regardless of what legacy systems a company has, or who they choose as technology partners.
Secure and personal
Robert Breton, senior director for enterprise solutions at Sybase, said at the recent product launch for Enterprise Portal that his group faced several challenges in personalising and securing access to data within their platform. These were met by using role-based authorisation along with standard security protocols such as digital certificates and SSL communication.
"One challengeáwe had was integrating the new e-business security protocols with exisiting security measures in the business systems. Businesses canÆt afford to have 47 different ways to sign into their business applications, so weÆve built the infrastructure to handle the transition between external and internal security systems," he says.
Breton describes Enterprise Portal as "a comprehensive product that integrates existing business apllications, organises content, and delivers it to the end-user using a preference driven, personalised model." Sybase is confident that their product will become a major enabler in the third generation of e-business.
"If we look at it from the point of view of initial web efforts to attract business through content û that represented a lot of early efforts on the web. When we moved into the second generation we started to concentrate on business transactions, which is really only one aspect of an e-business strategy. à The real value in [third generation] e-business is the opportunity to create a much more intimate customer experience through stronger business relationships, through stronger partnerships," he says.
The third-generation of e-business, if you listen to the key players, is all about the customer. But behind this feel-good "customer first" motivation is another - more readily understood by business - money. Companies that adapt well to the new e-business environment will reap cost savings from the automation and integration of their business. Those that fail to adapt will fall behind those that do.
Regardless of which technology companies adopt,áa good e-business strategy will likely be the most important factoráfor success in the next few years. For those that don't wan't to lose out in the new "e-everything" world, it's a must to keep up with, or ahead of, developments in e-business. And just keeping up could be a very fast ride, according to Leskela.
"We expect that from this point forward in some areas of product developmentá- the delivery of really complex and robust architecture, managing data, doing knowledge management, business rules, business intelligence applicationsá- we are just at the beginning of a new curve in functionality."