aForecasting Systems Unit, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering,
National Technical University of Athens
9 Iroon Polytechniou Str., Zografou 15 773
bDecision Support Systems Laboratory, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering,
National Technical University of Athens
9 Iroon Polytechniou Str., Zografou 15773,
Abstract : Community web portals serve as portals for the information needs of particular communities on the web. Forecasting community portals is not new there are a number of them but the new age of these portals includes on line collaboration, online forecasting and systems integration. We here discuss how a comprehensive and flexible strategy for building and maintaining a high-value community web portal has been conceived and implemented. The basic strategy is the creation of robust and extensible architecture. We have also implemented a web application and a web service to facilitate the construction of our showcase.
Keywords: Web Portal; Community portal; Forecasting; Web Services Web application.
The growth in Internet technology in particular means that users can demand information wherever they are and whenever they want it. Many of the big well-known sites are considered portals. They are gateways into the Internet for many users. A Portal attracts a broad (horizontal) range of users. They focus on a group of people with a specific passion or interest. The particular community portal we are describing in this paper is a forecasting community portal (FCP).
Forecasting plays a very important role for the success of a company. Forecasters up to now use forecasting packages on stand-alone pc or on companies’ client/server programms. This way of using forecasting is monolithic and the forecasting process takes place only on particular machines and systems. The advent of Internet technologies has made possible e-forecasting. That gave us the opportunity to explore the options of e forecasting with the use of a simple web browser. Having created an e-forecasting web application, e-TIFIS, the needs seemed to multiply themselves. The need of a forecasting community portal was obvious. The modules on Portal development may include adding several features, tools or components that are not normally found on a typical site.
The creation of a forecasting community portal imposes new rules to portal technologies for development, as it needs to integrate and to include more specialized features and services. These include the integration of forecasting web applications, the publication of forecasting web services and utilities for further expansion.
We designed and implemented a conceptual framework for the development of the FCP portal. This conceptual framework was built on the basic assumption that in the future the portal will evolve. This meant that we had to design it in a flexible and scalable way of putting all together.
Forecasting is crucial for several operations in a company, but not an easy task. Managers usually, either are not familiar with modern forecasting methods, or do not have the time to be involved in the design and development of advanced models to receive more accurate forecasts. A way of achieving more accurate forecasts is through specialized forecasting software package, which is quite expensive in most of the cases.
A great challenge for today’s companies is not only how to adapt to the changing business environment but also how to draw a competitive advantage from the way in which they choose to do so.
As a basis to achieve such advantages, companies have started to examine modern ways to improve the performance of various operations. As companies move their businesses to the Internet and people turn to the Internet for any kind of information and services, e-forecasting is becoming a reality. More and more people and companies start to seek e-forecasting services in the form of web applications or in the form of web services. We can understand from the above that a web portal that supports business decisions and offers more than content to the forecasters is essential.
Murray  states that portals that focus only on content are inadequate for the corporate market and that ‘‘corporate portals must connect us not only with everything we need, but with everyone we need, and provide all the tools we need to work” .
The value of community portal technology is in the cost effective way of collecting, organizing, and retrieving organizationally valuable information.
As Internet and e-commerce technology continue to evolve, there has been much literature studying how such technology can improve on information sharing. The existence of adequate relational human architecture is a necessary condition for the success of portal technology. It must be the one that draws in customers and is well and comprehensively structured. We must consider, not only the aesthetics and programming but also marketing . It must be divided into content categories- pages that individually target optimal keywords. Each page has to be designed specifically to promote those keywords in layout, graphics labels.
In this paper we describe an approach to create a “Community portal”  and include all the information about forecasting and e-forecasting within a portal. In this portal, we took advantage of all the new technologies of the Internet to deliver the most complete solution.
3 Forecasting Portals : A Survey
A research of existing or at least of similar websites portals took place in order to identify the needs of the users of the online community. We must be able to support all the requests if it is possible, of the forecaster, the business and the potential users.
During the survey the sites that were searched and identified were in a wide range of target groups with one common subject; forecasting. The themes selection for the sites was based on the particular nature of the business that they were serving. That means narrowing the users that could gain from the site.
Most of the sites were mainly informational; they include a lot of information on forecasting methods and literature. But the main thing missing from their sites was actual interaction of the user with the site, as well as other people interested. None of them though has moved to provide principles or even suggestions for the next step of forecasting the e-forecasting. The communication of people of such sites is limited on to an offline exchange of opinions and consulting.
A lot of forecasting institutes represent themselves on the Internet. Their web sites are forecasting portals that are primarily encaged with forecasting sources for forecasters. They have Libraries about forecasting papers and publications, Data Libraries for testing forecasting methods. Further, there are sites that provide sources of times series data. 
