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Why Portal or Why Not Portal?

  • August 11, 2008
  • By Jeffrey Ryan
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As a front-end architect in a major financial services organization, a question I often hear from business partners, executives, project managers, business analysts, architects and developers alike is "Why do I need a portal framework to create my website?"

To answer this excellent question, I begin by discussing some business to consumer (B2C), business to employee (B2E), and business to business (B2B) websites that the questioner is familiar with. I like to describe the typical user experience of visiting the home page, registering, logging on, viewing personalized content, conducting searches, transacting business, setting preferences, and so forth.

Once the questioner has this context, I then explain all of the architectural elements that came into play to create that user experience. Usually, the questioner is surprised because many of the elements essential to creating that experience are taken for granted.

Then, I will explain how a portal framework knits together the architectural elements related to user experience. These architectural elements include security, information architecture, content management, search, service oriented architecture, business intelligence, and business process management.

Each time you create a consumer, partner, or employee website from scratch, you are reinventing the wheel and creating one offs in your implementation or integration of these architectural elements. Rather than spending your efforts on the unique value your website brings, that is, the functionality and content, you focus on re-creating foundational elements of user experience.

By this time in the conversation, I can turn the question around and ask, "Why not use a portal framework to create your website?"

In this article, imagine you've just asked me the question, "Why portal?" I'll walk you through my answer and at the end turn the question around back to you and ask "Why not portal?"

A Typical B2C User Experience

You can begin by examining a business to consumer website that is typical of one you might regularly visit.

Figure 1: Typical Home Page for B2C Website

This is the home page for a wireless phone company. If you navigate to the site from a search engine, an email link, or by typing in the address, you would reach the company home page. If you already have a relationship with the company, you can register for use of the website. If you are not a customer, you can navigate through the site, explore content, search for items of interest, and consider establishing a relationship with the company.

Once you've become a customer, you may register for the site, log on, and view your account., This is depicted in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Typical "My Account" Page for B2C Website

At this point, your identity has been authenticated, and you are authorized to perform certain activities on the website to manage your account. The content you are displayed now becomes more targeted to you and your relationship with this company. You are allowed to set communication preferences that further customize your experience.

A Typical Implementation of Web Apps

The user experience you've just seen is typical of thousands of websites. To create such a website, these common elements of the user experience need to be implemented. Some elements such as security, content management, search, and the integration of business applications are not trivial. If you were to have a business to consumer, business to employee, and business to business website, it is likely that you may have three or more disparate implementations of these elements in your organization.

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