The Elusive Benefits of Portal Technology Adoption

Survey shows companies have difficulties moving beyond entry-level implementations

Miami  October 29, 2002  While many companies are implementing enterprise portals, most are finding it difficult to move beyond the most basic levels of implementation, according to a recent Enterprise Portal and Intranet survey and white paper completed by business and technology consulting firm Answerthink Inc. The survey polled companies in a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, consumer products, technology, financial services, information/media, life sciences, telecommunications, utilities and chemical. The average size of the companies surveyed was almost 60,000 employees, and more than half indicated they had global organizations.

From the results it received, Answerthink concluded that none of the companies surveyed are creating portal environments that offer full business integration, which, the firm said, can offer greater performance improvements. Also, few of the respondents said their portals supported key capabilities such as collaboration, business process management or enterprise workflow, single search capability, or a defined taxonomy for content organization.

The survey and white paper also identified several portal implementation strategies that can help companies achieve full business integration, generate performance improvements and increase return on investment (ROI). Among the findings were that companies need to look beyond technology and its architecture when implementing portals and consider a much broader integrated focus that simultaneously addresses organizational and process issues.

"Companies are investing in portal technology, but for the most part simply aren't reaping significant benefits," said Answerthink president Allan Frank. "This is because most companies aren't taking a strategic approach. They're focusing on the low-hanging fruit, building a basic online communication tool, then stopping there. As a result, they're just scratching the surface in terms of business impact and value.

"To generate real business value, it's essential that companies begin with a comprehensive integration effort, linking processes, information and systems across the enterprise to support specific performance improvements and business objectives," continued Frank. "Our research shows that this approach can generate up to five times the ROI of a simple portal technology implementation. The portal becomes a key enabling technology for process improvement efforts by providing visibility into a company's operations and helping employees become more effective and productive."

Industry experts expect the portal market to grow to as much as $20 billion by 2003. The Answerthink survey confirmed that most companies are implementing portals: more than 50 percent of the companies surveyed have already created enterprise portals, while another 31 percent said they were planning to do so in the next six to 12 months. But none of the companies responded that their portals were offering "full business integration." Many companies classified their current environments as "entry-level" (38 percent) or offering only "content integration" (31 percent).

In addition, the surveyed companies had not implemented the types of advanced portal capabilities that are often associated with improved ROI and significant business performance improvement. Only eight percent of the companies surveyed said their portals supported collaboration, 24 percent provided limited workflow or business process management tools, and 23 percent offered single search capability. Thirty-one percent indicated that they had a taxonomy for classifying and retrieving information, and less than 30 percent have implemented metrics for tracking business value.

Answerthink's Portal Best Practices white paper, which complements the survey, points to key dimensions that can help companies gain the most business value and ROI of portal projects. Key findings from the white paper include:

" Start with a clear business case  Ensure that the business case aligns the portal strategy and vision with core business objectives and identifies clear business value, including short-term gains as well as longer-term benefits. Process improvement is the most critical element to consider as portals that incorporate business process management/workflow technologies can help companies enhance cross-enterprise collaboration and productivity, improve operational efficiency and effectiveness, and enhance decision making.

" Consider governance and operations  High-level sponsorship is important, particularly in the early stages of portal implementation. Governance bodies and policies should address a wide range of cross-enterprise issues, and metrics should be established that can be measured and monitored. Organizational factors such as end user training and change management should also be considered.

" Carefully craft a technology architecture  This is particularly important for large, complex organizations. The technology infrastructure must aggregate tools, applications, and information from many sources and must evolve over time. Top performers rely on business architecture to drive the underlying technology architecture, modeling their portal environments based on key business processes. The portal must be well integrated with the existing enterprise technology so that it can effectively address information, presentation and delivery. Systems integration and the selective use of proven next-generation technologies is also key.

" Address information management issues  The quality of information, as well as its accessibility, are critical considerations for portals. Portals must provide real-time information about current performance, often pulling data from many different systems. Users should be allowed to view information in ways that make the most sense for them, and both structured and unstructured information should be well organized within a comprehensive taxonomy and easily searchable. Effective information management processes and tools are also important. The use of subject matter experts should be balanced with the ability for users to contribute directly.

" Focus on usability  The best portals create a quality user experience with effective searching; clear navigation; a clean, non-cluttered "look and feel"; speed; and easy availability and access. Support for collaboration and communication inside and outside the enterprise is key, as is personalization.