Enterprise Portals: Boom or Bust?

Enterprises report having trouble integrating portals with other business processes.

A new survey suggests that while many IT organizations have implemented, or are in the process of implementing, enterprise portals, many are still in the initial stages of their deployments.

According to the survey, conducted by consulting and systems integration firm Answerthink Inc., companies in the midst of portal implementation efforts report they are hampered by difficulties when they attempt to fully integrate their portals with their back-end systems. Moreover, survey respondents say few portals support advanced integration capabilities such as collaboration, workflow management or single-search, among others.

"Companies are investing in portal technology, but for the most part simply aren't reaping significant benefits," according to Answerthink president Allan Frank.

Answerthink says that its survey sample is culled from a number of large companies with an average of 60,000 employees. The consultancy says that survey participants had operations in a variety of markets, including the manufacturing and consumer products industries, along with the financial services, life sciences and telecommunications sectors.

According to Answerthink's Frank, companies aren't reaping any value from their investments in portal technologies because they lack a strategic vision that conceives of the enterprise portal as an enabling technology for business process improvement efforts. Instead, Frank notes, most companies are merely "scratching the surface" of the potential business value that they can extract from their enterprise portals.

"To generate real business value, it's essential that companies begin with a comprehensive integration effort, linking processes, information and systems across the enterprise to support specific performance improvements and business objectives," he says.

Jim Kobielus, a senior analyst with consultancy Burton Group, says that integration with existing business processes—for example, workflows from ERP, CRM and custom applications—is one of the most daunting aspects of any enterprise portal implementation effort. "It's always an issue when you're talking with your portal vendors to see what connectors they have to [packaged ERP or CRM applications] off the shelf, and secondly what tools the portal vendor provides to you, the end user, to build connectors into your existing [custom] applications. There is always some amount of customization that you need to do to build your own connectors."

Answerthink found that 50 percent of the companies it surveyed had already implemented enterprise portals, with another 31 percent indicating they planned to do so over the next year. Of these implementation efforts, however, most respondents said that they weren't exploiting many of the advanced integration capabilities Answerthink associates with business process improvement. For example, only eight percent of respondents are using their portals to support collaboration; 24 percent are integrating their portals with business process management tools; and 23 percent are offering single search capabilities within the context of their portals.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.