SmartAdvice: Enterprise Information Portals Are Easy To Justify, Hard To Build
As budget restrictions ease, an enterprise information portal to centralize IT access functions is going to be on the short list for many companies, The Advisory Council says. Also, WiMax and best-management practices to evaluate consultants.
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Question A: We don't have an enterprise portal, and with budget-pressure starting to ease, are wondering if we should. What factors should we consider before starting a portal project?
Our advice: It's not surprising that budgeting pressures have stood in the way of your implementing an enterprise information portal. Our research shows that among companies of all sizes, budget limitations are by far the highest barrier to implementing EIP solutions. Now that that problem has eased, however, the questions are whether you should move forward with an EIP project, and if you do, what must it do and what requirements must it meet. The same research tells us that the relative importance of other projects, and the difficulty in assessing ROI potential up front, are the next largest barriers to enterprise information portal adoption. Gaining a clear understanding of EIP benefits is therefore an essential first step.
The direct benefits of an EIP solution fall into three major categories:
Reduced IT costs This benefit results from the centralization of IT expertise. By creating a single source of control for information, data, and computing resources, IT departments can consolidate expertise in one place rather than having to localize IT at a number of separate locations (or forcing IT personnel to travel to those locations).
Server consolidation Already an important component of IT planning and change, server consolidation possibilities are enhanced via an EIP's ability to present consolidated server functions seamlessly through a Web interface. The result could be savings in hardware, training, and help-desk support.
Reallocation of resources Potential consolidation opportunities exist for organizations as well. An EIP can, for instance, uncover incorrect staffing levels for departments, or systems and applications that aren't optimally utilized.
Since there are few organizations of appreciable size that couldn't leverage these benefits in a significant way, an EIP will likely appear on the IT departments' short lists once resources become available.
If you find these direct benefits attractive and relevant to you, a drill-down is then in order that maps EIP capabilities to your unique situation, within the context of how IT solutions will be built from this point on.
The EIP is actually a next step in the evolution of how an organization's information is accessed and delivered (from newsletters, to E-mail, then intranets and extranets, and now, the EIP). The evolution of network-based computing parallels this today in the form of services (of which Web services is an instance) built upon a services-oriented architecture. The result is the ability to interoperate on the application level, internal and external to your organization, in ways never before possible.
The utility of an EIP as part of a services-oriented architecture implementation is obvious, but you should examine your plans to move forward with services-based solutions both as an impetus for creating an EIP, and to understand what you require that EIP to do. Will it be internally focused (used by employees), or will it also be used by external communities? With how many information sources must it integrate? Will users require the ability to modify their own access based on roles (is a "dynamic user interface" needed)?
This brings us to the next step in your analysis, which is the list of requirements against which an EIP solution must be measured. These typically include strong change-management features, high levels of security, a standards-based model to facilitate integration and interoperability, personalization services, comprehensive, easy-to-use portal-management capabilities, cross-platform technology support to facilitate flexible hosting, and an integrated development environment plan that supports developers in building an EIP solution.
Enterprise information portal solutions are relatively easy to justify. Building them with the features, functions, and scale that map efficiently to your current and future needs is your real challenge.
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