The Emerging Enterprise Information Portal Market: An Overview of the Key Issues and Trends Impacting Enterprise Adoption

Enterprise Information Portals (EIPs) provide the many people involved in a business organization -- employees, business partners and customers -- with a sinble point of access to external and internal information. However, EIP implementation is far from simple, encompassing many areas of the existing e-business environment. Is EIP the next big thing in e-business communications?

During the 1980s and 1990s, information technology departments became the foundation of core business-critical operations that are now vital to their organization’s profitability, competitiveness and growth in the age of the Internet. Once relegated to system maintenance and "data processing" services, today, IT managers are severely challenged to provide new and innovative technology solutions that leverage and integrate existing information systems to empower employees and the virtual enterprise. In simple terms, IT is business-critical and plays a seminal role in the core business processes of almost every organization worldwide.

New CIOs and CTOs often share the same hat, but with a charter that includes empowering the enterprise with information to facilitate b-to-b, b-to-e and b-to-c, they now have a CEO level of responsibility in their organizations. IT’s importance to organizational success is further reflected in the hands-on involvement of senior management, and line-of-business managers in the technology solution decision-making process. This involvement has been stimulated by organizational IT initiatives, such as business intelligence, ERP and CRM, which mandate the integration of legacy systems with disparate islands of information into core business processes. The challenge facing IT management today is a seemingly simple, but tremendously complex task – the promise of the information utopia – information anywhere, anytime and your way.

The enterprise information portal is one of the most exciting and innovative technology solutions capable of delivering on the promise of information utopia. EIPs are beginning to facilitate e-business in small, medium and large organizations by providing employees, knowledge workers, business partners and customers with a single point of access to external and internal information. EIPs are optimizing business processes and greatly increasing user productivity by providing easy access to relevant information enabling better, faster decision making. However, implementation of enterprise information portals will share many of the same complex integration issues that are characteristic of business intelligence and ERP implementations. Issues paramount to the EIP integration process extend far beyond simplistic personalization, search and customization of the knowledge worker interfaces. Key issues impacting EIP implementations, today, include integration with enterprise business systems and encompass enterprise application integration, (EAI), enterprise application collaboration (EAC) and enterprise user collaboration.

Is the EIP the next great disruptive technology that will change the nature of the human-computer interface by fundamentally redefining the business desktop? Will the EIP become the killer technology of the millennium that empowers knowledge workers, business partners and customers on a global basis? This article will address these important questions and provide an overview of the current status of EIP technology adoption in the enterprise.

We will take a big picture perspective on why organizations are implementing EIPs, the major issues involved with deploying EIPs, and how EIPs are currently being deployed. We will also provide some historical perspective on the market and identify the current technical agenda of the EIP market.

The majority of conclusions and the information presented are based on primary and secondary market research, and interviews with customers currently involved in implementing enterprise information portals.

EIP Technology Adoption

There is really nothing new about the concept of an enterprise information portal. In fact, those of us with gray hair are sure to remember the infamous executive information system (EIS) of the 1980s. At the time a great idea, however, the enabling technologies of the Web were not there to integrate all the islands of information into one neat easily-navigable interface. Instead, business intelligence systems arose out of the EIS era to deliver much-needed financial information to the executive’s desktop.

Fast-forward to 1994, and we are in the age of the Internet, where suddenly organizations realize the potential of Web technologies, and the intranet emerges. Organizational intranets delivered on the promise of enabling cross-platform information access and sharing and have had a tremendous impact on information distribution within organizations worldwide. The enterprise information portal is the next natural step in the evolution of the organizational intranet. In many organizations today, the IT manager responsible for implementing the EIP often has a title of Web engineer, commonly referred to in the industry as the new IT.

The enterprise information portal market is in its infancy. A recent survey of 1,000 IT executives and managers in small, medium and large organizations found that nearly 60 percent of those companies were still in the conceptual stage of EIP deployment, while only 5 percent had actually completed deployment. Interestingly, 17 percent of the organizations were currently not considering an EIP solution and were skeptical about its business benefits. They appeared to be satisfied with the current functionality of their intranets. This perception may change significantly as the organizational benefits of an EIP become more apparent, and the technology matures.

The participation of more than 50 EIP vendors in this market segment further reinforces the embryonic state of the market. Many of these vendors (startups) are attempting to set the technical agenda in a market that has barely formed, user interface issues, such as personalization, customization, information filtering and search capability are important, but pedestrian, when considering other important infrastructure issues that organizations will face when they begin deploying EIPs on an enterprisewide basis. Recent research by IDC further supports this conclusion by postulating that the EIP market will evolve in a series of three waves, and we have just entered the first wave. The order of the IDC Enterprise Portal Evolution is:

• Wave 1: (1998-2000) User Interface Integration.

• Wave 2: (2000-2002) Separate but equal access to structured-unstructured data.

• Wave 3: (2002-….) Unified structured and unstructured data access.

Data is information, and there is no question that personalization, filtering, presentation and search of information will be important when providing easy access to a wide range of user classes in and outside of the organization. However, these issues will not be the most difficult challenges faced by information technology managers.

A second generation of enterprise information portal is beginning to emerge in the form of a portal suite. EIP suites will go well beyond integrating structured and unstructured information and address the more salient issues of enterprisewide deployment. They include seminal bolt-on technologies, such as document management systems and business intelligence front-end tools, and other enabling technologies, such as ETL.

The scope and difficulty in deploying an EIP will vary significantly by organizational size. Small, medium and large organizations will encounter varying degrees of difficulty in piloting and deployment.

