impossible for ideas to compete in the marketplace if no forum for
their presentation is provided or available." Thomas Mann, 1896
The Convergence of
Information, Application and Technology
Author: Corey Smith
Contributed by Kanbay Inc.
“It is a single
window onto the combined knowledge and processing power of the enterprise”
architecture you will simply build stove-pipe Legacy systems at Internet
“Strategic IT Planning
allows you to identify and prioritize the components of the portal to be
The Enterprise Portal is the desktop for a new age, the
information age. It is a single
window onto the combined knowledge and processing power of the enterprise.
To enhance the experience of customers, employees, suppliers and
partners the Enterprise Portal must provide a convergence of information,
application and technology.
This convergence differentiates the Enterprise Portal
from a collection of web sites by offering universal access to information,
role-based personalization, cross-application workflow, common content
management, centralized user management and a framework for future application
Organizational benefits are derived from improved
customer service, increased employee efficiencies, opening new markets and
reduced costs for internal and external business transactions.
It is useful to view an Enterprise Portal as an
Information Architecture and not an application. The architecture establishes
the foundation for a common view of the data, plug and play applications and a
common management interface for content and security. The real power of the Enterprise Portal comes from the
convergence, not from the web-base display mechanism.
It is not practical to implement an Enterprise Portal
at one time, so it must be implemented as components. Components include one or more departmental portals
(self-service HR or Business Intelligence) and infrastructure components
The architecture is the guiding hand that allows you to
implement web applications and departmental portals with confidence that they
can be tied together later. Without
information architecture you will simply build stovepipe Legacy systems at
Strategic IT Planning allows you to identify and
prioritize the components of the portal to be implemented.
Planning ensures that the components will fit together to create a
Business goals and objectives are analyzed to determine if the
Enterprise Portal architecture will help the business meet its objectives.
IT objectives are set to drive the work to be
Strategies to meet each IT objective are prioritized and
Tactical Plans, including budgets and milestones, to implement
the strategies are developed.
Business Measures are identified so that the value
of implementing the strategies can be judged against the cost
of implementing them.
This document is intended to define an Enterprise Portal
and to show how it can provide value to the organization.
It will also identify several considerations for planning the
implementation. It is intend
for an audience with a basic understanding of the Web and consumer portals such
as Yahoo. However, this document is
not intended as a definitive guide to this ever-evolving aspect of
e‑Business nor will it provide specific step-by-step instructions on the
care and feeding of your Enterprise Portal.
What is an Enterprise Portal
The Enterprise Portal evolves from the consumer portal as
represented by the popular My Yahoo model.
From Yahoo, a consumer gets a single view of the information on the
Internet. It provides searching
capabilities, a customizable interface and categorized content to deliver
exactly what the user wants, without a lot of browsing.
The enterprise portal seeks to provide the virtues of the
consumer portal to the organizational user while expanding the offering to meet
the needs of the user community. In
this context, the user community includes employees, suppliers, partners and
customers of the enterprise. We can
broaden the consumer portal definition to say that the Enterprise Portal is a single window onto the combined knowledge and
processing power of the enterprise.
But what does that mean?
The idea of a single window (or
gateway) implies that there is one place or location that users can go to access
all the enterprise information they need. To accomplish this, the portal will need to know who the user
is and what their information requirements are.
knowledge and processing power means that there is a convergence, or
integration, of information, applications and technology resources. It also
means there is a convergence of people - customers, employees, vendors, and
partners - who are a crucial part of the knowledge and processing power.
Even The Enterprise
is not as clearly defined as it once was. In
the emerging e-business model, the enterprise can encompass information and
people beyond the legal boundaries of the corporation.
The portal may include shipping information from a vendor, financial data
from Dow Jones and current inventory levels from your customer.
Within this context, what differentiates an Enterprise
Portal from a grouping of web sites or a consumer portal?
It is essential to focus on seven key concepts that characterize an
1. Universal access to a broad range
of information in both structured and unstructured formats from a variety of
The Enterprise Portal needs
to provide the right information to the right user at the right time.
The system must provide a variety of access methods.
Besides the standard web browser, personal digital assistants and
web-enabled phones are emerging as important access methods.
Universal access places greater demands on the networks and servers to
support greater volumes of traffic through more channels.
The Enterprise Portal must
allow greater access to structured and unstructured information.
Current systems tend to provide structured information like customer
information or account balance from database systems.
The portal needs to provide access to unstructured information like
images, email or discussion groups.
