The future of portals

by Toby Ward — In the intranet world, the big hype for the past five years has consistently been reserved for portals. Though not necessarily a top priority for intranet managers and executives, the vendors and tech media have focused great attention on portal products as the savior of for the corporate intranet.
Some big changes occurred in the portal market in the past year…
  • Independent portal vendor Plumtree was bought by leading application software company BEA
  • Microsoft is investing big money (hundreds of millions of dollars) into evolving its Sharepoint portal product and merging MS Content Management Server (CMS) and Sharepoint into a single group
  • Content management companies are aggressively pushing portal products (e.g. Vignette), and so too are other software companies (e.g. Oracle)

Content management blur

The lines will blur even further between portal vendors and content management vendors as well as other software vendors such as document management and business intelligence. More companies will bundle previously separate offerings such as portal and content management. Oracle, SAP and Vignette all have portal products that bundle with their primary software solution.
As the lines blur between software application vendors there will be more consolidation in the market including a change in status for Vignette (a sale or merger or acquisition). Vignette has long been one of the premier leaders in content management systems(s). However, the Vignette CMS is complex and expensive and suffers from many user complaints about how difficult it is to use. The Vignette portal product is relatively new and has not received much traction. Financially, Vignette continues to lose money on little revenue growth and until recently had a slumping stock price with growing debt. The President & CEO recently resigned and the stock price has grown in the past nine months with continued speculation about a possible acquisition by (or merger with) a larger company.

Ease of use

Portal products can be easy to use for certain functions, and lousy in other areas. Inconsistency is par for the course.
“We're going to see portals become friendlier to user employees,” says Shiv Singh, Director Enterprise Solutions, Avenue A | Razorfish.
“Portal players are going to have to follow the Google Enterprise mantra - enterprise tools shouldn't take more than a few hours to install and should be extremely usable. Most portal packages take too long to install and don’t allow meaningful customization in a cost effective fashion. Too much time and money is spent solving technical problems rather than business ones.”


All portal products offer user employee personalization options. However, very few organizations have actually enacted or properly implemented user personalization once they’ve purchased a portal product. Most employee portal implementations feature customization (e.g. choose the type of color or position of a content portlet or gadget) or role-based personalization that is pre-configured by the administrator (e.g. sales role page or site).
More portal companies will try to make it easy for organizations to role out and implement role-based personalization – something that largely relies a lot on offline planning and process. The technical implementation will be better and be augmented by enhanced consulting services not previously focused on by the portal vendor.

Social media

Blogging and RSS are of course huge phenomena as is other social media including wikis and podcasting. Portal vendors will increasingly hear requests for this type of functionality for integration into their products. Look for IBM websphere and MS Sharepoint in particular to tout these features.
We should also see the portal players integrate tools like blogging, social tagging and wikis into their portal packages. Many are catching on to the value of social media and its potential impact on the enterprise could be huge.
“Expect to see VOIP integration, blogging, user driven tagging, synchronous and asynchronous collaboration and of course enterprise instant messaging,” adds Singh.

Vendors to watch

The usual name vendors will be the movers and shakers:
  • BEA
  • IBM
  • Microsoft
  • Oracle
  • SAP
  • Interwoven
For more information, see Arnold IT’s complete list of portal vendors.

Portal versus CMS

Markets are blurring and becoming less distinctive to purchasers. So what’s better for your organization – CMS or portal?
“It really depends on their business drivers and user needs,” says Singh.
“CMS products cannot integrate legacy applications well. Nor can they serve as the foundation of executive dashboards. They also lack strong personalization and customization features. On the other hand, a CMS does workflow very well and manages large amounts of content better than a portal ever could. So it really depends on the business’s needs and the users.”
As for the potential ROI, portal products are more complex and expensive than many CMSs and therefore the ROI can be less and your job selling a portal implementation is that much harder.
Final note: buyer beware. Some solutions work well some organizations and not in others. It’s important to first develop a full plan with detailed business requirements before evaluating any solution. A portal product is only a piece of technology, and technology is as only as good as the people and process that support it.

Related Items:

Microsoft’s planned evolution of the intranet

This article was originally an intranet blog posted Thursday, February 9, 2006
Toby Ward writes a daily intranet blog at , from which this article was adapted. Toby is the President of Prescient Digital Media which specializes in Internet and intranet strategy, technology and total site management. For a copy of the free intranet white paper Finding ROI, please contact us.