For example, a small organization of less than 250 employees may consider an EIP as essentially an intranet. These organizations are not usually early adopters of new technologies and may see no compelling business reason for investing in an EIP. The majority of medium and large organizations are deploying their EIPs in a phased rollout scenario by department and/or business unit. Some IT managers also are considering deploying an EIP by selected user, however, the majority appear unlikely to execute an enterprisewide rollout. EIP rollout times can vary tremendously, however, those surveyed indicated that they expected the rollout time for an EIP with 100 end users would be approximately three months, and expected a 1,000 user EIP deployment would take slightly more than five months.

Business Motivations for Deploying an EIP

Increasing user productivity by providing a single point of access to internal and external information is one of the primary motivating factors driving the adoption of enterprise information portals. EIPs are playing a key role in facilitating b-to-b, b-to-e and b-to-c by optimizing and enabling e-business processes. However, it is not unusual today for a large enterprise to have multiple portals in place, all enabling access to business-critical information sources for employees, customers and business partners. The majority of EIP solutions are primarily being deployed to support b-to-b and b-to-e, however, larger companies expect their EIP solutions to support b-to-c e-commerce.

The list below depicts what organizations indicated as the top six business reasons for implementing an EIP in order of importance:

• Enable access to relevant information.

• Save users time.

• Increase user productivity.

• Enable better, faster decision making.

• Enable more efficient communication with employees.

• Create or maintain a competitive advantage.

These business motivators are essentially about empowering the employee and or business partner with information. EIPs empower not only knowledge workers, but the virtual enterprise as a whole. The global nature of today’s economy has driven the formation of virtual organizations with scores virtual employees in offices worldwide. An EIP can become a virtual office that provides employees with relevant information that saves time – enables better, faster decision making – resulting in increased productivity. Empowering employees with information for better, faster decision making is key to establishing and maintaining competitive advantage in one’s industry. In the virtual organization, the EIP also enables a vital communication link between virtual employee and the organization.

Defining an EIP

Most IT and business managers agree that an EIP acts as a single point of access to internal and external information enabling users to access disparate information sources throughout the enterprise. In larger organizations, an EIP can function as a unified corporate desktop that provides a personalized view of organizational information.

Small- and medium-sized organizations may view the EIP as simply a browser view of their intranet. More importantly, in both cases the EIP can provide an environment that is conducive to user collaboration and the sharing of both tacit and explicit information.

In the simplest of concepts, the ultimate EIP integrates structured or hard information (databases) – unstructured or soft information (documents) – and organizational knowledge into a single easy to use personalized environment. In the best of all scenarios, the EIP increases user productivity and overall corporate competitiveness by enabling users to act on information and make faster more informed decisions.

Bolt-on technology solutions, such as front-end business intelligence tools and sophisticated search engines, enable the user to easily access information sources. While enterprise knowledge, for example, is a repository of tacit information that is shared by employees within the company. EIPs can effectively leverage the knowledge of an organization by creating a specialized search function into a repository, a "who knows about blank," search window where communities of employees share their knowledge about a subject and/or process within the organization. Although this scenario requires active employee and/or business partner participation, this technology solution acts very similar to how early intranets utilized internal news groups to function like an electronic water cooler.

In many large organizations, EIPs are evolving to become front ends to enterprise business systems, formerly known as ERP systems. In this scenario, the EIP facilitates the integration of stored knowledge and business transaction data will be generally accessible through enterprise information portals that can combine internal and external information.

Who Will Use the EIP?

Overall in small, medium and large organizations, executives, customers and line-of-business managers are currently the top three EIP user classes. Second-tier users include operations personnel, sales management/staff, finance and billing staff, general staff and human resources personnel. However, Fortune 1000 companies indicated that line of business managers will be the most important users of an EIP. There is no question that once the organizational importance of an EIP is recognized throughout the enterprise; the EIP will be required to support an increasingly diverse range of users. Therefore, it is important that the EIP solution have inherent flexibility in interface design and useability, but also have the openness and capability to support enterprise business systems and information systems both internal and external.

EIPs are beginning to play an increasing role as an interface for point of service systems with a more rigidly defined class of users. For example, in a gas station, rental car agency and/or bank, an EIP can be a welcoming environment to the new employee who may not be accustomed using a computer, or is unfamiliar with the new enterprise computing environment. The EIP can play significant role in simplifying the new employees information access, while at the same time reduce training and increasing productivity. An EIP makes a lot of sense in organizations that encounter significant employee turnover and are constantly training new employees.

Our research clearly identified that line-of-business managers are one of the top three EIP user classes. Interestingly, there is a great deal of discussion today about a class of user called super user. The super user is defined as a middle level manager or employee that has an intimate knowledge of the business system that you are trying to optimize and where the information resides. Essentially, they are line-of-business personnel that have a clear understanding of business processes within the organization and are critical to the success of any EIP project. Super users function as the classic typical user during the piloting stage of an EIP project and will be instrumental in recommending design details and other enhancements to the system.

Perhaps, one of the greatest challenges facing IT management will be simply getting employees to use the EIP. Although some vendors may dismiss the importance of user interfaces, if an EIP is not attractive to the user, then you may build it and they will not come. Many organizations are considering embedding e-mail within the EIP as a means of forcing them to use it. This may work in some situations, however, it is probably unrealistic to expect a wide range of user classes to stay within an EIP environment their entire workday.

In summary, the enterprise information portal may the first technology solution in the history of the industry to bring together structured and unstructured information and knowledge all in a single easy-to-use environment. Contrary to what you may have been lead to believe, no single vendor invented the concept of an EIP. The enterprise information portal is simply the next natural step in the evolution of the organizational intranet. In the course of this discussion, we assumed the role of the IT manager currently considering the deployment of an EIP, established the current state of the market, defined and EIP, identified the business reasons for implementing an EIP and who will use an EIP.

Peter J. Auditore is Vice President of U.S. Marketing at Hummingbird Communications Inc. (Mountain View, Calif.). He can be reached at