By Scott Gardner
Network World Canada, October 5, 2001
Once a company has spent a dump truck full of money building a Web portal to connect its various stakeholders, it often faces another daunting challenge -actually making critical online information available to a dispersed, mobile workforce.
With this challenge in mind, BackWeb Technologies Ltd., headquartered in San Jose, Calif. and Ramat-Gan, Israel has launched its ProactivePortal Server, an enterprise-level solution that bolts notification and offline access features onto existing corporate portals, intranets or other web-based content.
In an era when 20 to 30 per cent of employees - from sales, to field service technicians, to upper-level management - are mobile and are by definition disconnected from the network, ProactivePortal technology allows users to experience the same content and interface whether on or offline, said Bill Heye, BackWeb's Toronto-based vice-president of world-wide services.
"The idea is that whenever you're connected, no matter what you're doing - you could be checking your e-mail, or reading the sports - our technology works in the background to synchronize and download all of the designated content that should be made available to your machine when it's offline. That way, when you're on an airplane, or in front of a customer you don't need to go find an Internet connection, [the data] is just there on your laptop," Heye said.
"It's important to note that we haven't tried to make everything on the portal available offline. What we're talking about here is specific parts of the portal that are provided offline either by user designation or an administrator's decision," he added.
So far, most vendors either in or near the portal space have dealt with notification, or sending out URL links to critical information rather than making it available offline, said David Yockelson, a senior vice-president and director with the META Group in Stamford, Conn.
"If you take the implementation of portals to its logical conclusion - and for most organizations this is the way that people will look at the vast majority of information and service that they get - you're going to want to use it offline. This is going to become part of your way of life," he said.
Written in Java with XML tagging capabilities, the ProactivePortal Server uses integration hooks to standard portals such as Sybase, IBM, or SAP, and sophisticated content acquisition technology to parse fat files down to small pieces and move them through the network during its idle times, Heye said.
For $150 per user, plus implementation costs in the $300,000 range, ProactivePortal users also automatically receive critical content in designated areas without having to ask for it each time - making a portal active rather than passive, Heye said.
Although there isn't really a comparable vendor in the marketplace yet, Yockelson said that BackWeb's list price hovers in the same range as other portal components like collaborative tools, extended research capabilities and business intelligence applications.
Yockelson also said that when BackWeb was pushing push technology in the mid-1990s it was in the unenviable position of having to create a new market, but this time around, at least, one already exists.
"The portal market is quite large and getting larger, so there's a backdrop for [BackWeb] to operate in," he said. "The thing that will take time is for enough organizations to pervasively deploy their portals. Once they do, that I think the concept of delivering information and services in an offline, portal framework will catch on."
For more information on ProactivePortal, visit www.backweb.com