“Portal” has always been a highly misused term. It can refer to an Intranet-in-a-box, a self-service dashboard, a B2B e-commerce environment, or simply a unified front end for exposing various back-end enterprise applications.
The dilemma for you is that there's no single set of technology that automatically applies to all those cases, leaving several ways to develop Portal-type applications. In the past year, I've seen renewed interest in lightweight development platforms for building such applications.
Fig.: Alternatives for building Portal-type applications. Source: RSG
Latest category of lightweight development platforms
The latest incarnation of lightweight development environments are "Low- / No-Code" platforms, which enable you to build and deploy (often in the cloud) discrete components using declarative — often visual — programming. You can potentially achieve quite a bit without having to write a lot of code.
There are several scenarios for which this approach can be useful. Some customers use them to build simple connectors to glue different applications together so that various endpoints all can be addressed through standard interfaces (like REST).
Another example — for portal-like scenarios that emphasize dynamic web publishing, enterprises can turn to separate presentation and interaction frameworks.
Just understand that these environments usually provide only a subset of portal-like services, and typically lack more advanced capabilities, such as personalization. This approach can work if you want to develop custom functionality, but you may still need a presentation framework that saves you from starting from scratch. A basic presentation framework could offer page creation, templating, user management, and other code plumbing. You then extend these to build other Portal-like features.
The experience from last decade — when we saw attempts to employ Mashup and Widgets/Gadget environments to build relatively simple Portal-type applications — may prove instructive. Interest waned over time as these tools proved too simplistic to address the highest-value services that typically revolved around highly secure and performant back-end integration.
Nevertheless, the Portals marketplace has progressively become smaller every passing year and savvy enterprises are exploring alternative approaches yet again. These are early days for the Low- / No-Code segment, but we're seeing more interest among RSG subscribers, and I suspect the segment will increasingly mature in the 2018-2020 timeframe.
To learn more about this and other trends, subscribers should consult RSG's recently released advisory.