This article is relevant for all members of the IBM WebSphere Portal product family including IBM WebSphere Portal Server, IBM Digital Experience Manager, IBM Customer Experience Suite, IBM Web Content Manager, IBM WebSphere Portal Enable, IBM WebSphere Portal Extend, and IBM WebSphere Portal Express.

We’ve been delivering enterprise portal, content management, collaboration, personalization, and application solutions to customers since the late 1990s. As a result, we have witnessed this product space both evolve and mature over the years. In recent years, products and solutions have become increasingly integrated, evolving into digital experience platforms (DXPs) and customer experience (CX) platforms that enable contextualized digital experiences across differentiated customer journeys.

At XTIVIA, we started with traditional commercial software — the likes of Vignette and Epicentric — and moved into IBM WebSphere Portal around 2003. IBM WebSphere Portal was our preferred portal platform until its heavyweight nature and high Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) started to wear on us and our customers. We started to experiment with Liferay in 2006 and, by the early 2010s, we started recommending Liferay over IBM WebSphere Portal for green-field situations (though we continued to work with the IBM WebSphere Portal family for some of our legacy customers).

So, while you might say I have somewhat colored lenses, I do have a strong background in the IBM WebSphere Portal family of products. With that disclaimer out of the way, let me dive into the heart of my article.

If you are delivering your digital experiences through any WebSphere Portal family product, it is high time you consider alternatives to get off a dying platform.

The rest of this article expands on the rationale behind my assertion but first takes you back to the beginning of time, WebSphere Portal time!

WebSphere Portal History

IBM WebSphere Portal was initially released in 2001 and has gone through multiple versions since with the most notable versions being v6.1 in 2009, v7.0 in 2010, v8.0 in 2012, v8.5 in 2014, and v9.0 in 2016. In December 2018, IBM shocked its customer base by announcing it had entered into an agreement with HCL Technologies (HCL) to sell off a collection of its software products, including the IBM Websphere Portal portfolio of products (IBM Digital Experience Manager and others). This agreement and the consequent product transfer to HCL was completed in June 2019.

Since HCL took over the IBM Portal product, it has rebranded it to HCL Digital Experience (DX) and, in October 2019, released a long-overdue v9.5. That meant more than three years had passed since the previous release, which is light years given the pace of innovation in the Digital Experience Platform space.

Why Migrate from HCL DX (or IBM Digital Experience Manager or IBM WebSphere Portal)?

There are a number of reasons why I believe HCL Digital Experience (DX) and its IBM WebSphere Portal predecessors are dying.

  • For the last couple of years, before the IBM Portal sell-off to HCL, it seemed product innovation and development, product support, and new customer wins at IBM had waned. Since the acquisition by HCL, digital experience industry analysts have been less than impressed by the HCL product direction and what the future holds in terms of keeping up with customer expectations and the competition.
  • In late January 2020, Gartner released its Magic Quadrant for Digital Experience Platforms, and decided to drop HCL Digital Experience (and its WebSphere Portal and Web Content Manager predecessors); the analysts were politically correct and did not cite any specific reasons for not including HCL DX. However, after spending 15+ years as a leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrants, initially for the Horizontal Portal product market and recently for Digital Experience Platforms, for HCL DX to simply disappear is quite a telling statement.
  • HCL has traditionally been a services company and running a product engineering and support organization is a different beast. Time will tell whether HCL can successfully make the transition.
  • Anecdotally, at least some of the WebSphere Portal customers have experienced an increase in annual support and maintenance fees; this will force them to consider alternative solutions.
  • Last but not least, there is enough uncertainty and doubt in the minds of existing customers about the future of the erstwhile IBM Portal products and prospective Digital Experience Platform customers about HCL DX that the market share of HCL DX is only going to diminish. As a result, this may very well be a self-fulfilling prophecy about HCL DX being a dying platform.

Additionally, given the complexity and cost of IBM WebSphere Portal upgrades, you may be one of the many customers still running older (or very old) product versions that are essentially out of support (despite possibly paying a large amount for extended support). Even if you are running a relatively recent version of IBM Digital Experience Manager (v9.0 or v8.5), and certainly if your company is on the older IBM WebSphere Portal product (standard, Enable, Extend or Express edition — v8.0 or v7.0 or worse), it only behooves you to explore Digital Experience Platform alternatives outside of HCL DX. There is a tremendous amount of product innovation and convergence that has happened in this space in recent years, and the pace of this upshift is only increasing.

Liferay DXP — A Strong Alternative to HCL DX, IBM Digital Experience Manager, and IBM WebSphere Portal

If you haven’t already looked at Liferay Digital Experience Platform, you should strongly consider it. It shares the same portal heritage, architecture patterns, content management metaphors, and more as the IBM Portal products while being significantly more agile with a lower TCO (total cost of ownership). Some of these similarities (and differences) make migrating from IBM WebSphere Portal products to Liferay DXP easier. That said, this migration is not easy, but it will be significantly less complicated than going to other DXP products and comparable to upgrading to the current version of HCL DX.

A migration from the IBM WebSphere Portal product family to Liferay DXP is not easy, but it will be significantly less complicated than going to other DXP products and comparable to upgrading to the current version of HCL DX.

Recently we worked with a health insurer with 1.5 million insured members to successfully migrate them off an aging IBM WebSphere Portal platform to Liferay DXP. This insurer had an extensive web implementation with a total of 18 sites including logged-in functionality for members, providers, brokers, employers and internal associates, 100+ portlets, extensive usage of content management and personalization, integration with multiple back-end systems and databases, SSO integration with multiple external providers, complex access control requirements based on LDAP security groups and more. This migration was a resounding success leading to annual licensing cost savings, a more modern, lightweight platform in Liferay that was easy to learn and adopt for the health insurer’s employees because of its similarities to IBM WebSphere Portal and IBM Web Content Manager, a new and enhanced user experience for providers, employers, and brokers, and a more compact, cleaned-up code base (leading to greater agility). The overall migration timeline from project inception till go-live was an impressive 18 months despite the scope of this effort.

In Closing: Yes, It is Time to Migrate from HCL DX (or IBM Digital Experience Manager or IBM WebSphere Portal)

If you are convinced it may be time to migrate away from the IBM WebSphere Portal products, then please reach out to us to discuss your potential alternatives. Even if you are not yet convinced (some healthy skepticism is always a good thing :-)), do contact us for a no-obligation conversation about market trends and your current situation. The one thing I would advise you NOT do is sit tight as this problem will not simply go away with inaction!

Additional Reading: Please check out my companion piece — Top 10 Reasons Why Liferay DXP is the Right Alternative to WebSphere Portal.

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