Portals prove their worth despite integration challenges

Organisations are replacing e-business systems with portals in a bid to save cash. But the complexities of application...

Organisations are replacing e-business systems with portals in a bid to save cash. But the complexities of application integration are proving to be a major headache.

That is the message from Plumtree Software, the portal vendor whose solutions are deployed by Ford, Proctor & Gamble and other blue chips after it surveyed 110 of its customers.

Plumtree reported that portal adoption has increased across every industry sector and claimed that more than two-thirds of enterprise portals were deployed within six months.

The survey found 66% of customers had developed six or more new Web services for delivery through the portal but it also reported that more than half of those surveyed cited application integration as "the most significant challenge".

Plumtree reported that 61% of organisations chose a portal to simplify access to information for employees. The second biggest benefit, cited by 18% of customers, was consolidation of web investments and cost savings money. Plumtree customers were particularly keen to eliminate inefficiencies caused by uncoordinated overlapping intranets.

Charlie Abrahams, Plumtree's European managing director, told CW360.com that portals are inexpensive and time-efficient compared to ERP systems, which can be "multi-year projects".

To overcome the intricacies of application integration Abrahams advised companies to "focus their architecture on internet standards such as HTTP, which are safe, rather than going all for Java or Microsoft."

Although Plumtree highlights the benefits of portals, a recent report by analyst group Forrester warned firms against treating portals as "panaceas for too many problems".

The report highlighted portal pitfalls, such as a failure to match a clear mission with a matching technology vision and lack of collaboration between business and IT units.

Abrahams agreed with the Forrester analysis. "Technology must match the business," he said. Abrahams also highlighted "the need for executive sponsorship."

"Otherwise you have infighting between departments over who should have access to the information," he added.

Forrester recommendations
  • Measurable objectives. Only clear metrics for each portal will drive executive commitment and enable smarter funding decisions.

  • A lead executive sponsor. Even with common infrastructure anything less than senior sponsorship will lead to a flurry of portals springing up from each business unit -- not unlike the mess of intranets many firms have today.

  • Content structured round a business process. E-business places a premium on collaborative processes that cross functions and companies. Design portal content to consolidate data from across these boundaries, bolstering process, like order fulfillment, or new product development, that span business units.

Source: Forrester Research: Enterprise Portals: one size won't fit all

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