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Report Says Most Portal Projects Fail To Deliver Enterprise Benefits

A study by Forrester Research faults high infrastructure and application integration costs, as well as projects not being tied to specific business processes.
Despite the growing popularity of enterprise portals, portal projects aren't delivering the expected benefits of saving money, driving revenue, or retaining employees and customers due to unexpectedly high infrastructure and application integration costs, according to a just-released survey from Forrester Research.

The report cited an "IT-centric portal mindset" and the inability of companies to tie portals to specific business processes as being behind many of the portal problems. While application access and integration are the keys to portal success, the report noted, the ability to actually perform this integration has only improved marginally because most packaged and custom-built applications don't have portlet-compatible interfaces or support the emerging portal standards JSR 168 and WSRP.

The report concluded that "weak alignment with business goals, soft budget justification, and too many choices doom rudderless portal projects and threaten to bury this technology in the app development platform."

Despite this, portals rank high on the list of must-haves for many in the enterprise. Thirty-four percent of IT decision makers named portals second to security as the technology they expected to purchase in 2004. Portals are seen as a way to give employees and customers greater access to enterprise resources, cut costs using Web server consolidation, and provide employees and customers with secure access to transactions and company data.

The survey found that 88% of portals serve employees rather than customers. "These portals focus too much attention on saving employee (or IT) labor and not enough on customer or partner needs," the report said. IT primarily sponsors, funds, and runs portal projects, with IT-titled executives leading 64% of portal projects.

A primary reason that portals don't succed is that businesses often are vague about portal projects' goals and expenses. At least 25% of those surveyed weren't sure of how much money they were spending on portal software, or how much total money they might spend on it during the first three years. And 22% don't know how many people are needed to support the portal. The report concluded that "portal budgets fail to target specific outcomes and tend to become buried in larger IT projects."

The report recommended that businesses follow these best practices for portal projects:

* Know portals' best uses and limitations before launching a portal project.

* Before launching a project, "clean house first by putting supporting infrastructure and services in place and getting content in order."

* Don't start with enterprisewide projects: Some functional areas and business processes run well on their own, so don't shoehorn them into a broad-reaching portal initiative.

* Businesses should use system integrators and development partners with expertise in their industries, or with expertise in the specific business problems they face.

For the report, Forrester surveyed 83 employees involved in portal projects in both business and IT roles at companies with $100 million or more in revenue.