Corporate portals grow, get outsourced
(IDG) -- Corporate portals are moving beyond their novelty status as interesting GUIs with stock and weather information. The quickly maturing market is heading in new directions, which in the interim may cause confusion -- and hard work -- for IT managers, but in the long-term can benefit their organizations as a whole.
Most significant among the new trends is a move toward corporate portal outsourcing arrangements.
Spearheading the trend are Hewlett-Packard and Yahoo, which announced plans earlier this month to launch Corporate My Yahoo, services and technology designed to let companies meld internal and Internet information into a single secure point of access. The service is set to be available by the end of the year.
Other vendors are moving in the rent-a-portal direction as well. Glyphica next month will announce two partnerships, which will allow customers to rent the Glyphica corporate portal software directly from their own sites.
Also, Epicentric will announce next month its Epicentric Portal Service, in which an application service provider will offer Epicentric's applications on an outsourced basis, and Plumtree Software will announce a similar offering by the end of the year. Another vendor, Autonomy, is also evaluating a portal service.
Early implementers are using corporate portals to combine pertinent internal information, which can be organized and accessed by groups of users in an organization.
"It's allowed us to take what was hidden in a room at headquarters and bring it to the working level nationwide ... so now we have a much more powerful sales force," said John Gregory, marketing specialist at the Washington-based headquarters of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), which is using Epicentric's Portal Server. Gregory said the USPS portal can deliver market research to about 800,000 people in the organization.
But analysts said the role of portals is evolving to allow businesses to use corporate portals to integrate multiple companies' information and processes.
Tom Koulopolous, president of the Delphi Group, in Boston, calls these evolved entities "hyperportals," and said they will aggregate information from other portals and, more importantly, integrate enterprise applications across an organization's value chain.
"Imagine, for example, being able to instantly relate any item in your SAP system to your Baan, Oracle, or PeopleSoft application, and then link the content in all of these applications within a single portal, along with any other Internet or intranet data," Koulopolous said.
The corporate portal should be a window into the enterprise, said Gene Phifer, an analyst at the Gartner Group, in Stamford, Conn. "They should be a one-stop shop -- and not from just the employee perspective, but from the customer and business partner perspectives."
In order to provide this multiorganizational information hub, Phifer said vendors should have expertise in structured data, such as business intelligence and vertical applications, as well as unstructured data such as knowledge management, groupware, and information retrieval.
Although the definitions sound great, analysts warned that implementing portals requires much up-front analysis and organizational work.
"You need to understand how to organize and manage the content; how is the information being produced, and who is producing it," said Geoffrey Bock, an analyst at the Patricia Seybold Group, in Boston. "Second, you should look at the needs of the users and understand what information they want and need."
Just because IT managers can buy corporate portals off the shelf or rent them does not mean they are turnkey solutions, Phifer said, adding, "They take energy, time, and resources to get them effectively integrated into an enterprise."
And users advise their peers to lower their functionality expectations and increase their workload expectations.
"It's important to have a well-organized, strong taxonomy first. Once you have that, you're on your way," said Jim Maxedon, vice president and intranet manager of wholesale banking at Wells Fargo Bank, in San Francisco.
"Give yourself plenty of time to roll it out," Maxedon added.
"A corporate portal is not a panacea to solve all the business problems," said Michael Cummins, chief information officer at the Irving, Texas-based Voluntary Hospital of America, which has implemented Plumtree's Corporate Portal product, allowing the organization to extend internal information to at least 2,000 users. "A number of people I talked to believe that if you have a corporate portal, you just have instant access to all information. That's not exactly true. There's still a lot of work to be done."
"We believe this [first implementation of our corporate portal] is just the first step in a long journey, and we expect this tool has to grow along with us," Cummins added.
With all the work involved, the bottom-line question for IT managers is: Why put myself and the organization through all this? Believers say it is vital for companies that plan to compete in the age of electronic business.
"The rise of the corporate portals will make technology managers have to face up to the challenges of using the Web so that their companies can compete effectively in the current marketplace," Koulopolous said. "They allow companies to be more responsive to the customer, provide the ability to more quickly create communities within enterprises, and allow for a high degree of personalization."
Laura Kujubu is an InfoWorld senior writer.
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