portals caught the attention of Forrester Research, Inc. a few years ago,
but it wasn't until mid-September that the technology-analysis firm thought
these tools provided a worthy topic for its "Building the Best Enterprise
Portal" TechRankings Summit. The event, held in Salt Lake City, was a 1-day
affair, with an 11-vendor showcase reception the night before. It attracted
an audience of about 150 people, almost all of them from outside Utah.
Attendees listened to Forrester analysts and industry experts expand
on how to effectively set up and use enterprise portals. Each session left
lots of time for questions and answers, which greatly added to the practical
nature of the day.
Josh Walker, Forrester's research director, began the summit by noting
the three macro trends that are rocking the portal market: 1) the weak
economy is forcing firms to cut costs, 2) vendors are deep-discounting
software, and 3) the pace of innovation hasn't slowed down at all. Walker
also outlined the evolution of portal products, an underlying theme for
all the speakers. He said that content portals were the first to be developed.
These were aimed at reducing communications costs, particularly printing.
Early intranet projects—not to mention some that are ongoing—can be easily
classified as content portals. Next in the evolutionary chain are transaction
portals—tools that encourage self-service. These are generally ad hoc,
one-off projects. Process portals are what Forrester pitches as its "big
idea." Designed to optimize business performance, process portals raise
issues about technologies, products, and vendors that the summit addressed.
Next up was Forrester analyst Nate Root. He showed some screen shots
of the three types of portals, noting that we were looking at an architectural
evolution rather than a revolution. He said: "Process portalsguide users
through business scenarios. This involves hand-holding. It's not just a
toolbox dumped on the floor in front of your desk. A process portal hands
you the proper tool and shows you how to use it." However,a process portal
still needs content management components, integration servers, and application
servers. Root then summarized the strengths and weaknesses of process portal
vendors IBM, BEA, Plumtree, TIBCO, and Microsoft.
In response to questions, Root said that people prefer buying a portal
solution from one company. Should you do this? It depends on your IT infrastructure
and the stability of the vendor you're considering. Integration was also
on attendees' minds. Root noted that the first integration is usually e-mail
because it's plain vanilla, but companies should not overlook instant messaging,
chat rooms, and threaded discussions.
Having listened to Forrester theory for most of the morning, it was
a relief to hear Bipin Patel, Ford Motor Co.'s director of management systems,
talk about his real-world experiences in building the MyFord portal. He
characterized Ford's intranet hub evolution as moving from hub as search
engine to hub as information center to hub as portal. Patel said that MyFord
has progressed from being an information source to being the employees'
The Ford portal statistics are impressive: 5 million hits per day and
200,000 unique users. Patel's objectives have been to reduce transaction
costs, help make employees more productive, and partner with outside companies.
"We see real efficiencies with how engineers communicate," said Patel,
adding that manufacturing has also been positively affected. "Our 50 paint
shops around the world are now sharing their best practices." He admitted,
however, that it's been a much tougher sell to marketing, which isn't as
keen on information sharing as some other internal departments. Throughout
the development, Patel has tracked ROI, focusing on how using MyFord affects
job performance rather than simply showing that MyFord is used.
System Integrators Roundtable
A quartet of system integrators rounded out the morning. Michael Cantor,
vice president of critical technologies organization at Cap Gemini Ernst
& Young; Benoit C. A. Gaucherin, chief technology officer at Sapient;
Don Giudice, vice president of solutions at Roundarch; and Michael J. McCreary,
human capital solutions principal consultant at PwC Consulting, fielded
questions on challenging projects, innovative portals, and implementation
costs. Each presented a brief case study about the portals on which they'd
consulted, talking about success factors, obstacles, and technology. Although
their approaches were different depending on client needs, several key
messages came through. Consolidation—having one platform for multiple constituencies—is
desirable. It's also very important to offer personalization features.
One of the most overlooked attributes is search, but it's vital to employees'
acceptance of portals. This is not a technology exercise—it's about changing
how people work.
Forrester analyst Nicholas Wilkoff's presentation focused on content
management as a core component of portals. He said that Web content management
isn't simple; it's an amalgam of many—sometimes conflicting—interests.
It includes authoring, template creation, publishing, and personalization.
Interactions between contributors and administrators are frequently inefficient
and duplicative. The solution lies in work-flow management. Collaboration
is important, as is recognizing the different types of content that can
be accommodated by portal technologies.
Wilkoff next identified vendors in the content management space, such
as divine, Documentum, FileNet, Interwoven, Microsoft, Stellent, and Vignette.
Although he didn't single out any one vendor as being superior to the others,
he did praise Interwoven's 80 pre-packaged ontologies, divine's solid architecture,
and Vignette's personalization and dynamic delivery. Looking to the future,
Wilkoff expects greater content integration, smarter portals, enterprisewide
standards, and federated search.
During her presentation, Forrester analyst Sharyn Leaver expanded on
the notion of greater business process management (BPM). She described
BPM as a circular flow from process optimization to process design to process
automation. She recommended a phased adoption of BPM. "Start small," was
her advice. Begin with a transaction product, move to a functional process,
and, finally, make the transition to a cross-functional process.
The day ended with a highly interactive series of sessions on request-for-proposal
(RFP) reviews.Attendees received a template for an RFP and were invited
to walk through the process with Forrester analysts and representatives
from the exhibiting companies. During this hands-on exercise, participants
put together selection criteria, portal vendor requirements, and project
Interest in all aspects of portals—whether from those attendees who
were just starting to plan for portal evolution or from those who were
looking at implementing a next-generation portal—was evident throughout
the TechRankings Summit. As a Forrester seminar, it was highly structured
and well-orchestrated, giving a clear view of the company's viewpoints
on portal technology. Although it was an interesting day, I found myself
wishing that there had been a few more speakers, like Patel, from the real
world of portal building.
Marydee Ojala is the editor of ONLINE, conference chair of
the National Online conference, and a longtime online business researcher.
Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.