2. Personalized presentation for each
user based on their role or function within the organization.
An Enterprise Portal must go
beyond the personalized content provide by a consumer portal to offer role-based
allows an individual to control the presentation based on personal preference.
By contrast, role-based customization delivers content based on your role
in the organization or your participation in certain groups.
Take an example such as
performance appraisal reminders. Any
employee designated a manager, for instance, will have appraisal reminders
placed on their personal calendar automatically. The reminders are only for that manager's staff and the
reminders are removed as soon as the manager is designated as a non-manager.
Support for extended business
functions that cross applications, functions and even organizations.
Cross-functional workflow is
an essential component of the Portalâ€™s convergence of information and
application. Consider all the
components of a new employee process within your organization: payroll,
insurance, 401(k), building security, parking permit, PC procurement and office
supplies. The portal must facilitate and monitor the extended business function.
Further, in the evolving
e-Business framework, processes donâ€™t merely cross-functional boundaries, they
cross organizational boundaries. In
the new employee example above, the 401(k) and insurance enrollment tasks of the
process may be handled by a HR outsourcing firm.
Knowledge Management by encouraging
and capturing person-to-person collaboration.
Capturing collaboration is
the key to organizational learning, but systems rarely facilitate this process.
Collaboration covers a significant range of human interaction that
includes co-production of documentation, email, online whiteboards, video
conferencing, online forums and project management tools.
collaboration allows distributed teams to come together virtually, to work
together more effectively and to produce better results.
Capturing the collaboration allows for an organizational memory of the
process to be reused later. For
instance, a product vendor and a channel partner can work together on a sales
effort for a particular customer. The
portal can support online meetings as well as allowing the concurrent
development of sales material and contracts.
Once the sale is complete, the implementation team can access the
materials to ensure the delivery of the product and a new sales team can reuse
the sales materials on a different customer in the same vertical market.
A standardized means of content
creation and management.
In becoming the new desktop
and single window for all information, the Enterprise Portal must facilitate the
creation and management of content by all users. Consider the following four items:
Content publishing tools must be available to all users so they
can create and maintain information in an open format.
With the portal as the new desktop, desktop productivity tools that
publish to the portal are a requirement. In
addition, users must publish in a format that the audience can accept.
There is no guarantee that the sales agreement you created with
WordPerfect can be read in MS Word by your partner.
Content management is the responsibility of individuals not of the
webmaster. Which individual or
individuals will be responsible depends on the situation.
A user should be able to control content in their personal areas.
In a team setting, all team members can edit documents for group use, but
are not allowed access to external facing documents.
In HR, any team member can edit the document, but the VPs of HR and Legal
must approve changes before they are officially published.
Change control must be available when needed.
Some documents, particularly those developed in a collaborative
environment, need features to control and document revisions as well as ensuring
the availability of the “official version” to all users.
Categorization schemes need to be established to help users find
information in a consistent manner. While
many look to super search engines to solve the information glut problem, it is
unlikely that such tools will help the average user in the near term.
The value of the Yahoo portal is that you donâ€™t search for “travel
agents”, you go to the travel category and then to the “travel agents”
category. A search for “travel
agents” could easily return tens of thousands of hits.
Returning ten thousand hits does not encourage productivity.
A comprehensive, centrally
administered information security policy that defines each userâ€™s access to
all applications and data.
Your organization needs a
robust information security strategy whether implementing an Enterprise Portal
or not. Therefore, this point does
not imply that there is a difference between security for an Enterprise Portal
and a traditional computing environment. Instead,
it acknowledges the general overall weakness of security implementations.
This point dictates that the shortcomings of your current security
infrastructure must not be migrated to the Enterprise Portal.
A robust security
infrastructure starts with a comprehensive information security strategy that
guides the development of policies and practices. Information security is a complex mix of business and
technical issues that must be reconciled to produce the strategy.
Additionally, rigorous security policies are complex, but the complexity
must not be compounded by the method of administration.
Centralizing security management reduces administrative complexities,
redundancies and inconsistencies.
A framework to allow for new
applications to plug into the Portal in the future.
If change is a constant then
there is an implicit requirement to build a flexible framework to encourage
further development of portal applications.
Adopting an Enterprise Portal is adopting a new computing platform.
New applications will be added to the Portal while existing systems will
need to be enhanced or converted to run in the portal.
Given the current trend in purchased applications, it is essential that
software vendors be consulted for their development strategy.
