Because there are so many portal vendors and the companies are so new, Gartner Group estimates there will be a shakeout in the industry by the middle of next year. "This is going to be a best-of-breed market," says Jacobs. "We do not see a single vendor like Lotus dominating this space."
While Delphi estimates the majority of large companies will be developing portals by next year, the types of portals will vary. A true knowledge management portal is one that brings together various data and technology systems from within a company and makes it easier for workers to gather and share information through a corporate intranet and online. The portal will allow workers to extract data that otherwise is hidden inside systems and oftentimes only available to the information technology staff.
"Knowledge resides between applications, not in applications itself," says Delphi's Frappaolo. "For example, give me a list of customers who have goals we're not going to meet this week. When you start asking these complex questions, you don't have a single place to answer the questions."
Improving the Bottom Line
Companies are using knowledge management portals for different parts of their business. Office furniture manufacturer Herman Miller Inc. in 1995 embarked on a quest to use technology to improve its bottom line by reducing manufacturing lead time and increasing reliability for its customers. At the time, the Zeeland, Mich., company dealt with suppliers mainly by telephone and fax. An attempt to go through a third-party electronic data interchange had largely failed. So Herman Miller looked at portal software to bring all of its supply-chain data onto a single screen and make it accessible over the Internet to its suppliers.
|Lessons Learned about Corporate Portals|
1. Figure out what business problem you're trying to solve, then go after a knowledge management solution that addresses that problem.
2. Check out portal providers carefully. There are more than 100, and the market is new. Many won't be here two or three years from now.
3. Implement your knowledge management solution slowly to make sure it addresses the needs of users and to test how employees will use it.
4. A true knowledge management portal includes the ability to gather and feed data back into it, not just the ability of users to extract data. Make sure the system is able to accept and integrate new data back in.
After looking at different options through consultant Deloitte & Touche, Herman Miller chose to work with TopTier Software Inc., which offered a portal tool that allowed officials to integrate the company's Baan enterprise resource planning (ERP) package with its browser. The portal includes payment information, invoices, demand, delivery, and quality control information about items ordered from Herman Miller. News and other Web information have also been integrated into the portal.
More than 50% of Herman Miller's main suppliers now access the system regularly through the Internet and navigate through a series of data windows. "The people who are really thriving and taking full advantage of [portals] are those people who are looking for a more efficient way to work," says Mike Brunsting, Herman Miller electronic commerce team leader. "Those people are always asking the question, looking for more information that will make their jobs more efficient."
Brunsting says timely shipments to customers have improved because of the immediate cross communication between the suppliers and Herman Miller. "Five years ago we were averaging 75% [on-time shipments]; today we are consistently hitting 95% and above. We see the portal helping as one of the key enablers of getting that last 5%," he says.
Delphi Group's Frappaolo points to some Delphi clients that have implemented knowledge management portals to improve their businesses. AT&T uses its knowledge management portal for its international salesforce, reducing the time necessary to close deals. Scientists at Lawrence Livermore Labs in California use their portal to organize and access scientific information. And J.D. Edwards & Co. built a knowledge garden, which it uses to organize and disseminate business process and product information.
"[J.D. Edwards] achieved 1,080% return on investment in their ability to respond to complex [request for proposals] in a shorter period of time because the information was readily available," Frappaolo says.
Insurance Companies Put Portals to Work
While some companies like Equilon and Herman Miller are well into their portal implementations, others like St. Paul Reinsurance, are just beginning. A member of insurance provider St. Paul Companies Inc., it is one of the first firms to beta test Lotus's portal solution. By the end of the year the firm expects to begin rolling out its corporate portal, which will integrate corporate information, department information, and individual information into a series of screens. St. Paul Reinsurance uses Windows NT servers running on Compaq hardware.