"The vision is to provide collaboration capabilities and to allow people to organize their content and be able to control it in terms of how it gets authored, edited, approved, and published to the portal," says Andrew Cole, senior vice president and chief information officer at St. Paul Reinsurance.
The portal will bring together Lotus Notes, Domino, Domino.doc, Raven Enterprise Server, Microsoft Office applications, and anything from the Internet or St. Paul's intranet. "If we have a merger and acquisition and are doing due diligence, people all over the world can meet in a knowledge window and feed in information," says Cole. "It will be a repository of content on a given issue that lots of people can easily see. The knowledge worker doesn't have to figure out where the content is located, or what format it is in, or what version it is. They just open up the knowledge window for that topic and there is the latest and greatest information at their fingertips."
Equilon, meanwhile, by the end of the year expects to have more than 500 employees using the company's portal. It integrates the firm's CRM system from Siebel Systems Inc., collaboration software from OpenText Corp., and Microsoft's suite of office products, including Outlook and Office. The system runs on Windows NT servers from Compaq Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. servers that run UNIX and Oracle 8i database. By April 1, 2001, the portal will serve 2,500 employees and include Equilon's SAP applications and the company's geographical information system from Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc.
It took five months to get the first users online, and it will be another year before the entire project is complete. But Equilon officials are already seeing the benefits. "It gives us the ability to get the right information at the right time within seconds instead of days," says technology manager Christopher Medina. "Once it's fully implemented, it will give us a competitive advantage because we'll have more real-time, reliable information," he says. "If there's a deal on the table where a decision has to be made within a day or two, we won't lose the deal because the information won't be available until the end of the month."
|"The idea is not just to gather information, but to present it so employees can interact with it and contribute back so others can learn from it, too."|
Choosing the Best Portal Product
While no portal vendor has emerged as the leader, Gartner Group points to several that have promising software and vision (see "Portal Options" below). Among them are Corechange Inc., Datachannel Inc., Hummingbird Ltd., InfoImage Inc., Plumtree Software Inc., Sequoia Software Corp., SilverStream Software, Sybase Inc., TopTier Software, and Viador Inc. Companies offering niche products include Autonomy Inc., Brio Technology Inc., Epicentric Inc., Hyperwave Information Management Inc., Intraspect Software Inc., KnowledgeTrack Corp., Oracle Corp., Sagemaker Inc., and Verity Inc.
With so many vendors, how is a company to choose what direction to take and which product to use? Frappaolo advises companies to determine what it is they want to do before looking for a vendor or tool to help them do it. "Get your education through an education community, industry analysts, case studies, and do a needs assessment in the organization," he says. "Understand what kind of knowledge exists in the company, what knowledge people can use to exercise their own jobs in a better way. And seize control of a vendor [demonstration] to talk about how they would support your environment, how they will integrate all the databases you have."
James Kobielus, collaboration and messaging analyst with The Burton Group in Midvale, Utah, says companies should look to their groupware vendors for knowledge management tools. "[Ask] how you can take that information and leverage it further, provide the information on your users, and give them the tools, applications, and data they need for knowledge management."
Gartner's Jacobs recommends that IT managers look at their business strategy and their current technology first. "The goal of the IT manager is not to implement exciting new technology, it's to support the business process of your organization," he says. "Be aware of the impact of technologies and the utility for them. Don't wait for the magic bullet of technology to come along or look at the existing products as an automatic solution to their problems. There's no easy answer, no quick fix." //
Cynthia Flash is a freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
| Portal Options Company/Product: Plumtree Software Inc./Plumtree Corporate Portal 4.0, San Francisco Lotus Development Corp./IBM Corp./K-Station, Boston InfoImage Inc./Freedom, Phoenix Viador Inc./e-Portal Framework, Mountain View, Calif. Hummingbird Ltd./Enterprise Portal Suite, Toronto, Ontario Sequoia Software Corp./XPS, Columbia, Md. Sybase Inc. /Enterprise Portal, Emeryville, Calif. TopTier Software/eBusiness Integration Portal, San Jose, Calif. |