An open framework also
encourages the inclusion of 3rd party information and tools.
For instance, a group of money managers might be delivered financial data
from Dow Jones News Service.
The Enterprise Portalâ€™s Value Proposition
The true value of the
Enterprise Portal comes from the convergence of information, application and
technology. Without the
convergence, the migration to the web is largely a conversion of the
presentation layer of the application. It
is difficult to imagine that significant value can be realized simply by
changing the look and feel of the application, again.
The issue of value will vary
from organization to organization, but common themes which should be consider
Customers and partners realize reduced costs of doing business and
improved service because the Enterprise Portal provides them the information
they need simply and easily. This
extra value encourages loyalty and increases business.
Such features include an online catalog, real-time order tracking,
technical and sales support, distribution of marketing collateral and
personalized data warehouses.
A server-based portal allows the organizations to consider
migrating from a fat client to a thin client.
While complete elimination of PCs is unlikely, it does open the option to
not have a PC on every desk, thereby reducing the cost to support the equipment
Allowing universal access by a variety of devices supports
distributed and mobile users better than the standard desktop model.
First, you break geographic boundaries that restrict interaction.
For example, the collaboration features can allow a technical subject
matter expert to participate in a sales proposal without the cost of travelling
(or less travelling). Second, users
are provided a device that better fits their usage patterns.
A laptop isnâ€™t necessarily a practical tool for outside sales and
service. A Palm Pilot may provide
greater access to information at a reduced cost to the organization.
Better information security is more efficiently provided through
the implementation of consistent security policies that are centrally managed.
Easy access to accurate and timely information will increase
employee productivity which leads to reduced costs and reduced staffing needs.
Self-service HR systems offer the employee the ability to quickly and
accurately perform routine HR tasks, freeing the HR staff to perform higher
Efficiencies will be recognized through workflow that spans
applications, departments and even organizations.
The process is integrated and documented, easier to monitor and is
completed more accurately. Facilitating cross-organizational processes through workflow
tools reduces the need for handholding to ensure completion of the work.
As mentioned earlier, an Enterprise Portal is more an
architecture than an application. Therefore,
the examples mentioned below are not Enterprise Portals but instead they are
components. Taken as a whole, along
with the underlying infrastructure, they help to form the Enterprise Portal.
The following three examples have emerged as popular choices for an
initial portal offering based on the value and experience gained.
Self-Service Human Resource Portal
The self-service HR portal is intended to provide the
employee with direct access to their payroll and personnel information.
Employees can check on vacation and sick leave totals, update their
401(k) deductions, contribute to the United Way and see when their next
appraisal is due. If the employee
is also a manager, they can view appropriate information regarding their staff
(performance, salary). They would
have access to personnel procedures for hiring or long-term disability claims
and can post a new job opening.
The services are directly tied into the existing payroll
and personnel systems to allow transactions to be completed online by the
employee. If an outsourcing partner
supports a function, then the portal must integrate with the partnerâ€™s system.
Benefits include greater access to information, less
paper shuffling, reallocating HR staff to higher value work and increased
compliance with policy and procedure.
Web Housing Portal
The Web Housing Portal is a web-enabled reporting system
or data warehouse. To
differentiate, a reporting system would provide reports on data from a
transactional system at a point in time, whereas, the data warehouse provides
access to consolidated information about a fact presented over time.
Using the online reporting system, users will find all
their reports consolidated to one place, easily viewable when they need them and
available for printing on demand. An
enhanced system can offer a database of transactional data for ad hoc reporting.
In this situation, the users can develop and run the reports they want,
whenever they want. Data
warehousing goes beyond simple reporting and provides information to support
investigation into areas such as sales trends, resource utilization or
manufacturing quality. From the
portal, users will find pre-defined queries as well as tools to create ad hoc
queries. Again the users can find all the information consolidated
into one area and is empowered to create and modify queries as needed.
Expanding on the reporting options, users may see real
benefits from a dashboard implementation of the reports and queries.
The dashboard concept places key decision making data onto one page, much
as a car dashboard contains all the key operational data about the car.
When paired with an alert mechanism, users can specify that they be
alerted when certain threshold criteria is met (inventory falls below two day
reserves, cash balances drop below $35,000.00, etc).
Benefits include savings from reduced printing and
shipping costs. The users are
empowered to create the reports they need to do their job without the waiting
for IT. When the data warehouse is
integrated into the portal more users (employees, customers, partners) have
access to the data to improve their decision making.
