Judging from the number of articles, white papers and press releases concerning portal return on investment (ROI), we could easily fall into the trap of believing that once funding for a portal is secured, success is just a matter of time. However, portals do not work out of the box with any long-term ability to tackle real business problems. To succeed, enterprise information portals (EIPs) must be crafted to the particular processes of an organization. This means focusing on the issues that demand the time and attention of the end user. The first step in shifting the focus to a grass-roots-oriented development model is to recognize that one of the chief reasons EIPs fail to deliver is the lack of a compelling reason to use the portal.

We've all seen screen shots of portals with the latest news, corporate messages, calendars and a host of portlet utilities for tracking flight information and converting currencies. While these components are helpful, they do not drive users to the portal. They're welcome additions from a user's perspective because they offer information or services they occasionally need and can access from one place ­ that place being where they go for core IT services. One type of gravity well that draws users to an EIP is an anchor application, such as business intelligence reporting, enterprise search, collaboration tools or document repositories. Siemens' widely publicized ShareNet portal provides professionals around the world with access to sales proposals and has been responsible for incremental sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars. That is compelling.

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