Magazine Article | December 1, 2000

Selecting An Enterprise Portal

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Not all portals are created equal. Find out what differentiates one portal solution from another.

Integrated Solutions, December 2000

An enterprise information portal (EIP) differs from an Internet portal in several key respects. An Internet portal typically categorizes Web site listings and provides a search engine for general Internet users, while an EIP collects and categorizes corporate information for internal users. EIPs manage data and applications for users based on their roles in organizations and their personal work requirements. As a result, a well-defined EIP can significantly enhance employee productivity.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the popularity of the EIP concept has attracted vendors like bees to honey. Gartner, a leading industry analyst firm, estimates that over 100 vendors offer portal products with varying degrees of completeness. So, how do you go about making up your short list of enterprise portal vendors?

A true EIP will support at least six core feature sets. They are: customization and personalization, content delivery, application and data integration, information sharing and collaboration, search, and security.

Customization is the process of configuring a portal. It includes defining the portal's look and feel (e.g. corporate logo, color scheme, page layout), integrating internal and external data sources, defining roles, and instituting a security policy. Once the portal has been turned over to the users, they can personalize their experience by modifying the page structure and content to meet their particular business needs.

Content delivery deals with the issue of capturing internal and external content and delivering it to the users who need it. Some portals allow system administrators to define a series of categories (often referred to as a taxonomy). Users navigate through the category tree to locate information of interest. Others publish content to a channel. Users who subscribe to the channel are automatically notified when new content is available. An information repository is necessary for knowledge sharing, especially in a dynamic organization.

Application and data integration is crucial to the success of an EIP. Users want integrated access to all the applications and data they need to complete their jobs in a timely fashion. Your EIP should have the ability to access data from any, and all, databases your organization has installed, including legacy or mainframe sources. It should also be able to reach into your unstructured file systems and let users access Word, Excel, Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange, and other nonrelational data files. Users should be able to run applications ranging from simple desktop productivity tools (e.g. e-mail, calendars, contact managers) to enterprise applications (e.g. ERP, CRM, SFA, supply chain) using the portal interface.

Information sharing fosters collaboration and includes publish-and-subscribe, threaded discussions, chat, and Web conferencing. Many companies manage collaborative activities, such as projects and workgroups, using their EIPs.

Search is necessary when users can't find the information they need by navigating the portal taxonomy. Most people will attempt to search down one or two category trees and will give up if they can't find what they're looking for. When this happens they need a context-sensitive search engine that can locate the information they need quickly and easily.

Security is essential to protect data from unauthorized access and tampering. This is especially crucial in a business-to-business (B2B) environment where you must isolate business partners or customers from data relevant to their interactions with your company.

These and other criteria (such as vendor size, qualifications, professional services, partnerships) should be carefully evaluated when you're selecting your EIP vendor. Some good sources for further information include the trade press, industry conferences, and analyst reports.

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