Some well-known portals that were studied because of the large number of forecasting interest users and companies that use them are:
IIF International Institute of Forecasters
The site includes information for researchers, for professional development as well as information for international journals and seminars. It has relevant links and data sources.
This is the site of the electronic econometric journal. It has information of software, code & data, books, papers & (pre) prints, conferences & summer schools, journals, national & regional, rankings, and statistics.
This site provides information for Researchers, practitioners and for academic purpose. It has information for forecasting methods and principles. There are also extensive lists of Data Sources, Software, Text/Trade Books, and Papers/Journals. On the site there are also listings of Conferences and related websites.
They offer a database that was created by Professor Len Tashman. They provide a reference list of software reviews.
•IBF Institute of Business Forecasting http://www.ibforecast.com/
It has forecasting ideas for production scheduling, inventory control, budgeting, marketing strategies and financial planning. It has information for conferences, seminars and job listings.
•NIST StRD http://www.itl.nist.gov/div898/strd/
This site provides reference datasets with certified computational results. It also has background information on forecasting and a list of related links.
•IFTF Institute for the Future
The site is working mainly with members of the institute. It has a bookshop and library but it is available only to members.
The site provides information about working papers and published research to the economics profession. It has information for journals, software, authors and other institutions.
As we can see from the above survey none of the forecasting portal-sites provide the essential tools and characteristics that a business or a forecaster would need to produce reliable forecasts over the internet. The FCP portal that is described on the next sections is trying to address the needs that were identified during this survey.
4 FCP: An interactive forecasting community portal
The portal that maintains knowledge certainly needs to manage its set of resources, selecting, collecting and providing access to the information considered relevant for its community users.
Portals are also the platform for active delivery of information and commercial transactions. A user’s view of the portal will contain resources and data. Companies are seeking solutions to integrate various sources of data together in support of the customized business processes. Software vendors have developed ‘‘Portal’’ solutions for companies to maintain knowledge and to distribute it. Access, delivery, and personalization are the architectural bedrock.
However, portals also support linkage and integration between information and processes both online and offline and the provision of new services and products. 
The FCP portal tries to implement the proposed conceptual design for the creation of portals and to evaluate it. This web portal provides a suite of online forecasting facilities for analysts to design and conduct experiments and afterwards to analyze the results and draw implications. 
Internet technologies change rapidly over time as well as user’s needs from the web applications making time a critical condition to succeed their purpose. Business requirements change as development proceeds, making the development process complicated. The development process model that is adapted must be designed to accommodate the evolutions over time. An evolutionary model must be iterative. It must enable the web application engineers to develop increasingly more complete versions. The model used for the development of the portal and the web application was the incremental model .
It combines elements of the classical sequence model with iterative philosophy of prototyping. The analysis and design phase produces a number of processes and objects. The main workflow of the application is established. This first approach delivers the basic operations of the application. Then theses basic requirements are addressed and implemented. During the first iteration the basic routines are implemented and tested on a small prototype. Only the basic methods and tasks were implemented with minimum functionality. The users evaluated the prototype portal and the refinements of the requirements were defined.
For the second iteration of the model a plan is developed to better meet the needs and also include additional features and functionality. After the redesign the portal was created again with a prototype that was following all the rules that the designers and development team set. The outcome of the portal was now closer to the portal requirements and served its purpose faster and safer for the user. This process is repeated following the delivery of each increment 
After this critical change on the portal’s design, most of the design and analysis work focused on the new features and functionalities. The next step of iteration was the e-TIFIS  web application integration, which was done with relatively little effort. The design and analysis of the portal was independent of the web application for quality of service purposes.
Next step towards the basic skeleton of the portal was the creation of web services as well as the creation of all the basic components and structures for the architecture.
A community web portal as we have constitutes a complex system for maintaining consistency in the system. Internet applications demand the e-business platform to be tremendously scalable. It must be constructed on technology that can scale quickly, both in volume and function. It cannot be device dependent, nor can it deliver poor performance to scale. In this paper we tried to address of building community portals with e-business capabilities. The issue is on building a framework for developing an enterprise information system to implement the new model.
4.2 Portal Implementation
Here we list the basic conceptual parts of the design of the project. Developing conceptual frameworks is an important first step in the gradual process of theory building and theory testing. To date, there has been little rigorous development of conceptual frameworks and almost no empirical testing of such frameworks. .
The figure below shows a more graphical representation. On the figure we can see only the main parts in a more general way of meanings. It provides a novel concept for bringing into play all the necessary elements that influence the efficient and effective interoperation of a number of organizations to provide electronic services. 
Each one of the following has infrastructures that constitutes to the flexibility and the extensibility of the overall architecture. Each of the modules contains mechanisms that help them to accomplish the tasks they were created for.
Figure 2: The FCP portal
Document Directory: This module gives the mechanisms for the user to upload his/hers documents and information for exchange with other users.
Communities : This gives the mechanisms for collaboration using interactive tools.
