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The enterprise information portal

This article appears in the issue Nov/Dec 2001 [Volume 10, Issue 10]

By Brian McDonough

The enterprise information portal (EIP) software market is still experiencing growth during an economic downturn as companies seek to improve the productivity of their employees. The market is small and the need to educate users about EIP software is still paramount for vendors seeking to spur further growth in the market. With confusion surrounding this software category, it’s necessary for IT buyers and management to understand what EIP software can do.

Enterprise information portals integrate access to data, information and applications, and present it to the business user in a useful format. The portals are used by the business user, but include IT administration tools, and have some level of the following functionality native to them:

  • role-based or rule-based administration,;

  • collaboration,;

  • content management and search, and;

  • access to structured data such as user query and reporting.;

Offering some level of those capabilities is a must for EIP vendors, and sometimes they partner to achieve such functionality, especially search technologies.

EIP software sits on top of existing applications, integration layers and information sources. It can then be further customized to create new Web-based applications that use information and application services available inside and outside the enterprise. An example of that would include self-service applications built using an EIP framework.

The broader portal software ecosystem is comprised of many other technology offerings that complement EIP software. Companies can add supporting functionality as needed or integrate access to existing applications and information sources.

Relatively few companies have metrics in place to measure the financial impact an EIP-based solution can yield. The same statement holds for e-mail, yet few companies would operate without it. When financial metrics are not abundant, general business goals that impact financial performance can be used to justify the purchase of EIP software:

  • retain expertise of key personnel,;

  • increase customer satisfaction,;

  • improve productivity,;

  • decrease IT administration costs,;

  • decrease product development cycles, and;

  • support e-business initiatives. ;

Companies can expect a variety of benefits from adopting EIP software and should detail their expectations when assessing their need for it and selecting appropriate vendors.

Once an overview of EIP software is understood, it is useful to understand the major categories of functionality that may be sought to achieve predefined business goals (see Table).

Companies considering purchasing EIP software should first consider their strategic goals, assess the availability of supporting capability currently in house, and create an RFP detailing requirements to meet those goals. During this economic downturn, conducting an ROI study prior to adoption of any software is increasingly important. The ROI models can become complex considering the amount of touch points that an EIP has within an enterprise.

As EIP software changes in scope and new entrants enter the market, new knowledge management capabilities will be incorporated into it. Features such as content visualization, contextual collaboration and expert location will aid employees in finding an answer to their business problem. Delivery of content in the context of a business process will greatly decrease decision time. Additionally, business processes will be analyzed, modeled and quickly deployed to allow for continuous improvement without extensive application re-engineering. EIP software can provide firms with a software platform to better manage knowledge and knowledge workers, but user needs must be analyzed first.

Enterprise Information Portal Software Feature Overview ....................................................................................................................................................................................

Feature: Description

Application integration

General application integration:Ability to launch or view other applications within the portal. Tools are provided to support integration with custom and packaged software.

Extensibility:Support of multiple programming languages for building extensions to new information or application sources.

Application development: Support for COM, OLE or CORBA as well as an open API. Added tools for building Web-based applications on top of the portal framework.

Structured data management

Metadata: Supports the user’s ability to associate metadata with content and share metadata filters. Integrates metadata with a relational database.

Reporting functionality: Comprehensive reporting functionality including drill-down, multiple format output support and user query.

Content and document management

General content and document management: Publish and subscribe support, user established document permissions, and support for managing and retrieving multiple file formats.

Review process and workflow: Experts can approve content for publication, route content for editing and establish appropriate retirement schedules.

Proactive information delivery: Ability for portal software to deliver updates or content to multiple devices on a scheduled or “when new” basis.

Directory: Document directories or knowledge trees support user navigation through documents by topic, type or other relevant metadata. Indexing and link management aid in support of directory administration.

Search: Supports search across multiple content sources including structured data sources, intranets, Internet content sites and network drives.

Collaboration

General collaboration: Supports e-mail, planners and application sharing among users. Support for other collaborative functionality, such as project workspaces and meeting places, may also be provided.

Chat room : Supports chat and threaded discussion board support with notification capabilities.

Administration

General administration: Support for a network-based administrative client in addition to Web-based administration capabilities. Product supports distinct administration roles such as business analyst, Web designer and application developer.

Personalization: Role-based administration allows for a starting point of personalization and access control. Users are then given permissions based on their role within the organization.

Scheduling: Administrator has the ability to schedule tasks at various user or group levels, schedule directory updates and database restrictions.

Reports: A variety of usage, performance and content quality reports is supported.

Architecture/platform

General: The portal software can support financial transactions, various usability features (undo, voice command) and presentation support across devices.

Server platform: Supports multiple server operating environments.

Client platforms: Supports multiple client environments. Supports multiple browsers.

Internationalization: Supports multiple languages in both content retrieval and interface.

Security

General security: Support for native security, and encryption of data between client and server.

Authorization, authentication, and administration: Supports “triple A” functionality.

Services

Professional services: Services to establish the employee roles, content configuration and directory consulting, as well as change management services, are beneficial to implementing the portal software.

Training services: Training services should be suited to the needs of the administrators, users and channel partners implementing the portal software.

Support

Support services: Support services include customer support staff available to respond to user and admin questions.

Patch requirements: Provides system patches via Web and other formats.

Documentation Documentation for portal administrators, users and channel partners must be available in a variety of formats. Online help should also be provided.

Partnership program: A formal partnership methodology with dedicated resources should be present. Content and technology partnerships should be created along with connectors to various technology offerings.

Brian McDonough is research manager of Knowledge Management Software for IDC (idc.com), e-mail bmcdonough@idc.com.


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