The cost of processing purchase orders is very high,
whether for standard office supplies or key resources.
Many firms are realizing significant cost savings as they move
procurement online. In an online
system, users have access to the necessary catalogs and can place an order
directly online. The business rules
around ordering and approvals (who can order how much against which cost center
with whose approval) are built directly into the workflow.
The system ties into the supplierâ€™s order system as well as the
companyâ€™s own Accounts Payable and Receiving systems.
Benefits include increase purchasing power through
consolidation of orders, better order tracking mechanism, reduced errors through
online ordering and workflow enforced business rules, faster processing, reduced
paper shuffling and more efficient use of staff.
Strategic Planning for Enterprise Portal Development
Given that the Enterprise Portal is an architecture, it
is neither practical nor desirable to attempt to implement a full Enterprise
Portal at one time. Cost and
complexity are major roadblocks, as are cultural issues and the lack of mature
technologies. But if you canâ€™t
implement it all at once, how can you ensure that the components will fit
together when they are implemented? The
answer is to develop a long-term Strategic IT Plan.
Strategic IT Planning methods have been around for
sometime but have been under used due to the tactical nature of IT.
While IT Planning methods vary, generally they are composed of setting
mission and objective, identifying strategies for each objective then defining
an action plan to achieve each strategy. A
mechanism for providing feedback into the next planning cycle is included.
The first question to be
answered is whether an Enterprise Portal architecture offers the kind of
features that support the stated business strategies. Business strategies that call for integration, process
improvement, efficiencies, enhanced communication, better relationships or
global expansion are consistent with the convergence and accessibility that an
Enterprise Portal offers.
If there is no compelling
business drivers for an Enterprise Portal then IT objectives should be
refocused. If the business
community seems to be unaware of the possibilities that new technology enables,
IT should provide education as an input to the business planning cycle (see
“When Technology Drives Business” below).
IT Objective Setting
This step identifies the
objectives to be accomplished by IT during the planning period.
Planning methodologies (IT and Business oriented) generally suggest three
to five objectives for any given planning period.
The explicitly stated objectives of the Business Planning process will
drive most of the IT objectives. It
isnâ€™t particularly difficult to turn business objectives such as “cost
reduction through inventory control” or “superior customer service through
enhanced communication” into strategic IT objectives.
There are, however, a number
of implicitly stated needs and it is incumbent upon the IT group to focus one of
its Objectives on the architecture of the Enterprise Portal.
For instance, a B2B portal for channel partners carries an implicit need
for security. Likewise, a request for Knowledge Management carries an
implicit request for a standard taxonomy to categorize information.
If the architectural foundations (tools, languages, protocols, standards
and computing platforms) are not established, then convergence will never be
Select Appropriate Strategies
this phase a series of alternate strategies to accomplish each objective are
identified. A ranking and
prioritization scheme is use to select a strategy or strategy set that is deemed
the most appropriate based on pre-determined selection criteria.
The primary consideration to use a consistent set of criteria so that
the rankings of one strategy can be compared to the rankings of another.
A common method is to map the
value of a strategy against the ability of the organization to implement the
strategy (see diagram at right). Strategies
that fall into the upper right quadrant are the strongest choices because they
offer the most organizational value with the highest likelihood of success.
Selections in the upper left and lower right quadrants are marginal
choices that can be improved by increasing the ability to implement or
increasing the value of the project respectively.
The preferred method of
ranking the value is to have the business community or Program Management teams
perform that function. This is
especially true for those strategies that might be used to implement the
architecture of the Enterprise Portal as described above.
Because the requirements for such features are implicit, the business
community may not value such strategies very high.
It is critical for IT to help them understand the value of centralized
security or categorization schemes in the context of their explicit needs.
Without the proper support from the business community the strategy must
be ranked lower on ability to implement because user support is a critical
component in project success.
Define Action Plan
The Action Plan is the means
to implement the selected strategy or set of strategies.
Standard project management practices dictate that project teams are
staffed, milestones are established and critical success factors are identified.
Again, the use of a Program Management team to ensure the success of the
entire portfolio of projects is an increasingly common technique.
Identify Measures of Success
In this final phase,
performance criteria are established to determine if the objective has been
achieved. The criteria will include
both financial and non-financial measures so that the value of achieving the
objective can be judged against the cost of achieving the objective.
