Can you handle another acronym? ISPs are old hat. ASP will soon follow suit, but IT (information technology) folks are still high on EIPs (enterprise information portals).

The term was coined in a late 1998 Merrill Lynch research report. The report said data warehouses were expected to follow the trend of Internet portals, evolving over the next two to five years into EIPs. Merrill Lynch defined EIPs as “applications enabling companies to unlock internally and externally stored information and provide users with a single gateway to personalized information needed to make informed business decisions.”

Ron Bienvenu, 34-year-old president of Fairfield, CT-based EIP software firm SageMaker, Inc., described EIP as a single point of access for all of the information assets of an organization. “Instead of going to 50 different Web sites, you go to one place,” he said. “It’s an integrated platform that draws information regardless of structure and delivers it to you rather than having you go to the information. It helps you make better decisions in less time. EIPs are a business tool designed to inform rather than entertain.”
Each Wednesday, Bob Weinstein gives you the scoop on great trends in IT. And you can gethis report deliveredstraight to your e-mail front door. Exclusively for our TechMail subscribers, Bob answers questions from a worldwide network of IT pros.
A new way of computing
Gerry Murray, former program director at International Data Corporation, a research firm, said: “Corporate portals must connect us not only with everything we need, but also with everyone we need, and provide all the tools needed to work together. This means that GroupWare, e-mail, workflow, and desktop applications—even critical business applications—must all be accessible through the portal. Thus, the portal is the desktop, and your commute to work is just a phone call away.”

Murray goes on to say that EIPs offer a “radical new way of computing. It’s much more effective for companies than traditional approaches, since they can outsource the entire infrastructure as a monthly service. Corporate portals will provide access to everything from infrastructure to the desktop.”

Joe Firestone, chief scientist at Alexandria, VA-based IT consulting firm Executive Information Systems, Inc., agreed. “EIPs are not a passing trend,” he observes, “they’re the real thing and will be around for the foreseeable future.”

According to Bienvenu, a former self-taught hacker, we’re in the second phase of EIP development. The first phase involved accessing the information, while phase two involves applying it. “We’re on the brink of implementing phase three,” said Bienvenu, “which promises to organize information and deliver it to your portal for better decision-making.” “We can look forward to the merger of DSS (decision support systems) software, KMS (knowledge management systems), and ERP (enterprise resource planning) software into a seamless whole,” he says.

Businesses flock to ever-growing market
The experts may not agree about the size of the EIP market, but there is universal agreement that it’s getting bigger every day.

Merrill Lynch valued the EIP market at a measly $4.4 billion in 1998. By 2002, the brokerage house says it will catapult to $14.8 billion. Firestone thinks Merrill Lynch’s figure is overstated, projecting it won’t reach that level until 2007. Regardless, the numbers are impressive, proving EIPs are solid bets.

There is no shortage of players in what Bienvenu calls the “EIP space.” In addition to about 15 to 20 small contenders, a lot of the big guys like Sybase, Oracle, Microsoft, and IBM are jumping in to get a piece of the profitable pie, according to Bienvenu.

Firestone estimates more than 100 companies to be in the EIP market, and new entrants are starting up weekly. A few of the leaders worth investigating are Plumtree Software , Viador, Inc ., Sterling Software, Inc. , Epicentric , and Glyphica .

Help wanted
This growing technology sector equates to plenty of jobs, according to Bienvenu. He said he’s looking for software developers experienced with Java, XML, and Active Server Pages. In the management arena, he needs product managers “with experience taking Web applications from concept to release.” Bienvenu also needs systems managers with solid knowledge and experience with networks, UNIX/NT, and even Linux.

Qualities? “We need people who can thrive in a start-up environment,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to juggle 30 things at once and think on your feet.”

For more information on EIPs, look at the Web sites of the companies mentioned above. Another site, Executive Information Systems, Inc., contains many white papers on EIPs, putting the emerging technology into historical perspective.

Bob Weinstein’s weekly syndicated column, Tech Watch, is the first career column covering the exploding technology marketplace. It appears in major daily newspapers throughout the United States.