EMC Documentum announced today the release of their new product, Web Publisher Portlet Builder. The goal of the product is to allow non-technical users to define and deploy new portlets to a portal by filling out forms in a wizard-style interface.
In the product announcement, EMC called portal “the new web master bottleneck”. I think this can certainly be true. When a company makes an investment in web content management, the management of the content itself is streamlined, obviously, but when that content is being served up through the portal, you end up with a new layer of process, administration, and management inefficiencies.
For example, suppose we have a portal in which each portlet is serving up a specific static URL. A press release portlet might contain a list of press releases, and the list of press releases would change over time, but that portlet would always contain press releases. The WCM system makes sure that non-technical owners of press releases can contribute the content, route it for approval, transform it into the desired formats, etc. But what if the portlet needs to start serving up press releases from a company subsidiary or maybe an entirely new type of content altogether? Often, the portal administrators have to be involved at that point.
As another example, suppose an entirely new portlet is being added. In some implementations, adding a new portlet can require a fairly involved build process. The portlet might be built in a development environment, get migrated to the test environment, and then finally rolled out to production as part of a scheduled maintenance release. This process certainly results in a quality end-product, but is not very responsive to change.
Because portlet configuration is usually XML-based, it lends itself to a more automated, forms-based approach, like the product Documentum has announced. In fact, I know of others who have done this on their own using home-grown approaches or by leveraging XML-based templating engines built-in to their web content management system.
I haven’t played with Documentum’s new offering yet so I cannot say how robust it is. I do wish it supported more than just BEA WebLogic Portal. I imagine they’ll offer more support for other vendors (probably IBM WebSphere Portal and Oracle) over time.
The bigger issue is that portal vendors need to do more to beef up and simplify portlet deployment. And content management vendors need to do more to allow their repository to be integrated with the portal more seamlessly so that dynamic content can be delivered to the portal without requiring costly integration, duplication of back-end stores, or performance hits.