When Technology Drives Business
The prescriptions in this document stress the need to
align IT initiatives with the business goals to ensure that IT is delivering
value in business terms. There are,
however, times when advancements in technology open up new possibilities,
creating a situation where Technology drives Business. Acting as an internal
consultant, IT must be aware of the potential for technology to change business
and present these ideas as an input to the business planning process.
Letâ€™s call this the Technology Education role.
It is important to differentiate the IT Strategy Planning
role with the Technology Education role. IT
Strategies must remain focused on facilitating the goals and objectives of the
organization as they exist. Attempting
to influence the strategic direction of the organization through IT
implementations is the tail wagging the dog.
Significant resources, both time and money, are wasted on systems that
donâ€™t work, arenâ€™t used or canâ€™t support the full business functionality.
Ultimately, the credibility of the IT organization is diminished.
Take an example where the IT executive is aware of a
general concern within the corporation that it is in a saturated market and is
facing a stagnant market share. Using
standard web technologies, the IT executive believes the company can expand into
foreign markets. Wearing her
Technology Education hat, the IT executive can use benchmarking, competitive
analysis, case studies and prototypes to show the VP of Sales how the
corporation can move into foreign markets.
The IT executive should not, however, set a strategic IT objective of
developing a Spanish language catalog and order entry site until the business
has decided to enter the market place.
The e*Path Model for Planning and Implementation
There are various methods to accomplish the planning and implementation of an
Enterprise Portal as described above. One
such method is Kanbayâ€™s e*Path™ solution. e*Path is a three-phased approach (shown below) for
transforming a business into an e-Business.
It focuses on the deployment of new and legacy application to the web in
a timely and cost effective manner.
The Envision phase defines the strategies to move to
e-Business. Kanbay uses an
e-Business Education step to enlighten the business community on the
possibilities that technology offers before moving into the Business Strategy
step. Envision also offers
Technology Strategy sessions to ensure alignment with the Business Strategy.
Envision also addresses two topics mentioned only briefly elsewhere in
this document: Impact Analysis (cultural change) and Security Assessments.
The Enable phase is the implementation phase of e*Path.
The strength of the Enable model is its ability to leverage existing
investment in information infrastructure. This
decreases implementation time and offers a better return on the investment.
Using the Envision planning sessions as a guiding hand, implementation
(new development, conversion, migration) of the components can be done with
confidence that they will work together.
The Excel phase encourages growth through innovation by
providing the necessary feedback on the business and technical performance of
the system. The performance
measures allow for system modification or enhancements that improve the return
on the investment.
An Enterprise Portal is the convergence of information,
process and technology to provide a single window onto the combined knowledge
and processing power of the enterprise. It
is defined by its universal access, role-based personalization, extended
business functions, knowledge management features, ease of content creation and
categorization, centralized security administration and application development
An Enterprise Portal is an integrated architecture and
not a single application, which means it is neither feasible nor desirable to
implement as one entity. In fact,
an Enterprise Portal as defined here may not be suitable for your environment
given its stated business objectives at this time. It is important to identify and implement those components of
the integrated architecture that do add value to your organization.
An overall plan, developed through Strategic IT Planning,
is needed to ensure that the components of the Enterprise Portal (applications
and infrastructure) are integrated to form a cohesive platform and that
Enterprise Portal contributes to the goals of the enterprise.
An evolving body of knowledge (BOK) is much like the
“take a penny, leave a penny” tray at the cash register. In addition to my personal experiences, and those of other
Kanbay Associates, I found the following to be excellent references from which
to take a penny.
Blount, Sumner (2000, May). Secure Portal Management. EAI
Eckerson, Wayne (1999, July). 15 Rules for Enterprise
Portals. Oracle Magazine.
Finkelstein, Clive & Aiken, Peter (2000) Building
Corporate Portals with XML. New York, NY:McGraw Hill
Grammer, Jeff (2000, March). The Enterprise Knowledge
Portal. DM Review.
Hawes, Larry (2000, May 15). Portal Fusion. Intelligent
Rosenfeld, Louis & Morville, Peter (1998). Information
Architecture for the World Wide Web. Sebastopol, CA:Oâ€™Reilly and
Schroeck, Michael J. (2000, January). Insights from the
Front Line: Enterprise Information Portals. DM
Review. Available at
Wiseth, Kelli (1999, November). Portal Power. Oracle
Without pointing to specific articles, periodicals such
as DM Review - Intelligent Enterprise
and EAI Journal http://www.eaijournal.com
are recommended because of their focus on IT convergence and integration.
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