Business Information Portals: pros and cons

Enterprise or Business Information Portals create an umbrella website incorporating Internet, intranet and extranet. But what are...

Enterprise or Business Information Portals create an umbrella website incorporating Internet, intranet and extranet. But what are the pros and cons?


The effective leverage of information is playing a central role in achieving competitive advantage. Businesses must make decisions that every day affect the performance of their companies, as well as the performance of their business partners and customers. The rise of e-business applications that utilise information on both sides of the corporate firewall poses new challenges for companies that had previously relied on client/server business intelligence tools to deliver information to its users.



To ensure operational efficiency, companies have invested heavily in a wide range of systems such as SAP, PeopleSoft, Oracle, Vantive and Clarify to manage their business. To support their decision-making, companies have also made significant investments in the creation and deployment of data warehouses. These systems are all based on diverse technology platforms containing relational and OLAP databases based on mainframe, Unix and Windows platforms. To access and share information, users have adopted a wide range of business intelligence tools for enterprise reporting, OLAP, and ad-hoc query - as well as desktop tools like Word and Excel.



Ultimately, companies have wanted to create a "document-centric" view of their enterprise information, where users can securely search, access, analyse, publish, and subscribe to virtually any information from any source located anywhere in the enterprise. Instead, the failure of companies to easily integrate all their "islands" of information has forced them to create an "application-centric" view of their enterprise data.



The challenge




The challenge facing companies in this increasingly information-dominated age is creating an enterprise information portal for searching, accessing and delivering all types of corporate information.



The "application-centric" approach forced upon companies has created problems for both users and Information Technology. From the user standpoint, they are never sure if they can access all the available information from all available sources and are often forced to use one tool to view relational data and a different tool to view multidimensional data. For the company, this creates a training nightmare resulting in higher costs, inconsistent answers, and user frustration from all the application incompatibilities. For Information Technology, the "application-approach" lacks integration, is difficult to deploy, maintain and administer, and often requires too many tools, client/server and web-based, from different vendors.



What companies need is a way to provide business users with a single, browser-based window that provides all the personalised information needed to make informed business decisions in the same manner that Internet content portals like Yahoo do. At present there are many different offerings in this space, all designed to help solve this problem of creating enterprise or business portals quickly, efficiently and relatively cheaply. Some of the companies in this space include established companies such as Hummingbird, as well as other lesser-known names like SAS-Digital and Mediasurface.



Hummingbird has traditionally been a company that has provided connectivity solutions to link different platforms. They have extended this connectivity idea to enter the new Business or Enterprise Portal market. The growing popularity of business portals is based on one simple idea, that the website of the future won't be a mixture of bespoke or expensive custom solutions that require a great deal of time and financial investment to roll-out. The web is moving far too quickly for this, and the upshot is a single website that is an umbrella website that will encompass Internet, intranet or extranet.



The solution: Business or Enterprise Portals



To better understand the new approach to this fast developing philosophy, it's worth examining one option in greater detail. One solution to the aforementioned headache facing companies in this Internet world is Viador with its E-Portal Suite. E-Portal is a browser-based portal system that provides ubiquitous access to vital business information and is an integrated Enterprise Information Portal. E-Portal Suite gives users a single browser-based interface with which to access up-to-the-minute reports, analyse business results, and publish data quickly and easily.



Combining this easy-to-use portal interface with an adaptable server-based information backbone, the E-Portal Suite provides secure access and delivery for structured data from any database or data warehouse, as well as unstructured data contained in documents such as Microsoft Word and Excel or existing business intelligence tools.



For greater flexibility, E-Portal and other business portals are based on an open Application Programming Interface (API) and lets customers extend their enterprise portal as their needs change or grow.



E-Portal Suite can be broken down into a number of component parts and offers a solution to the challenge of enterprise information search, access, analysis and distribution, and integrates all the functionality required for information access and analysis, including:



Enterprise reporting and analysis


Business performance analysis (OLAP)


Metadata driven ad-hoc reporting



E-Portal's structure makes it flexible, which is essential for any web solution that has to integrate not only new but also legacy data



Central repository simplifies information access and distribution


Documents from multiple vendors can be accessed and distributed


Access to RDBMS, MDBMS, ERP, distributed data sources


Open API



Centrally manage enterprise-wide access



Single user login to access any information


Authorised users can view, alter or create reports


Secure extranet access for remote users, suppliers and customers



Functionality grows to meet dynamic company growth



Automatic event notification and paging


Load balancing, on-demand paging and object persistence


Intelligent publishing and group subscriptions



To make informed decisions, users need access to all information - no matter the source or location of the information within a company. E-Portal Suite is one of a number of solutions available in this growing area of the Internet marketplace. Enterprise or Business Information Portals provide a personalised, document-centric web information searching, analysis and dissemination solution that consolidates information from various sources, allowing users to tailor the E-Portal Suite to their specific business information requirements.



Compiled by Paul Phillips


Read more on Business intelligence software