Most enterprise portal products today include the joint capabilities of decision processing and collaborative portals. They enable structured and unstructured data sources to be integrated using XML and made accessible through a portal interface that is tailored to the unique data, information, knowledge, workflow, business processes and systems that are required by each individual.

An example of the architecture of a typical enterprise portal is illustrated in Figure 1, which shows that it is based on Web server technology with import/export interfaces to decision processing systems (such as data warehouses), collaborative processing systems (such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange) and other corporate and external systems. A search engine capability is included, with meta data crawlers that access data imported from these various databases and systems to make the data and information available for access and processing.

Figure 1 shows that a business information directory provides details about all data, information and knowledge resources, as well as the workflows, processes and systems that are managed by the portal. It also provides information about each user's contact and security details and profiles, defining who can access the portal and what degree of access is authorized for them.

Figure 1: Enterprise Portal Architecture1

Finally, an enterprise portal provides a publishing facility that indicates the resources available through the portal and a subscription facility that allows each individual to tailor his or her access to the portal to meet specific needs.

Distinct from a data warehouse that offers only "read" access to historical information extracted as periodic snapshots from operational databases and systems, an enterprise portal can operate against operational databases and collaborative processing systems to create, read, update and delete relevant information based on each individual's specific access and authority profiles.

The success of an enterprise portal is dependent on the degree of integration of the front-end systems of the enterprise with its back-end (back-office) systems. This integration depends on whether the enterprise is performing e- commerce or e-business.

The term e-commerce is used to describe the sale of products and services over the Internet. Today, e-commerce is relatively easy to implement, as there are many software products that add catalogs to Web sites for the purchase of products over the Internet by consumers.

Yet e-commerce is not e-business. An enterprise is only an e- business if it sells products online over the Internet (e-commerce) and those sales are linked tightly and automatically to back-end systems for order processing, invoicing and delivery fulfillment.

If sales are not seamlessly integrated with back-end systems, then orders must be separately entered into normal processing and fulfillment systems – with associated manual processing delays, costs, errors and overheads. Such enterprises are only conducting e-commerce, not e-business.

We earlier discussed that enterprise portal success also depends on how an enterprise portal is integrated into the enterprise itself. If it is to provide a single gateway to the enterprise, then its designers (as well as the managers and staff who will use the portal) all need to be aware of the roles and information needs of managers and staff throughout the enterprise. Managers have different information needs than operational staff. These needs are identified from an examination of enterprise information architecture and enterprise architecture. These factors are the most significant for enterprise portal success.

We will discuss enterprise information architecture next month.


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