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Overview:

The ability to access and share a wide variety of content is critically important for business success. An enterprise portal or corporate portal is a framework for integrating information, people and processes across organizational boundaries. It provides a secure unified access point, often in the form of a web-based user interface and is designed to aggregate and personalize information through application-specific portlets. One hallmark of enterprise portals is the de-centralized content contribution and content management, ensures that information always updated.

A successful enterprise portal solution can dynamically aggregate content and applications to provide different types of users’ self-service access to the information they need. Enterprise portal isn’t just a fancy term for intranet. The critical difference is that end users can customize an enterprise portal by adding and subtracting internal and external information sources and applications. In theory, customization gives employees all the information they need to do their job more quickly and efficiently than if they had to search for the data and applications themselves.

Portal solutions help deliver improved productivity through reduced operational expenses, simplified application maintenance, improved customer relationship management and customer satisfaction, increased revenue streams, and improved knowledge management and collaboration. The dynamic reach of portals impacts different components of client’s businesses, across organizations and business units—generating revenues and improving positioning and overall internal business processes. Portals help companies enhance their high-powered business goals by offering innovative options to conduct business over the Internet.

Enterprise Portal- Key Business Objectives:

Organizations that recognize the power of portals are pursuing portal projects to accomplish three important goals:

  1. Enable Customer and Employee Self-service
    According to a study by Yankee Group, 82 percent of respondents cited employee self-service as a primary business driver for portal-based initiatives; 80 percent cited improving customer and partner self-service.The benefits include employees having fast, easy access to information; the firm having unprecedented flexibility to update information and change functionality; and a reduction in both technology infrastructure and support costs.
  2. Enhance Business Processes and Services
    Complex business processes, such as a highly integrated supply chain, require that many individuals, often across numerous organizational boundaries, coordinate their activities and respond appropriately to changing conditions, often in near real time. Portals are critical in providing up-to-the-minute data and instant response capabilities.With easier access to integrated current data, users have more time for data analysis and informed decision making.
  3. Compliance and Risk Management
    Executives worldwide are concerned about complying with stringent new regulatory requirements such as ISO, COBIT, Sarbanes-Oxley Act and Basel II. To be in compliance, companies must be able to integrate access, analyze and store both the structured data (e.g., transactions) and the unstructured information (e.g., documents) that represent their operations.Sophisticated information technology is critical to supporting legislative compliance and portals are a key part of the solution. A well designed portal can ensure that the right information is captured, aggregated, presented to the appropriate user and available for the analytical processes needed for compliance and risk management. In particular, corporate risk or compliance officers who assume the ultimate responsibility for the compliance of their corporations benefit from having critical metrics readily available via a dashboard.

Enterprise Portal Evaluation Process:
Some of the critical aspects which need to be assessed as prerequisite for enterprise portal selection include

  • A complete understanding of business and technical requirements
  • Agreement on Portal’s use cases/usage scenarios
  • Understanding implications of the availability, scalability, recovery, and other non-functional and technical requirements
  • If a previous application exists, then re-engineering and re-architecting within the context of existing application architecture and technology infrastructure

Portal evaluation should be done based on following key criteria’s:

Portal Framework:

Portal framework should include a server-based framework for presentation, customization, identity management and delegated administration for managing users, their portal profiles, the diversity of content, applications and services that are accessed via the portal.

Key areas to probe and questions to ask when evaluating frameworks and user management are:

  • Interfaces, tools and workflow for administering users: How does the portal facilitate delegated administration? Does it allow for distributed administration of both content and users?
  • Availability of business analyst (not programmer) application/portlet development tools: What is the methodology supported by the tool and is it consistent with internal software development practices? Gauge whether the simplicity or complexity of applications developed by tools support business needs.
  • Personalization model: Does the portal support user individualization/customization where every user is managed individually or does it manage by using role-based personalization (push model) or a combination of the two? How much control does the portal give the portal designer over personalization? Does it allow designers to control the layout of the page or to filter content to the user based on role, for example?
  • Framework services: What capabilities are provided that simplify complex portal development, maintenance and administration? How does the portal support rapid creation or delegation of new portals or pages to extend the portal and support new processes/audiences?

Enterprise-Class Infrastructure:

This is needed to support portal security, integration, application development and ongoing maintenance by IT. The infrastructure requirements must support all the identified requirements.

Key areas to probe or question when evaluating infrastructure are:

  • To what extent does the portal provide native single-sign-on and security features, and will these be sufficient? Can it demonstrate user management and content syndication across firewall? How much additional hardware is required? Is the required system architecture compatible with existing networks?
  • What kinds of performance tests or metrics are supplied? How much hardware and what type of configuration were required to achieve this? What other software infrastructure may be required to meet requirements?
  • What is the overall system management philosophy? What types of architectures (central, distributed, federated, gateway, etc.) are supported and demonstrated in customer use?

Content/information Aggregation and Management:

Fresh, relevant content is a key driver to user adoption, portal use and, subsequently, successful value delivery.

Key areas to probe or questions to ask when evaluating content aggregation/management are:

  • What is the architecture and philosophy for aggregating content and documents from multiple repositories with respect to access control, distributed submission, security and organization? Is repository aggregation supported through high-level mechanisms like portlets or low-level ones like APIs? If the required repositories are not supported, how complex is the process for developing this support?
  • The richness of search, taxonomy building and classification technology: Do the vendors provide their own information retrieval (IR) technology or OEM it? If OEM’ed, what provision is there to upgrade the system from the partner?
  • Content authoring, management and distribution: To what extent does the vendor rely on partnerships or provide its own technology? Are the native content management features sufficient for the business objectives or are greater control mechanisms required?
  • Does the vendor display a sound understanding of the process and resources required to deliver the required IR and content management capabilities? Can it deliver reference customers who do?

