A Road Map to Identify the Portal for Your Company
By Randy Eckel
The corporate portal market has evolved into a very broad and competitively important industry segment. Given the importance of making the right choice, the breadth of this segment and the number of overlapping products, corporate decision-makers face a confusing decision selecting the best corporate portal solutions to suit their companies' particular needs. The best way to begin the selection process is to define a corporate portal and gain an understanding of its basic functionality.
There are several definitions of a portal. The most accurate is an Internet, intranet or extranet door users pass through to reach sources of information in their various forms (e.g., a database, document, department, application or Web-based link to other portals or sites). Portals come in two main varieties: general-purpose portals and vertical portals. General-purpose portals, such as Yahoo or Excite, provide a single site where users can find links to various information sources or online businesses. A vertical portal provides the same functionality as a general- purpose portal, but for a very narrowly defined area of interest such as gardening, travel or business decisions.
If business decisions are the focus of the vertical portal, then the portal may further be classified as a corporate portal. The term corporate portal best describes intranet or extranet sites that provide invited employees and/or partners with secure, personalized information from a variety of sources that foster productive decision making. Specifically, the term corporate portal describes a browser-based application that allows knowledge workers (with permission) to gain access to, collaborate with and take action on a wide variety of business-related information regardless of the workers' locations or departmental affiliations, the location of the information or the format in which the information is stored.
Let's further define a corporate portal by examining the benefits it can deliver regardless of where a company's workers or information reside.
With this understanding of the different formats and locations of information and the different locations of workers, let's investigate the different types of corporate portals available to bring workers and information together.
Segments of the Corporate Portal Market
Based on these benefits, a CIO may decide that a portal is the solution for her company. The next step is to further divide the corporate portal market to understand what type of portal the company needs. There are numerous portal products from vendors in the business intelligence, ERP, document management and search-engine markets. In fact, the corporate portal market can be divided into six different kinds of Web-based applications that have been labeled corporate portals.
It is important to understand these different market segments so you can understand your corporate portal options.
General Features of a Corporate Portal
All portals should provide a fundamental set of features.
First and foremost is personalization. At the end of the day, the single biggest value of a portal is its ability to turn data into information by making it relevant to the user. Portals must allow both users and the company to customize the portal interface to include the information they need to make decisions and exclude the information they don't need. So, look for a portal with advanced personalization and navigation features.
Second, don't expect to buy and deploy an enterprise portal. Most portal projects start small and deploy across the organization over time. IT leadership should select portal software that allows deployment within a specific user community and the ability to gradually add servers department by department (a concept called federated portals) until you have an enterprise deployment.
Finally, deploy a portal that integrates and adds value to enterprise communications and collaboration infrastructure (i.e., e-mail, calendaring and scheduling, electronic discussion, etc.). A company's network is becoming one of the primary means of communication among employees, customers and partners. Allow them the advantage of collaborating on the "facts" they discover through their new corporate portal.
Tips for Implementing a Corporate Portal
Once a company has decided to implement a corporate portal, it is time to set up some critical success factors. Below are some tips that companies can employ to make their corporate portal implementations a long-term success.
Tip 1: Establish a culture where people have incentives to use the product. Companies still face the day-to-day challenges of getting employees adjusted enough to new technologies so they use them daily to improve work habits and work lives.
Tip 2: Empower employees, customers, partners, suppliers and distributors with information that was traditionally not shared with them. Educate them on the new style of business – providing real-time access to information that was inaccessible to them in the past. Assist them in understanding the many benefits of sharing information.
Tip 3: Encourage customers, partners, suppliers and distributors to utilize the information to improve their own businesses. The more people that use the technology the way your company does, the easier communication is for everyone.
Tip 4: Use both sides of the return on investment (ROI) equation. Corporate portals affect both sides of the ROI equation – by lowering expenses through the elimination of information intermediaries and increasing revenues by getting closer to customers and partners.
Tip 5: Devise a system to constantly measure the success of the corporate portal through improvements in productivity, efficiency and effectiveness.
Tip 6: Make educating users a top priority so the technology can be utilized to its fullest.
Tip 7: Make life easier for your employees by choosing an easy-to-use product for nontechnical users. A practical, simple solution is essential to cater to the workers in different departments in a company.
Tip 8: Technology in a company changes frequently. Choose a flexible solution that allows your company to change and adjust to advanced technology.
The corporate portal market is saturated with companies offering solutions ranging from business intelligence tools to search engines. The term portal has been applied to everything up to and including kitchen cabinet makers. To avoid confusion and ambiguity during the selection process, it is essential to identify the real needs of your company. You might only need to solve the problem of user access to ERP information, or access to the documents within your company, or the bigger problem of improving the decision-making capabilities of your knowledge workers. Once you have identified those needs, it is important to choose a solution that offers high levels of personalization, a federated deployment architecture and outstanding integration with your messaging environment. Corporate portal software can change the velocity by which you do business – treat it as a mission-critical purchase.
Randy Eckel is co-founder, president and CEO of InfoImage. Eckel is responsible for its financial and operational performance and the formulation and execution of corporate vision and strategy. Eckel has more than 17 years of senior management experience at information service organizations. He is considered an industry expert on self- service centers, groupware and knowledge management, and frequently speaks at industry conferences. He has held several positions on advisory boards for Lotus Development Corp.