Tech Industry

Oracle polishes portal software

The database company plans to release an upgrade to its 9iAS portal software that should let businesses customize information retrieval and free themselves from relying on IT staff.

Oracle on Monday will release software designed to make it easier for business users to access data through a Web browser.

The database giant is one of several companies that sells corporate portal software that unifies data from multiple sources and presents it through a single interface. While spending on business software has been sluggish, portal software has remained relatively popular. The software is seen as one way to consolidate applications and improve employee productivity.

Oracle said it has enhanced its portal software, part of its 9iAS application server, to allow people to more easily customize data that is delivered to their desktops. Portal software typically consolidates and filters information from a range of applications, drawing on anything from packaged sales force productivity applications to Web pages on corporate intranets.

With the upgrade, Oracle is looking to sever businesses' reliance on information technology staff and programmers to access corporate information. In turn, IT staffs will be freed to work on other projects.

Companies usually employ programmers, or other IT specialists, to make changes to the information that people can access. With OmniPortlet, part of the software upgrade, Oracle is introducing user-oriented tools that let people modify and build their own portlets, said John Magee, vice president of Oracle9i Application Server marketing. A sales manager, for example, could build a portlet that would present the most recent information on the company's top clients.

"Portlets" represent customized views of data. For example, a portlet written for a call center application would draw information from different sources to present customer account information through portal software.

Oracle is hoping to draw customers to its portal software, which will in turn drive sales of its database and application server and of its business software. In the portal software market, the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based company competes with a range of rivals, from IBM and Microsoft to portal software specialists such as Plumtree Software and Vignette, which finalized its purchase of portal maker Epicentric in December.

OmniPortlet is also Web services-aware, meaning the tool can work with software that adheres to a group of standards for sharing information between disparate systems, such as the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). With Web services standards compliance, business users can access information that is presented through Web services interfaces. Companies are increasingly turning to Web services to integrate business software.

Through the Web services interface, "end users can take control of the ability to publish to the portal," said Magee.

The company will also add to its portal a feature called Web Clipping, which lets people share a specific portion of a Web page with colleagues.

Oracle sells the portal software as part of its 9iAS application server. When the company upgrades its application server in the first half of this year, the portal software will be included. In the meantime, customers can download the portal software and run it on their current application server.