Choosing the Portal View
Managing its own internal portal project, Perficient Inc. came away with a deep understanding of the ins—and outs—of portals.
- By Andy Patrizio
"The whole thing about eating your own dog food—I've always hated that phrase—but it makes a huge difference if you do just that," says Andy Sweet, chief technology officer for Perficient. The enterprise-integration consultancy managed its own internal portal project, and came away with a deep understanding of the ins—and outs—of portals.
The project turns out to have value for Perficient's customers, too. "It makes a big difference on the executive level. When you say ‘this is how we're running our business,' that's something they immediately understand," says Sweet.
Perficient has consultants across the world, with three offices in the U.S. after its acquisitions of two other consultancies, Javelin Solution in Minneapolis, Minn., and Vertecon in St. Louis, Mo. The company wanted to make it easier for those consultants to collaborate, to enter billing time, to have a consolidated source for benefits and company news, to view a project's status, and so forth.
"We had siloed, static information that really wasn't personalized to the user, so it had no context as to whether I'm a consultant, on the administration side, the finance department, whatever," says Andy Sweet. All of the separate intranets had their own data, which meant replicating the same information and keeping it synchronized.
Perficient recognized this problem at its clients as well as internally. "What we'd been seeing had been a wild-West type of management structure, with multiple ways to deliver content. That becomes a total cost of ownership issue across the enterprise," he says.
Lotus Notes, which the company uses, couldn't handle those needs. Nor were the various systems like QuickArrow's QuickArrow ECS and eRoom Technologies eRoom collaboration software able to fill the gap. "Our workforce had no real glue tying us together beyond informal processes like cell phones and e-mail," says Sweet.
Externally, Perficient clients needed access to current and future projects, consultant availability and billing. Both internal users and external users had to deal with multiple sign-ons to get at the different services.
"What would happen is people moving from system to system had to remember 15 sign-on IDs," says Sweet. "Each time I went to these communities I had to sign on, so I felt like I spent more time signing on than using these things in the old portal."
|Product Information |
|IBM WebSphere |
IBM WebSphere Portal Server
Perficient had two portals, their own intranet and a static information site for employees. They designed the new portal to reuse much of what they already had. A pair of Compaq Proliant servers running Windows 2000 was used for the portal, as was the DB2 database and existing LDAP directories.
In consolidating its servers, Perficient was able to merge and clean up its LDAP directories that were scattered around the three companies. This proved to be the most complicated task for the company, but also gave it a side benefit. "It was interesting how much information was in there that was unneeded, so there was a cleaning that occurred along the way," says Sweet. A smaller, faster directory was the result of this consolidation and subsequent clean up.
The immediate dollar savings came mostly in travel. By making its services more readily available online for customers and employees, travel expenses were cut down by 30 percent. The overall savings for Perficient, in access to information, improved communication and more efficient collaboration, was around 15 percent.
The portal also made the integration of the two acquired companies a faster and much more seamless process. "We were able to deliver new applications across all three companies in a single view. That translates to a consultant base that now collaborates much easier, works on projects across companies and works on a project team together," says Sweet.
That also meant a smoother process from work to billing, and as "our CFO would tell you, the quicker you turn that around, the quicker time from work to pay," he adds.
Customers now have access to their total knowledge base from a single point of entry. They can see all the white papers that are being developed, what the company's calendar looks like, project status and the availability of resources, and which consultants are available. This broad view was impossible, pre-portal. Customers could only see one resource at a time, such as the knowledge base, company calendar, consultant schedules, and so on, but only individually.
Perficient's experience makes it easier to sell portals to its customers because they use the technology and know it well. "It's a two-way street. We're doing things at clients that we're applying to our internal portal and vice-versa," says Sweet. "So we're actively engaged with clients and taking back those best practices to our internal portal and then back again to clients."
Since the company is gradually rolling out what it learned in developing its own portal to its customers, it's seeing ROI in two areas: With the internal community through cost reductions, and with its customers through improved service. "It's all about revenue enhancement," Sweet says. "Because we're more effectively delivering content, we can now effectively cross-sell and up-sell those customers."
Perficient plans to continue to add more features to assist clients throughout the process of selling and implementing services. One planned upgrade will make circulating a proposal to a client much easier by allowing clients to see a proposal online and work with the company during the beginning phases. And the company plans to add a feedback mechanism for clients, allowing them to comment after milestones in the project are delivered.
Details: Perficient Inc.
Team Leader: Joe Klewicki, managing director of the portal
Location: Austin, Texas
Web Site: www.perficient.com
Goal: Provide a world-class infrastructure to support a virtual consultant/employee portal.
Scope: Replace an existing department-level portal with an enterprise-class portal using Web services, running on Windows 2000.
Equipment/Platform: 2 Compaq Proliant servers running Windows 2000 and IBM DB2.
Build a portal integrated with the e-mail system and QuickArrow reporting system.
Extended the reach of the portal across two companies that Perficient recently acquired.
Extend the portal to preferred client base and partners, to see in real-time the availability of consultants.
Products: IBM's WebSphere and WebSphere Portal Server
Costs: Minimal, because the company used existing hardware. The only purchases were for the IBM WebSphere and WebSphere Portal Server software packages.
A single view for consultants of all corporate information, including access to e-mail and time entry.
Benefit to clients of seeing their knowledge base, progress on projects, project plans and any prototype under development.
A 30 percent savings on travel costs and a 15 percent savings overall on the portal's administration costs.
The ability to develop white papers in a collaborative fashion improved quickly. Presentations could be put together online.
Having a fully-integrated enterprise portal is key as opposed to department-wide, siloed information where data isn't fully integrated.
Having the full integration of all business processes like e-mail and time entry can result in a solid ROI on a portal investment.
Milestones: Began work in December, spent six man-weeks on development. The initial implementation began in January 2002.