B2B corporate portals are rapidly transforming supply and value chain relationships as enterprises of all sizes join the ever-expanding e-business economy. Once viewed by companies merely as a means to disseminate corporate information or to attract customers to a Web storefront, corporate portals have since demonstrated a genuine capacity to enable real-time, interactive exchange of business transaction information and integration of business processes among trading partners: 1) buyers, 2) sellers, 3) brokers or 4) intermediaries, and 5) e-business service providers. Companies are turning to B2B portals to facilitate so-called trading partner networks, also known as "i-markets", in which each trading partner is using the portal as a central hub to transact business within the network. Consequently, the key focus of B2B portal technology vendors is to help companies overcome many of the challenges of i-markets, allowing the creation of open, dynamic e-business environments in which numerous partners can transact cost-effectively with each other.
Leading e-business companies view B2B portals as critical to participationin supply-value chain relationships, and they also see them as a vital
technology for reaping the true benefits from such relationships.
Simply because the key question is not whether it makes sense to get involved in business-to-business e-commerce, but how to integrate a company’s heterogeneous applications with so many other businesses in a manner that is advantageous to all parties. At the infrastructure heart of today’s e-business integration strategies is the fact that B2B portals are tools that are designed to build a flexible, self-sustained business-to-business model in which:
- Every user inside and outside the enterprise is able to access every element of the corporate information base.
- Every business-to-business interaction among partners is carried out in a comprehensive way that allows the seamless exchange of not only transactional data, but also business intent (for example, associated meta-data that describes business rules for interpreting that data).
For such a model to become a reality, companies must connect all their mission-critical systems and provide a unified access platform to the connected enterprise information backbone. This platform should encompass a coherent, yet loosely coupled combination of integration, navigation, and information dissemination components. Many envision significant opportunities for growth in e-business applications that tightly integrate these components under a B2B portal environment. By having a complete environment in “one place” (or, as I would say, “in orbit”),
an integration platform could be designed to build any type or size of i-market required.
To accurately describe the features of B2B portals required for every type of e-business arrangement is pointless. Nevertheless, certain generic characteristics of B2B portals are important because of the particular functions they perform. The following characteristics are generic and architecturally driven; they require the evaluation and comparative analysis of specific, commercially available B2B portal solutions.