Information Today
Volume 19, Issue 10 — November 2002
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• IT Report from the Field •
Forrester Research Hosts Portals Summit
This 1-day event in Salt Lake City addressed the current enterprise portal landscape
by Marydee Ojala

Enterprise 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. 

Portal Types

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. 

Ford's Portal

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' working environment. 

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. 

Content Management

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. 

Other Sessions

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 timelines. 

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 

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