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Enterprise Portals

Traditionally, a portal denotes a gate, a door, or entrance. In the context of the World Wide Web, it is the next logical step in the evolution to a digital culture. Web pages are not completely self-referential anymore, but allow for personalization, workflow, notification, knowledge management and groupware, infrastructure functionality, and integration of information and applications. The idea of a portal is to collect information from different sources and create a single point of access to information – a library of categorized and personalized content. It is very much the idea of a personalized filter into the web.
Portals are often the first page the web browser loads when users get connected to the Web or that users tend to visit as an anchor site. They offer users a surplus value of service based on the features of classic search engines: a well trained concierge who knows where to search and find; a well-assorted newspaper kiosk that keeps the latest market information about the surfer’s personal stocks ready; free communications possibilities like email or discussion boards. Thus, the traditional virtual roadhouses -the search engines- become feel-good entrance halls, a gateways to the internet, easy, one-stop embarkation points for the daily Web-surfing sessions. The hope behind the idea of a portal: surfer start their voyage into the web in a modern entrance hall, and preferably find their way back to the starting point without major difficulty.
A portal should warrant the integration of information from disparate sources. Moreover, the user should also be able to optimally use this information.

What are the Major Functions of Portals?

According to the analyst and consulting company Ovum, the ideal portal is based on eight functionality areas:

.Search and navigation
.Information integration (content management)
.Personalization
.Notification (push technology)
.Task management and workflow
.Collaboration and groupware
.Integration of applications and business intelligence
.Infrastructure functionality

Although most of the functionality is not new, what is new is the idea that the business value of the whole is considerably more than the sum of its parts. Thus, a successful portal does not only consist of either a good collaboration support or a good integration of the information sources. Rather it consists of – just like a successful cooking recipe – a well-integrated mixture of the basic portal functionalities.

Search and Navigation

This functionality forms the basis for most of the successful public web portals meaning that a successful portal should support its users in an efficient search for contents.

Information Integration

A portal should warrant the integration of information from disparate sources. Moreover, the user should also be able to optimally use this information. There are several mechanisms for doing this. One such promising technique of innovative interfaces is the Unified Content API (Application Programming Interface) which speeds up the development of portal applications. The Unified Content API supports all current tools for developing web environments, such as JAVA, C++, ActiveX, Visual- and Non-Visual-Java Beans.

Personalization

Personalization is vital to the delivery of appropriate information to portal users: each user gets only the information which is specifically tailored to his/her needs. Personalization should be based on user roles, as well as user preferences.

Notification

Notification (push technology) is referred to as a system in which a user receives information automatically from a network server. Push technologies are designed to send information and software directly to a user’s desktop without the user actively requesting it. Thus, the user has the opportunity to subscribe to active information sources (such as news-feeds and periodically updated reports) and ask to be alerted when documents are updated.

Task Management and Workflow

Portals providing task management services can help users take part in and/or manage formally defined business processes.
The workflow functionality allows the automation of business processes. Thus, as part of a workflow-automated business process, a portal should be able to prompt its users when they have tasks to perform.

Collaboration and Groupware

Knowledge management and groupware ensure that the required information is stored in the right place and in the right mode. By this means the right persons are brought together with the right information. Groupware software assists in less formal collaboration than workflow tools. As with workflow automation, groupware increases the value delivered by many types of specialized portals; for example, it:

.increases the attractiveness of business-to-consumer e-commerce portals
.enables informal communication between suppliers and customers in business-to-business e-commerce portals
.Supply chain portals are also dependent on collaboration support in order to help suppliers and their .customers manage their relationships. Moreover, collaboration support is a key requirement for knowledge portals.

Integration of Applications/Business Intelligence

In addition to the already mentioned functionalities, a portal can integrate and support a specific application type, for example:

.an application service provider (ASP) application
.business intelligence (BI) functionality
.support for e-commerce

Infrastructure Functionality

The infrastructure functionality constitutes the fundamental for the work environment – the other 7 functionalities mentioned above build up on this one. The run-time infrastructure associated with the portal will have a primary effect on manageability, scalability, security and availability.