"If a portal is good, more portals must be better." That seems to be how many Global 2000 information technology organizations (ITOs) are reacting to the possibilities presented by portal architectures. Instead of being the means through which IT designers integrate disparate applications, many portal projects devolve into one more thing that itself must be integrated. According to a META Trend report, IT departments will face the growing issue of portal consolidation through 2005, much as they have had to wrestle with Web site, application, and server consolidation in the past. By 2004, portal consolidation will replace portal construction as a primary area of concentration.
The portal proliferation problem applies both to individual portals and the technical portal frameworks on which they are built. Organizations will often build individual portals for particular purposes, such as employee self-service, sales analysis or major suppliers. These special-purpose portals are the precursor of portal proliferation. Through 2004, few of the main portal vendors (IBM, Plumtree, SAP, Mediapps, PeopleSoft and Microsoft) will be able to handle the different requirements of business-to-employee (B2E) intranets, business-to-customer (B2C) Internet sites, and business-to-business (B2B) extranets on a best-of- breed basis. ITOs pursuing this kind of portal approach will necessarily be drawn into creating multiple portals.
Organizations increasingly use a portal framework, or a suite of capabilities from a single vendor, to build these portals. By 2005, these frameworks will be the norm, removing many of the issues caused by multiple portal infrastructures. Governance and budget control issues encourage portal framework proliferation, as different organizational groups (re)make portal decisions independently. Although portal frameworks are generally well-suited to integrate an organization's portals, the budget holders for public Web sites are rarely interested in the requirements for internal employee sites, once again leading to different infrastructures and multiple redundant implementations. Organizational drivers are a larger source of portal proliferation than technical or functionality issues. However, too many organizations use several products even within the specific B2E, B2B, and B2C categories, because business units and divisions make rogue portal decisions independently of central IT departments and architectural coordination groups. Mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations magnify this effect. Despite the operational and cost savings of rationalization efforts, organizations will often defy logic and defend their previous choices against consolidation.
No easy solutions for portal proliferation exist. Most enterprises attempt consolidation by building higher-level portals to replace existing portals without tackling the underlying issues. Usually, this tactic yields yet another portal that needs to be integrated, rather than the single consolidated portal users want. Personalization, security, and roles are the hardest issues to solve when consolidating portals. Few effective standards exist to share personalization and user role definitions between different portals, beyond the most basic types of information. This shortcoming poses a significant barrier to portal consolidation, because end users are unlikely to switch to a different framework after they have personalized their existing portal and defined roles to suit their individual needs. Most portals link security tightly with personalization and roles. Although effective, these links also form a barrier to consolidation.
Portal vendors and service providers are just beginning to address the issues of portal consolidation, with a few beginning to develop product offerings. The increasing presence of integration tools in portal frameworks (e.g., NEON in Sybase's portal, CrossWorlds in IBM's WebSphere) shows that some vendors are beginning to address these issues. The nascent Web services portlet standard proposals from IBM, BEA, Plumtree, Epicentric, and others begin to address the issue. Content and document vendors such as Tridion, FileNET, Interwoven, and Documentum make it a point to support multiple portals (thereby reducing the need for multiple portals), rather than trying to sell their own portal, as BroadVision, Vignette, Hyperwave, and Gauss do.
Enterprise portals can provide significant benefits to organizations that implement them well. However, IT planners must remember why portals originally rose to prominence. Users had become confused by the myriad sources of content and application functionality available to them. Providing or tolerating too many portals will take that confusion to a new level, rather than alleviate it. As enterprise portals become a more important part of application frameworks, many more organizations will have to face the issue of portal consolidation a natural consequence of portal proliferation.
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