Portal eases strain on intranet

The education department is rolling out a portal to relieve pressure on its intranet, writes Karl Cushing.

The education department is rolling out a portal to relieve pressure on its intranet, writes Karl Cushing.

The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) plans to use a corporate portal to provide an online infrastructure for its 4,500 employees to boost collaboration, improve information access and comply with government guidelines for electronic service delivery.

The department began trialling parts of the product last September before signing a deal for the whole portal in March.

As Ian Adkin, e-business programme manager of DfES online, explains, the department wanted to check that the portal could deliver what the supplier had promised and get buy-in from the business users. "In hindsight that was an excellent tactic on our part," he says.

The department already has a very well-established intranet, which is about five years old, but Adkin says that in many ways it has been a victim of its own success. As the volume of data increased it became increasingly difficult and time consuming to find information. "We were worried that people would soon start drowning in information," he says.

Adkin explains that the intranet is structured to reflect the nature of the organisation, with different sections mirroring the various job functions within the department. The idea is that the portal will help to bring all this information together into one place and provide "a more personalised and consistent view of the data out there", says Adkin.

To facilitate this process the department is doing some tidying up of its data, for example by sorting out its use of meta tags.

The department aims to change the way staff use the Internet. It hopes to encourage them to do more pre-set tasks through the portal, collaborate more and use online communities, says Adkin, "to bring expertise to the surface and unlock collective intelligence as part of an online support network".

Although he says the portal is not a complete solution but a building block in a wider programme, Adkin believes it will play a huge role going forward. Consultants from Cap Gemini Ernst & Young are making sure that any new applications, such as the department's new electronic documents and record management system, are integrated into the portal.

"We think we use IT to support the business well and this is part of that programme," says Adkin. "It is a major underpinning piece of technology and a major strategic IP move for us for us."

A pilot project will start at the end of October and 300 users will go live on the system in November. The majority of workers will then start using the portal in March 2003, when it will be rolled out across the whole department. The project is based on a corporate portal from Plumtree, which was selected after a six-month technology review.

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