Application Integration and Tools:

Measurable business value is demonstrated increasingly by the portal’s ability to extend enterprise applications to more users with less maintenance overhead.

Key areas to probe or question when evaluating application integration are:

  • Overall philosophy toward application integration can range from assembling portlets to supporting advanced development tools and sophisticated user interaction features. Understand whether the tools/techniques supported will match the simplicity/complexity required.
  • Gauge vendor’s technology for and experience with integrating legacy applications into the portal.
  • Up to four times the original license cost can be spent on integrating legacy applications. Who does it partner with for integration projects? Are its customers using portals predominantly for B2E or B2B/C?
  • Vendor’s vision for application integration: Does it partner with/bundle EAI, BPM or workflow vendors? Does it provide custom developer tools?

Collaboration and Communities:

Portals provide the interface, user management and integrate disparate collaborative technologies for the next generation of collaborative business platform.

Key areas to probe or question when evaluating collaboration and communities are:

  • The richness and integration of collaborative features: Is collaboration central to the portal (sharing repositories with content and directories), treated as add-on or portlet-integrated features? Is the proper balance of synchronous and asynchronous collaborative features supported?
  • How do the collaboration features and communities tie into user administration, access control and security? What amount of control or self-governance does the portal support? How does this align with stated portal goals? What management overhead is involved?

Vendor Market Execution:

Vendor market visibility, traction and track record are barometers of who will thrive and who won’t survive in the portal market.

Key areas to probe or question when evaluating vendor market execution and ongoing viability are:

  • If a low tolerance for risk is present, vendor size and financial stability will be very important. For large vendors, portal revenues may be hidden inside other product sales by getting help analyzing financials.
  • How is the vendor perceived in the market? Momentum? Customers? Success rates? What’s the temperament of the sales team? Is it consistent with high customer satisfaction? Inexperienced? Desperate? More than anything, what do its customers say? Imply?
  • What is your comfort with establishing a long-term relationship with this company? How is the message consistent or inconsistent between corporate and the local team?

Economic Impact:

The extent to which the technology presented not only saves costs and delivers benefits, but it also provides options for future projects or implementations that continue to add value to the business.

Key areas to probe or question when evaluating costs, benefits and economic impact are:

  • Talk to customers to get a sense of “hidden” costs or unanticipated benefits. Learn what went well and what they would do differently. Make sure they are using a similar version of the portal.
  • What resources are required to tackle the tough problems: role-definition, taxonomy development, user interface workflow and navigation, content management processes, application integration, delegated administration, support for both internal and external audiences?

Solutions Delivery:

Today, portal products focus more on the infrastructure than the framework and many vendors partner to round out their middleware suites.

Key areas to probe or question when evaluating ability to deliver a whole solution are:

  • Does the vendor provide a portal package customized to a specific vertical industry or horizontal function like pharmaceuticals (taxonomy is key), financial services (application integration and personalization) or customer support? Either internally or through partnerships, does the vendor have relevant experience implementing portals in a specific industry?
  • How do partners perceive the portal vendor? Are they supportive and easy to work with or more concerned with what the partner can do for them?
  • What do its customers say about their customer/technical support? Professional services? Ongoing account management?

Enterprise Portal Implementation- Critical Success Factors:

  • As a part of the enterprise portal implementation process, analysis and evaluation of following key aspects is highly recommended.
  • Define success goals and criteria for portal implementation
  • Get management buy-in and approval across all affected organizations
  • Shortlisting of portal vendors and vendor selection
  • Portal architecture and infrastructure needs evaluation (Software and Hardware) including technology platforms (.NET, Java, PHP etc.)
  • Architect maintainability into the portal framework, including trace logging, error notification, error resolution and exception handling
  • Project planning and management throughout  portal implementation and maintenance lifecycle
  • Portal configuration and customization management including portlet/web part custom development
  • Include user interviews as a part of the requirements gathering effort
  • Include usability testing to reduce project risk by solidifying requirements with end users
  • Use a proven methodology to establish standards, consistency with the focus on project engineering and management processes
  • Plan for and test performance throughout the portal
  • Portal and content integration
  • Use proven third-party components and frameworks to reduce risk and effort
  • Perform enterprise portal and enterprise application integration
  • Carefully consider the payment gateway integration in the portal matching the business need
  • Plan for portal security and privacy considerations early in the process. This may include application, data, payment gateway integration security or user data access privacy
  • Use proven design pattern based approach utilizing Business, Integration, Application and Composite Patterns.
  • Pilot runs and production stage implementation
  • User training and establishment of collaboration processes

Bottom-Line:

Portals can be a powerful tool—if they are efficient and effective. Many are not. We have seen companies with thousands of portals, supported by multiple technology platforms and operating models, and maintained as time allows by hundreds of people. A lack of standards and processes makes the portals hard to use and maintain. Content is often duplicated and may be of dubious quality and developing and maintaining multiple portals is expensive proposition.

Choosing right enterprise portal solution and right implementation is essential for achieving business goals. At e-Zest we believe the right enterprise portals with right implementation can enhance an organization’s performance by efficiently and cost-effectively providing the information that an organization needs when performing critical operations, improve customer and employee self-service and fulfill its mission.

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e-Zest is a leading digital innovation partner for enterprises and technology companies that utilizes emerging technologies for creating engaging customers experiences. Being a customer-focused and technology-driven company, it always helps clients in crafting holistic business value for their software development efforts. It offers software development and consulting services for cloud computing, enterprise mobility, big data and analytics, user experience and digital commerce.