Nothing makes a job tougher than having to scrounge for the right information. Glenn Kelman, vice president of marketing and product development at Plumtree, likes to cite Mazda Motor as an example of how employee-facing enterprise portals provide a convenient toolbox for people who would otherwise waste time gathering scattered resources.
To evaluate a car dealership's performance, Mazda field managers were once forced to compile green-bar printouts, conjure up the right spreadsheet, and have an assistant create a report from raw data supplied by a third-party service. "The process of preparing to visit a dealer took two days," Kelman says. Now that Mazda has deployed a Plumtree portal that consolidates all that information in a single, browser-based dashboard, the process takes field managers roughly an hour, he claims.
That little tale, with its dramatic productivity boost, illustrates how the enterprise portal has evolved from vague '90s notions of "empowering" employees with a document library to practical, tailored solutions for departments or jobs hobbled by a lack of integration. According to portal vendors, customers, and consultants, the trick to successful deployment is identifying related business processes, aggregating related apps and data within the portal framework, and establishing individual user identity as the organizing principle -- all while avoiding new coding as much as possible.
That conservative approach may explain why, without much fanfare, portals have kept rolling through the economic downturn. "In the last couple of years, when IT budgets were flat or down, one of the projects that was still being pursued was the B2E [business-to-employee] portal," says Gene Phifer, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "It offered a vehicle to save money, to consolidate Web resources, and to minimize the resources required to maintain fat-client components for traditional client-server or mainframe applications."
Over that same period, portal server offerings have matured, bundling their own simple app dev tools, content management, search functionality, collaboration apps, and even Webified versions of desktop applications. IBM, BEA, Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, SAP, PeopleSoft, and Novell all offer portal servers as part of their application server stacks, which include an integration server and a scheme to implement single sign-on so that one log-in provides access to all the apps and data a given user requires. EAI vendors such as Tibco, webMethods, and SeeBeyond all sell portal products, while Plumtree, Epicentric (which was recently acquired by Vignette), and other "independents" distinguish themselves by providing portal solutions that operate on multiple platforms.
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