Portal Security: It's All About Trust

So you're launching an enterprise portal to better communicate with your customers and partners. Warning: Give users the security features they demand or risk turning them off.
If you're planning to spend a bundle of money and time building a corporate enterprise portal, don't overlook what could be the most important factor in its success: Security.

Experts at a recent Intermedia Group portal conference in Boston stressed not to underestimate security's importance to users. Any plan to build Web portals, which enable businesses to collaborate, communicate, and engage in e-commerce with their customers, must be matched with a vigorous program to protect data.

"Failure to implement these privacy programs risks alienating customers," warned David Cearley, senior vice president and co-research director at Meta Group in Stamford, Conn., one of the conference's keynote speaker.

This means more than just telling customers you'll protect their data. It means taking an active role in building policies and deploying technology to keep secrets secret. It requires fostering a corporate culture that treats customer information like gold.

The bottom line: it's easier to pledge security than to follow through. But Cearley offered some approaches to help corporations meet security expectations:

  • Come up with a privacy policy and post it prominently on the site. That includes what you do and don't do with data and how you protect it. "There's an opportunity to turn your privacy policy into a contract with your customers to enhance your brand," Cearley said. He advocated making privacy policies on portal sites conspicuous and easy to understand. "It's as much a marketing document as a legal document."

  • Implement methods of monitoring the policy to make sure it's being followed across all business operations.

  • Make sure the technical ability to protect data is the best it can be.

  • Monitor government and sociopolitical trends as key indicators for the success of industry self-regulation efforts.

There's a lot riding on the success of corporate portals. David Folger, Meta Group's vice president of Web and collaboration strategies, noted, "We believe portals are the next big step in the way people interact with" businesses.

He went one further, likening the failure of enterprises to build portals for their customers to companies "staying with DOS in the 1990s instead of going to Windows."

Honeywell: Security Helps With Success

One enterprise that has found fast success after deploying a secure portal is Honeywell's Industrial Control Division, which supplies automation and control systems for vertical industries such as oil and gas, food and beverage, chemical, and power companies.

Honeywell spent more than a year -- and untold dollars -- building its enterprise portal, which launched in early May.

The portal creates a personalized interaction for every Honeywell customer and partner who comes to the site. Once there, customers can browse parts lists, request quotes, place and track orders, and get customer support.

A key to its success, however, is the guarantee to customers (many of whom compete against each other in vertical markets) that their information will remain secure and will not be seen by competitors.

"Our customers have secrets with us. They wanted the secrets shared in a very secure environment," said Therese Fontaine, IT/e-business program manager for Honeywell Industrial Control, who helped build the system.

"Our customers like Shell and BP Amoco would not want to share their information with each other -- they're fierce competitors," she said. "But they have to share it with Honeywell, which treats that trust seriously."

Weeks after launching, revenues derived from the enterprise portal are already above expected levels, she told the conference.

David Aponovich is senior editor of CIN, an EarthWeb site. Contact him at daponovich@internet.com.






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