Portals at forefront of intranet evolution

Intranets and extranets are sharing the spotlight at the Intranet/Extranet (IE) Expo conference in San Franciso this week with...

Intranets and extranets are sharing the spotlight at the Intranet/Extranet (IE) Expo conference in San Franciso this week with another much-hyped technology: portals.

Although intranets and extranets are seen as a way to provide access to isolated "silos" of information to appropriate persons, portals present a single, Web-based access point for corporate data, according to conference attendees.

The portal sits on top of the intranet, said Anoma Olmedo, director of strategic marketing at US-based portal vendor DataChannel.

Although search technology has improved intranets, "they're still operated as [data] silos," providing unstructured information, said Olmedo.

"A portal has personalisation capabilities that an extranet doesn't necessarily have," she said. Portals also provide capabilities for role-based security, with individuals having customised access to specific information.

"We think of the portal as really the new business desktop," said Olmedo.

IE Expo keynote speaker Jakob Nielsen, a senior group member at the US-based consulting firm Nielsen Norman, acknowledged the growing interest in portals.
"Intranets really have been the neglected stepchild in terms of design," said Neilsen. Portals, meanwhile, are "trying to impose a structure" on data, he said.

But there is a need for both intranets and portals, said Neilsen. Intranets provide a conglomeration of services, while portals provide a navigation scheme around huge amounts of information, he said.

An intranet and extranet user at the conference said his company expects to migrate to a portal. "We're using Lotus Notes and we find ourselves drowning in information," said Tamir Levin, vice-president of information technology at SPL Worldgroup, a US-based developer of customer care and billing software for the energy industry.

Portals provide an easier way to distribute information, Levin said. "I expect a portal to have added value for decision-making and role-based data presentation," he said.

David Scott, vice-president of corporate marketing at NewsEdge, a US-based provider of news feeds, said portals are especially beneficial for larger enterprises in terms of data presentation.

"It's all in one place," said Scott. "If [a company has] 10,000 employees in an organisation and each is saving two hours a week because their information is easier to access, that saving is huge."

"In my mind, an intranet is the entire collection of stuff that a company has available inside that organisation," said Scott. "What I think the portal does is ... [it] is the infrastructure that allows people to get at the information that's on the intranet."

"The intranet is almost a superset of the stuff that's on the portal," he said.

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