The assets considered most valuable in today's corporations are intellectual capital and human resources. Research indicates that companies that reward collaboration and knowledge sharing are outpacing companies that don't encourage those practices or don't have the technology in place to facilitate them.

The overwhelming amount of information distributed around the world in a variety of formats presents a problem for an organization's work force. More and more time is required in order to locate and assess information before acting on business opportunities. Without high-quality and easy-to-use tools, filtering and managing the overwhelming quantity of information has been a nearly impossible task. Leading companies are now embracing corporate portals to better manage knowledge and resources.

Definition

A portal is a tool that consolidates information access from a plethora of Internet and intranet sources and company applications to provide one-click access to pertinent information as well as analytical and collaborative tools. The result is a customized, personalized and integrated view of the information necessary to assess and act upon business opportunities.

By 2004, most resources required in the work environment will be accessible via the Internet, and collaboration will occur freely.1 Corporate portals provide the tools and environment for an organization to aggregate and present all the resources its employees need. Some of the applications include e-mail, calendar, document management systems, business intelligence tools, sales force automation applications and news wires.

Sponsorship

Key to the success of a corporate portal initiative is enlisting sponsorship from the stakeholders in the organization who will be impacted by the initiative. Some departments have a number of employees who understand the benefit of extending the reach of their systems to a larger base of employees. Enlisting their input and support, as well as that of the IT staff, will help to sell the stakeholders on the benefits of a corporate portal.

Benefit

Various analysts groups agree that developing an employee (or corporate) portal will accelerate the rate of an organization's decision-making and notification processes while reducing the costs associated with bureaucratic inefficiencies.2

The primary benefits of corporate portals include:

  • Opportunity to leverage existing investments
  • Increased productivity and flexibility
  • IT cost reduction
  • Employee retention/communication

Leverage Existing Investments

A corporate portal can increase the return on investment for systems that have been otherwise too difficult or time-consuming for the vast majority of users to access by bringing together a wide range of business applications into a single experience. Increasing the user base by making existing software investments available to a wider group through a portal will significantly reduce the application cost per user.

By enabling users to choose ­ with a single click ­ the services from the applications most relevant to their work, the corporate portal shifts the balance of power between users and applications. Enterprise applications (sales force management systems, ERP systems, document management systems and databases) usually dominate users' desktops, forcing users to adapt to the respective application. In any organization, the user community of these systems is usually a subset of the entire employee base. However, the knowledge base represented in these systems would provide more value to the corporation if they could be extended to a larger segment of the employee population. A good example is human resources (HR). Few people actually have access to HR applications; but the information in the system is of interest to most, if not all, employees. The few people with access to the HR system are responsible for entering and updating information that is constantly changing. Providing employees access to view and update their own information in a secure and personalized format will result in an increase in accuracy to an organization's information base as well as reduced employee overhead costs.

In addition, many employees who travel or work from home do not have necessary applications installed on their computers. By providing access to company applications through a corporate portal, employees will be able to be fully productive at home and while traveling.

Productivity and Flexibility

Users are at the center of a corporate portal experience, choosing components to create an environment customized and personalized to meet their needs. With a complete view of their business in one portal page, users will spend less time switching between and adapting to various applications. Employees will spend less time on the phone with help desks or searching the intranet for information that can be made readily accessible on their personalized portal page. On average, employees spend twenty minutes a day searching repositories and launching applications to complete their work and to stay informed. Bringing together all of the tools and information essential to each employee in a personalized Web page can cut that time in half, saving each employee ten minutes a day. If the average professional employee costs an organization at least $100,000 a year, the portal can generate savings of $2,000 a year per employee.3

Real World Portal Solutions

The following corporate examples are drawn from a variety of industries and describe successful portal implementation solutions.

Legal
A major New England firm with 450 lawyers who practice in virtually all business areas is implementing a corporate portal to share information and applications among 1,200 attorneys and support staff in 11 offices. Their portal will provide access to a wide variety of information and applications, including internally generated legal documents, billing and client management data, docketing information, firm news and other administrative material. The portal will enable the firm to combine internal information with news and content from legal and business Web sites, including Lexis-Nexis.4

Government
A major government agency is deploying a corporate portal for several thousand federal and contract employees to streamline information technology systems and facilitate cross-agency cooperation. The portal integrates regulatory and enforcement information using Lotus Notes and proprietary applications which employees can embed in their personalized portal pages alongside e-mail, training calendars and threaded discussions. The portal’s document directory comprises best practices information, content information posted to the Internet by the agency’s facilities and the media, and full-text repositories indexed by the search engine. As a result, employees can tap into the agency’s back- end systems and enterprise applications easily, enabling them to search less and see more relevant material.5

Manufacturing
A Fortune 100 manufacturing company is deploying a corporate portal as part of an enterprise-wide knowledge management initiative. Merchandising, marketing and research groups within this organization have created hundreds of Web sites and databases containing valuable content. The deployment of their corporate portal will organize and manage this information for the benefit of 60,000 employees worldwide.6

Manufacturing and Retail
A major manufacturing and retail organization is deploying a corporate portal as part of an ambitious business-to-business initiative linking 5,000 suppliers and 1,000 retail outlets through a Web portal designed to automate procurement, broaden the supply chain base and move clothing to market faster. Initially, the corporate portal is providing a full- featured intranet for the organization’s 2,500 employees. For the first time, these employees will have e-mail, calendars, competitive updates, product lines and procurement data available to them on the Web.7

Business Services
One of the leading names in business information and research is using corporate portals for its sales and marketing group to promote new services and systems to existing and prospective customers. This organization has sales offices in 17 countries worldwide and uses the portal to convey the latest product descriptions, marketing materials and sales tools to its highly dispersed sales force.8

IT Cost Reduction

Undisputedly, one of highest costs associated with any application development project is ongoing support and maintenance. With the ever- increasing costs of IT workers in the new digital economy, the expense involved in performing ongoing maintenance to these systems can increase exponentially. IT staffs are often frustrated by the redundant and time- consuming administrative tasks involved in supporting the end-user community. Trying to accomplish this while attending to the other mission-critical IT initiatives is overwhelming and sometimes impossible. To address this issue, the major portal software applications give the end user or line-of-business manger the ability to perform these tasks without the need for IT involvement. Empowering the end users results in reduced IT overhead dedicated to support and allows an organization to dedicate these valuable resources to other critical corporate initiatives.

Employee Retention/Communication

With IT initiatives, it is often the intangibles that provide the greatest areas of return. Many organizations struggle with the challenge of how to provide comprehensive notification of corporate information. Corporate portals present an easy way to provide up-to- date information. This can facilitate a greater sense of community among employees and provide a strong connection for an organization's remote and disparate employees.

References
1. Nail, Jim. The New Business Portals. Forrester Research. February 1999.
2. META Group. C. Roth. Planning the Employee Portal: Part 1. August 2000.
3. Return on Investment. Products. Plumtree. September 15, 2000.
4. Nixon Peabody LLP. Plumtree Customers. January 24, 2000. Plumtree. September 15, 2000.
5. Department of Energy. Plumtree Customers. Plumtree, September 15, 2000.
6. Procter & Gamble. Plumtree Customers. June 12, 2000. Plumtree. September 15, 2000.
7. Guess? Plumtree Customers. April 18, 2000. Plumtree. September 15, 2000.
8. Dun & Bradstreet. Plumtree Customers. Plumtree. September 15, 2000.

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