Revisiting the Portal Problem

Loraine Lawson
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Whatever happened to the portal?


It used to have such great promise. You may recall portals were something of an integration "promised land." If a company had a portal, employees would have one role- or identity-controlled access point for everything: data, applications, HR stuff.


A recent IT Jungle article makes the argument for portals as a "sleeping" technology. With social media and cloud computing, the article argues, portals will finally have their glory day in the hot sun.


Alas, the headline seems to suggest a slightly different fate: "Dawn of the Dead: Portals' Revenge," it reads, alluding to a classic zombie film. And zombies, we all know, don't come back to life in a productive way - unless you count chomping on the living as "productive."


It's true, as the article points out, that organizations are intrigued by the idea of their very own Facebook-like social media site. But they seem to view this as a replacement for portals - not a new breed of portal.


The article cautions that you shouldn't "automatically blame portal technology for project failures," but given its rundown of what went wrong with portals, you have to wonder if portals can be resurrected in a good way.


What went wrong? First, there's the whole "push" problem with portals. Portals forced employees to adjust, rather than the other way around.


" the common tactic of forcing employees to change their routines and handle their interactions with their employer in a self-serve fashion for items like payroll, vacations, and expense reports led to some disastrous results," the article reads. Plus, the Web user experience evolved rapidly, while many portals stayed stuck in the early 2000s. The end result: Companies invested in something employees really didn't use unless they had no other choice.


Successful portals addressed four provisions well, the article notes:


  • Integration and interoperability
  • Personalization
  • Security administration
  • Content Aggregation

The integration aspect became a particularly problematic area:

With B2B portals, there tends to be large quantities of shared transactional data that requires heavy-duty data integration capabilities. Without integration, the power of the portal fades. It is not uncommon for the lack of interoperability to be the weak link in the chain.

Another major issue with portals is that people tried to use them as a way to do business process management. That didn't work out so well, either. Portals became the enterprise equivalent of duct tape, Gartner analyst Jim Murphy, a portal and Web technologies expert, told IT Jungle.


The article is a thorough critique of what's wrong with portals, but it did leave me with one key question: If trying to solve all these issues with portals is like trying to slap lipstick on a pig, as Murphy puts it, and no one really uses portals, then why are we even talking about a potential resurrection? Or is it too late for companies and their brains?

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