Enterprise portals fit well into an organization's service-oriented architecture (SOA) infrastructure, but when it comes to selecting and implementing portals it's important to avoid common pitfalls, says Craig Roth, who covers enterprise portal products as service director for Burton Group Inc.
He has just published a 14-page Enterprise Portal Reference Architecture Template that covers how to do a portal right, he has also seen what can go wrong. "I've seen an awful lot of common mistakes that are made in enterprise portal projects, anywhere from the beginning of the lifecycle to the end," Roth said.
Starting at the beginning, he said a common enterprise pitfall is not establishing ownership for the portal. This can lead to a host of problems ranging from one department within the enterprise going off and creating a portal that fits its needs without consideration for other departments, to proliferation of different portals without governance.
"Not figuring out who actually owns the enterprise portal causes a lot of problems," Roth said. "A big one would be instantiating a number of redundant portal projects. When someone starts out on the portal project they don't look to see what anyone else in the organization is already doing, what enterprise standard is out there. They just start plowing ahead and you wind up with a lot of portal instances that way."
He acknowledges that it is not always easy to look on an org chart and find one single person to take ownership of the enterprise portal. However, within even diverse enterprises where there is no clear single owner, ways can be found to establish ownership.
One way is for all the different organizations with interest in the portal technology to form a council that meets regularly, makes collective decisions about products and technology issues and shares costs. Then one person among the stakeholders on the council might take over a coordinator role.
"It's always best to find some sort of owner or coordinator, who can work with the different groups and make sure they're all on the same page," Roth said. "That they're getting a product that meets the needs of other parts of the organization. That they're all using the same products so the costs can be spread out. That's very important."
The first job of the owner or council or coordinator is to figure out what exactly the organization wants from its enterprise portal. Otherwise, the portal project can end up failing to meet goals that were never clear in the beginning. Roth said the goals have to be clear including common ones such as increasing the number of hits on the Web site or making it easy to develop new portal applications.
"Without knowing what it is you're trying to do with the portal," he said, "it's very difficult to set the goals and then in the end you never know whether you've succeeded or not."
In the common case where there are multiple portals from multiple vendors, he said it is crucial to have governance in place to determine which products and portals are being used for what purposes.
"It's always best if possible to get one product if that meets everyone's needs," he said. "That may not always be possible based on the products out there and divergent needs, especially in the case of internal versus external portals. You may find that it's impossible to find one thing that fits both of those needs and wind up getting separate products."
A proliferation of internal portals happens because many of the vendors of SOA and other enterprise software products, provide portal technology as part of their package deal.
"You have the issue internally where different organizations have different software installed that has portal technology in it," Roth said. "So you have SAP, which has NetWeaver with a portal in it. Or you've got Oracle applications, which gives you licenses for Oracle Portal. You've got a whole lot of [Microsoft] Office licenses so maybe you have SharePoint services. There's a lot of ways to just wind up with portals."
This is where establishing one enterprise portal and governance that controls how the other portals operate in conjunction with it is crucial, the author of the enterprise portal reference architecture said.
"What we're talking about is the enterprise portal," Roth emphasized. "Lots of applications have portal interfaces, but whichever one is designated as the enterprise portal, the one that everything is connected up to, the one that all of the information is published through, that's the one that's important to concentrate on. Then the other portals have to be sidelined through governance that says they're useable for their constituent audiences, but this is the enterprise portal and this is where you should spend your time doing your integration and publishing."