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Portal Power

The use of portals to integrate trading communities has many advantages. The primary one is that with no need to integrate back-end systems directly between companies or within trading communities, there is none of the cost or risk of doing so. What's more, you typically don't have to worry about circumventing firewalls or application-to-application security because portals typically do nothing more than Web-enabling existing systems from a single enterprise. With portals, you simply connect to each back-end system through a point of integration (user interface, database, application server, and so on) and externalize the information into a common user interface (Web browser). Of course, portals themselves are applications and must be designed, built, and tested like any other enterprise application.

Portal-oriented B2B application integration also provides a good facility for Web-enabling existing enterprise systems for any purpose, including B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) selling over the Web. If you need to move information to a user interface for any reason, this is the best approach.

In many B2B application integration problem domains, the users prefer to interact with the back-end systems through a user interface rather than have the systems automatically exchange information behind the scenes (as in data-oriented B2B application integration). Today more B2B information flows through user interfaces (portal-oriented B2B application integration) than automatically through back-end integration. However, the trend is moving from portals to real-time information exchange. We will eventually remove from the equation the end user, who is the most obvious point of latency when considering portal-oriented B2B application integration.

The advantages of portal-oriented integration are clear:

  • It supports a true noninvasive approach, allowing other organizations to interact with a company's internal systems through a controlled interface accessible over the Web.

  • It is typically much faster to implement than real-time information exchange with back-end systems, such as the data-, method-, and application interface–oriented approaches.

  • Its enabling technology is mature, and many examples of portal-oriented B2B application integration exist to learn from.

However, there are also disadvantages to portal-level B2B application integration:

  • Information does not flow in real time and thus requires human interaction. As a result, systems do not automatically react to business events within a trading community (such as the depletion of inventory).

  • Information must be abstracted, most typically through another application logic layer (such as an application server). As a result, some portal-oriented solutions actually add complexity to the solution.

  • Security is a significant concern when enterprise and trading community data is being extended to users over the Web.

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