By Brian McDonough
The enterprise portal software and services market is exhibiting strong growth as more companies begin to understand how to address the information and application access needs of their clients. The technologies used to support portal initiatives are evolving rapidly with new vendors entering as others leave. Understanding demand for various technologies and services allows IT-buyer organizations to compare their strategies with early adopters. It further helps vendors align supply with the market needs.
In an IDC survey, respondents who were involved in undertaking a portal initiative in 2003 were highly concentrated in the financial management, process manufacturing and business and legal services industries. Forty-two percent of the respondents involved in a portal initiative do not have performance metrics in place to measure the financial impact of their initiative. Project leaders or key decision makers comprised nearly 55% of the respondents with other respondents representing decision influencers and to a lesser extent, users.
Portals must address the needs of both the business user and the IT department. That requires standards-based technologies that can be implemented to address specific business problems. In support of this theory, the survey results show that cross-functional teams typically lead the portal implementation project, followed by the CIO.
Respondents who stated that their companies were adopting a portal listed support of reducing the cost of maintaining multiple intranet sites and support of e-business initiatives as the top business reasons for undertaking the initiative. Over 55% listed that the portal software is used internally as a productivity tool for employees, rather than as a tool for partners or customers. As companies solve the problems that spurred their adoption of the portal software, they will later expand the capabilities and functionality delivered through the portal.
Similarly, many firms implement the portal to address the needs of a specific department before expanding the portal software to the benefit of the enterprise as a whole. This staged implementation enables companies to define the scope of an initial portal project, realize benefits rapidly, and then move on to address more business problems on the same software platform. Departments initially provided access to the portal are primarily corporate management, HR and Marketing.
With specific goals identified for the portal implementation, companies will find they need to adopt technologies other than just the portal software to achieve those goals. To support improved decision making, companies will adopt technologies to improve access to structured data, such as Web-based reporting software, and unstructured information, such as content management applications. Often a company will find that it lacks the means to effectively manage content. Typically there are multiple instances of content management infrastructure in place but no single point through which employees can access unstructured information. Furthermore, collaboration capabilities often need to be increased to achieve the goals of a portal implementation. The survey respondents indicated that they are more likely to purchase web-based reporting software to support their portal initiative.
Once a portal is in place, companies may find that not all employees access it. That can signal that the portal implementation was not designed to appropriately address functional or information access requirements across the enterprise. When companies notice a large discrepancy between the number of employees who have access to the portal and the number of employees that use that portal daily, they should begin to investigate what features and functions would capture the attention of more employees.
As more employees participate with the portal, knowledge is captured and shared, new efficiencies are realized and the effectiveness of the employee increases. Without significant employee involvement in the portal, the investment in the software can be greater than the returns. Companies should plan to have more resources dedicated to the maintenance and upgrade of the portal functionality after it is deployed to address those requirements. While the portal may only require a few resources to administer the site, there will be a need to upgrade the functionality of the portal on a continuous basis. Identifying and addressing business processes that span multiple applications and information sources should signal an opportunity to develop a solution on the portal platform.
Guidance for the EPS vendor
EPS vendors must be able to sell to both the IT department and the business user. Standalone portal vendors can continue to be innovative in the types of capabilities they offer to the business user. Application server vendors will be challenged to build awareness and functionality suited to a class of IT buyers previously not targeted by their marketing and product development efforts: the business user.
Knowledge management initiatives, whether defined as such by the customer or not, will continue to be a major buying center for EPS vendors to address. The key is to offer functionality suited to the knowledge worker that is easy to use. EPS vendors can best reach that audience by building user case studies, developing prepackaged software bundles to handle community development, incorporating inquiry management capabilities and offering contextual content management features.
Easily measured reductions in administrative costs will appeal to a broad range of EPS prospects. Without business process applicability, however, EPS vendors will struggle to gain market share.
Enterprise application vendors, such as SAP (sap.com) and PeopleSoft (peoplesoft.com), must consider their EPS products important to their future growth overall. The ability to create and deploy new knowledge-enhanced applications is dependent on the ability to exploit the possibilities that EPS has created.
EPS openness is an important competitive capability in the EPS market. SAP and other enterprise application vendors with EPS offerings will see sales of enterprise applications being pulled through by sales of EPS. This means that a competitive EPS offering is strategically important to enterprise application vendors. EPS offerings from enterprise application vendors cannot be proprietary, or overly lacking in functionality, because it would increase the risk for compromising future opportunities.
Guidance for the EPS buyer
Undertaking a portal implementation can be yet another daunting experience in software adoption. Buyers would be best served to assess their current capabilities for supporting decisions before and after a transaction is executed. Although a specific audience may be funding an initial portal implementation, future enterprisewide use of the portal software should be considered.
And simply planning to provide all employees with access to corporate information through the portal is insufficient. Rapidly realized benefits can be achieved by delivering access to legacy or custom applications; reducing administration of intranet and extranet sites; and improving information sharing among employees, partners, suppliers and customers.
Portals can enable the development and deployment of new e-business applications to address changing market requirements. Simply redeploying intranets on a packaged portal product will result in missed opportunities for improving knowledge worker effectiveness. That may be an elusive goal, but it can be achieved as a part of a continuous process.
Brian McDonough is research manager, Enterprise Portal Solutions, IDC (idc.com), e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.