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Portal Shmortal - 2004: It's time to get serious

Portal Shmortal - 2004: It's time to get serious

The "P" word surely gets thrown around a lot these days. It's time to determine what's real and what's not - and for the sake of this article, let's keep our focus on enterprise, or corporate, portals.

Make no mistake - portals are changing the way people work. Beyond mere buzzwords, portal software technology has advanced to the point where companies in all industries are benefiting from the deployment of enterprise portals (by definition, enterprise portals present a single gateway to all corporate information and services so that employees may do their jobs better).

Unfortunately, many of the recent adopters of state-of-the-art portal software (such as open standards-based WebSphere), have something equivalent to "shelfware" right now. Whether it was the smiling salespeople, the fancy Powerpoint presentations, or the slick advertising, 2003 was the year that many companies spent lots of money on portal software. Yet many customers made these purchases with dreams of out-of-the-box or "quick" deployments dancing in their heads, only to find that a successful enterprise portal deployment is, as Donald Rumsfeld would say, "a long, hard slog."

A successfully deployed enterprise portal will, in fact, truly pay for itself many times over. Thinking back to what the first version of corporate intranets did for employee productivity, when just getting all that data and those hard-to-find documents onto the Web was a victory, it is easy to see what getting truly disparate systems, some new, some ancient, into one nice, slick screen will do for the productivity and satisfaction of your employees, partners, and customers.

If your company hasn't rolled out an enterprise portal, and you are trying to imagine what it would be like, think about this real-world example: - an external, B2C portal. For years I found Sprint to have the worst customer service ever (of course I was locked into my cell number). And at first, this site was nothing more than an informational portal, offering stale information at that. Now I can tap into my bill, pay my invoice, change my address, check on how many minutes I have gone over on my monthly plan, etc. - all by using my own voice mail pin number for sign-on! So Sprint has a much happier customer, and they cut down on their call center costs.

A successful approach to building an enterprise portal requires understanding the following factors that determine whether portals either succeed or fail:

  • Political: Ensure top management backing (establish an advisory group) and make it easy for departments to join the portal early on.
  • Organizational: Get contributors to comply with the portal rules, enter decent metadata, and refrain from fielding "maverick" intranet servers beyond the intended scope.
  • Technical: Use a true open-standards, comprehensive portal application that will allow for growth and scalability; avoid specific "portal" interfaces (i.e., ERP portals) and proprietary systems.

    My own company, Rave Software Solutions, has been somewhat guilty this year in failing to help our customers successfully move their portal deployments into the business units. Of course, we have been very busy helping their IT departments architect, configure, install, and troubleshoot just their portal infrastructures.

    Now we are focusing on delivering value to the business units. After much market research we have selected the sales force as one group of employees that could truly benefit from an enterprise portal. Our Sales Portal solution now helps sales reps access their disparate order entry, marketing, CRM, collaboration, training, commission and expense tracking, travel, and other applications in one screen. Look for these targeted industry or function-specific portals to be popping up from the business partner community this year.

    Remember, portals are smart. Corporate portals deliver the right information and services to the right individual users, thereby increasing employee productivity, which, after all, is what drives a strong portal ROI. And if we are to keep employee productivity on the rise as in the third quarter of this year, we have our work cut out for us. My suggestion: start building a portal now.

    When you really get down to it, as one IBMer told me, WebSphere Portal is really just fancy plumbing, and it is up to us to decide which faucets to turn on. So, here's to 2004 being the year we all go out and build that fancy information "fixture."

More Stories By Stephen Arees

Stephen Arees is director of Business Development and Marketing for Rave Software Solutions, a division of Computer Generated Solutions (CGS), which provides a range of offerings in the e-business, application development, e-learning, and vendor management spaces. Rave hosts the IBM WebSphere Innovation Center in New York City.

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Most Recent Comments
Punit Pandey 01/14/04 07:45:39 AM EST

If you really want to know more about portals, please check -

Steve DeLillo 01/09/04 07:00:15 AM EST

I think that "one" time, in an IBM seminar on WebSphere, have I "ever" gotten a "definition" of what constitutes a portal.

Has the concept and structure of a portal "ever" been defined in a JDJ publication?