B2E portal success depends on company preparation

If an enterprise is considering implementing a business-to-employee (B2E) portal, be prepared because contrary to common misperceptions, it is a lengthy and complex system to install successfully. But if an organization is prepared from the outset to deal with these issues, it will be rewarded for its preparedness.

Portal vendors will be the first to admit that the responsibility rests with individual companies to ensure that they have the hardware in place first before the software stage can even be considered. In tech terms, it’s absolutely infrastructure first.

Based on an organization that wanted to roll out a B2E portal to 500 employees, Hummingbird’s Toronto-based senior product manager Elizabeth Caley laid out the basic and essential hardware requirements needed. It included a two-CPU Solaris boxes and a duplication of the same machine with a single processor server somewhere in a cluster. The organization would also need to configure an enterprise relational database.

With the hardware now in place, the software usually takes about a full day to load. She said that an enterprise would usually then choose one department within the company to run the pilot phase so that any customizations or tweaking of the interface could be addressed based on user experiences. In some cases, Hummingbird’s professional services people would go into the company and help with systems integration. A full roll out could range from one to six months but its people typically stay at a site for two to four weeks.

Caley went on to outline some of the most common applications that enterprises consider layering onto their portals.

“Almost without exception the implementation would include a knowledge management (system) at a base level that allows you to broker searches off to Web engines and index documents that may be in a relational database or a file system and to integrate common groupware such as Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes,” she said.

The portal acts as the interface to many data sources and applications, because contrary to what many organizations believe, the purest rationale for choosing a B2E or any other type of portal, is to business processes to the Web, and to organize that data in a structured environment.

McGuireWoods LLP, a law firm with offices across the U.S. with a staff of approximately 1,500, has used Hummingbird’s portal offering since Version 1.5 and is currently implementing Version 5.0. A spokesperson at the law firm said that portal installation requires both time and diligence.

“Just getting the technology in place is relatively simple, (but) getting it out is a lot more complex because it’s a pretty big undertaking, integrating a bunch of applications not to mention the aggregated search that your end users generally aren’t used to,” said Tim Golden, desktop architect at McGuireWoods in Richmond, Va.

The firm was set to roll out Version 4.0 to its employees when the decision was made to instead migrate to Version 5.0, because it now supports clustering. Currently, there are 100 employees beta testing the system, including attorneys from the firm’s knowledge management group, support staffers and the information services department.

Golden said that as a law firm, its primary application is document management but a layered CRM solution, a search server for indexing both internal and external Web sites and its extranet were also integrated into its portal.

“One of the most powerful aspects is that it can search for a particular term and search for it in our document management system, all the extranets and our competitor’s Web sites and clients Web sites all within a single search and have the results aggregated into a list,” he said.

Hummingbird has assisted with additional features that the firm wanted layered on, but Golden stressed that they were responsible for the implementation process itself. One of the objectives behind wanting the corporate portal was to integrate applications through a single interface that would allow for searches without requiring the end user to continually log into the system.

Equally important was the need to create a portal that didn’t overwhelm the employees and so they simplified it as much as possible, he added. Ultimately, the company’s challenge was having multiple applications that were both Web- and non-Web based that they wanted to integrate and be able to communicate with one another

With an extensive intranet already pre-existing, Golden said the firm took an approach to its portal adoption that organizations should also consider before moving forward.

“We’ve been marketing it (the portal) as the new version of our current intranet, rather than saying we’re replacing the intranet with a new product, we’ve been billing it as the next version of the intranet,” he said.