Personalized Page: It has the mechanisms to assemble services in a personalized experience, Profile Management.
The conceptual Security and User Management : This module gives the mechanisms for access control, auditing, role security and billing on subscriptions.
Content Integration: This is the module that has the mechanisms for content discovery, auto-categorization, integrated search, Security and distributed management.
Integrated Applications: It has all the mechanisms for the Framework for integration and management. It also includes developer kits and developers on support sites.
WEB-services: This is the module that facilitates the integration of the web services that are available through this portal. It also offers the mechanisms for the integration to other systems like ERP, CRM.
Parallel Processing: This module issues HTTP requests to multiple systems virtually simultaneously, for better performance.
Load-Balancing: This module routes HTTP requests to available systems without disrupting state, for better reliability.
Connection Pooling: This module pools multiple requests through a single HTTP connection.
These are the basic modules that constitute the design of the FCP. FCP has been implemented using this design. eTIFIS and the webservice were created and incorporated onto FCP and they are described on the following sections.
4.3 Web application e-TIFIS
With the development of this web forecasting service the need for reliable and quick business forecasting is covered. This service reduces the need for a specialist on forecasting like business consultants or the acquisition of an expensive software package. The reliability of the forecasts is confirmed from the incorporated Theta model. Theta is considered to be the most reliable single space method of general forecasting (M3 Competition).
e-TIFIS possess many advantages over other online forecasting systems and even existing e-forecasting websites. It provides worldwide access to the forecaster. It has new and expanded value-added services, such as personalization/customization. It has simple User Interface, familiar to the user, leading to smaller learning periods.
The web application does not require any client-workstation resources. The service provider executes all the necessary functions-processes. The user is also provided with storage space for his data. The Provider uses the Internet as the medium required for the delivery of services to his clients/users. The system offers full interactivity to the user with the data and the forecasts. The user does not have to buy the forecasting software and install it at his company’s infrastructure; he buys the service. As a result, no special-expensive hardware is required.
The user gets actually involved in the forecasting process; he can either select data from a pool of standard timeseries or upload/insert new ones. Further more he can select a forecasting method from a set of classical and advanced methods (Theta model). The existence of such an expert method as the Theta model gives great credit to the system. The system processes the data and provides the forecasts on-line via graphs. The user has the unique ability to create and save for later use multiple scenarios (multiple set of forecasts and inference reasoning).
As far as the system development process is concerned, eTIFIS is composed from software components, which make the extensibility of the system easier.
The system can use components developed with different scripting languages (open platform) making the extension of the system even easier. New functionalities can be added without any disruption to the service or the database.
e-TIFIS has already been integrated with Inet; coorporet portal of a greek well known software house, Singular. Inet is the Singular’s product portal that was designed to meet the specific needs of their customers and partners, as well as bring the entire Greek market closer to Singular and its products.
4.5 Web Service
Web services aim to provide the “next step” evolution towards tackling distributed processing and ownership of processes. The essence of web service architectures is that they seek to use the features to support business, academic and informational drives, and to bring systems together. Interoperability is not an automatic provision. Currently organizations are forming their own internal web of web services, yet in their minds may be the vision of communicating with all related parties using the mechanism of web services. The web service architecture design (between two or more parties) needs to incorporate a dynamic architecture by how the services are defined. It makes it possible for companies to explore new business models, products, and ways of connecting with important entities. 
The web services that exist at this moment on the portal is the e-TIFIS web service. The architecture of the web –services will support in the future interconnection of web services to be used as workflow processes. The basic architecture includes Web services technologies capable of: exchanging messages, describing web services, publishing and discovering web service descriptions. The architectures models  here will support the two basic roles: the service provider, and the service requestor. These roles and operations act upon the web service artifacts: the web service software module and its description.
In this paper we have described a small scale example, the FCP portal, which illustrates some of our techniques and methods. The concepts that we have explained are general enough to apply to many other domains.
As a second application, we have constructed a web application for on-line forecasting as well as we have developed the web service for it. Additionally, we have made the structures and the mechanisms for future integration of the other forecasting services.
The FCP brings together a lot of electronic resources and assets in one. FCP is based on an open Web Services Architecture that allows the portal to span to heterogeneous environment and it uses multiple technologies. Today, business portals support business-to business (B2B) transactions where they can link up parties together in the exchange of goods and services. Further integration and relationship building with the right business partners can be possible through the FCP portal. 
The FCP portal provides organizations with the deployment and management functions they need to use the services effectively on their enterprise portals. It offers an application platform, integration platform, and Web-facing platform. As far as the prototype system portal is concerned, extensions can be made to cater for wide applications in sectors of other web services products, building and software packages. In this connection, it is necessary to equip the system with facilities that users are able to customize the system facilities to adopt their own procedures and documents, and organizational structures. 
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