The future of portals
by Toby Ward — In the intranet world, the big hype for the past five years has consistently been reserved for portals. Though not necessarily a top priority for intranet managers and executives, the vendors and tech media have focused great attention on portal products as the savior of for the corporate intranet.
Some big changes occurred in the portal market in the past
Independent portal vendor Plumtree was bought by leading
application software company BEA
Microsoft is investing big money (hundreds of millions of dollars)
into evolving its Sharepoint portal product and merging MS Content
Management Server (CMS) and Sharepoint into a single group
Content management companies are aggressively pushing portal
products (e.g. Vignette), and so too are other software companies (e.g.
Content management blur
The lines will blur even further between portal vendors and
content management vendors as well as other software vendors such as
document management and business intelligence. More companies will
bundle previously separate offerings such as portal and content
management. Oracle, SAP and Vignette all have portal products that
bundle with their primary software solution.
As the lines blur between software application vendors there will
be more consolidation in the market including a change in status for
Vignette (a sale or merger or acquisition). Vignette has long been one
of the premier leaders in content management systems(s). However, the
Vignette CMS is complex and expensive and suffers from many user
complaints about how difficult it is to use. The Vignette portal
product is relatively new and has not received much traction.
Financially, Vignette continues to lose money on little revenue growth
and until recently had a slumping stock price with growing debt. The
President & CEO recently resigned and the stock price has grown in
the past nine months with continued speculation about a possible
acquisition by (or merger with) a larger company.
Ease of use
Portal products can be easy to use for certain functions, and
lousy in other areas. Inconsistency is par for the course.
“We're going to see portals become friendlier to user employees,”
says Shiv Singh, Director Enterprise Solutions, Avenue A |
“Portal players are going to have to follow the Google Enterprise
mantra - enterprise tools shouldn't take more than a few hours to
install and should be extremely usable. Most portal packages take too
long to install and don’t allow meaningful customization in a cost
effective fashion. Too much time and money is spent solving technical
problems rather than business ones.”
All portal products offer user employee personalization options.
However, very few organizations have actually enacted or properly
implemented user personalization once they’ve purchased a portal
product. Most employee portal implementations feature customization
(e.g. choose the type of color or position of a content portlet or
gadget) or role-based personalization that is pre-configured by the
administrator (e.g. sales role page or site).
More portal companies will try to make it easy for organizations
to role out and implement role-based personalization – something that
largely relies a lot on offline planning and process. The technical
implementation will be better and be augmented by enhanced consulting
services not previously focused on by the portal vendor.
Blogging and RSS are of course huge phenomena as is other social
media including wikis and podcasting. Portal vendors will increasingly
hear requests for this type of functionality for integration into their
products. Look for IBM websphere and MS Sharepoint in particular to
tout these features.
We should also see the portal players integrate tools like
blogging, social tagging and wikis into their portal packages. Many are
catching on to the value of social media and its potential impact on
the enterprise could be huge.
“Expect to see VOIP integration, blogging, user driven tagging,
synchronous and asynchronous collaboration and of course enterprise
instant messaging,” adds Singh.
Vendors to watch
The usual name vendors will be the movers and shakers:
Portal versus CMS
Markets are blurring and becoming less distinctive to purchasers.
So what’s better for your organization – CMS or portal?
“It really depends on their business drivers and user needs,” says
“CMS products cannot integrate legacy applications well. Nor can they
serve as the foundation of executive dashboards. They also lack strong
personalization and customization features. On the other hand, a CMS
does workflow very well and manages large amounts of content better
than a portal ever could. So it really depends on the business’s needs
and the users.”
As for the potential ROI, portal products are more complex and
expensive than many CMSs and therefore the ROI can be less and your job
selling a portal implementation is that much harder.
Final note: buyer beware. Some solutions work well some
organizations and not in others. It’s important to first develop a full
plan with detailed business requirements before evaluating any
solution. A portal product is only a piece of technology, and
technology is as only as good as the people and process that support