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Enterprise-Wide Online Working Environment

  Article published in DM Direct Newsletter
April 4, 2003 Issue
  By Jenny Michel

Often the most valuable information in an organization is on the personal computers or inside the heads key stakeholders. Leading companies are trying to implement technology to empower these individuals to actively and effectively share this knowledge with the rest of the enterprise. Industry analysts and observers agree that portals are emerging as the primary environment for businesses to bring employees, partners and customers together to work on content, data and applications. CIOs are using portals to enhance enterprise productivity today in the same way that Microsoft Windows and Office applications increased individual productivity in the 1990s. Portals and other Web technologies such as content management and collaboration can be combined to create an enterprise-wide online working environment.

Because portals are often a unifying technology inside many organizations, portals provide an ideal vehicle for capturing and distributing content and knowledge throughout an organization. As the client to this enterprise-wide online working environment, portals provide a bridge between silos of information, allowing knowledge workers to share information more effectively than through the traditional methods such as e-mail or distributed, complex intranets. Creating a portal with rich content will drive users to the portal and ensure a rapid return on investment from the enterprise-wide online working environment.

Knowledge management is thus a foundation capability for portals. META Group recently noted that knowledge management is the primary reason its customers deploy portals1, and Plumtree customer surveys affirm that providing a vehicle for capturing and distributing content and knowledge resources is the single most valuable application of portal technology.2

A Document Directory

Giga Group analysts Robert Markham, Connie Moore and Laura Ramos3 have shown that organizations prefer portals when they need to crawl, organize, access and aggregate content from a variety of sources into a single user interaction point. As the portal manager for an oil and gas company observes, "Seventy percent of our documents are not HTML, and that percentage will get higher...People don't work in HTML; they work in Office." It is not unusual for organizations to have content scattered across dozens or even hundreds of different repositories: NT and UNIX file servers, Lotus Notes databases, Microsoft Exchange shared folders, Documentum docbases and so on. Ensuring a single point of access to all these systems is one of the most basic and valuable features of an enterprise-wide online working environment. One leading technology vendor reports that 62 percent of its customers have indexed and categorized more than 1,000 documents in their portal, with the largest customers indexing more than 50,000 documents.4

Connecting the portal to multiple content repositories and allowing the portal to serve as a virtual knowledge base for all the information systems throughout the organization are classic elements of portal functionality. In this scenario, the portal is not actually storing content, but rather is providing an easy way for portal users to access content stored in other systems. This allows organizations to leverage existing knowledge systems without having to redeploy the content in these systems onto a new platform. Fifty percent of portal customers identify "manage content and documents" as the major technical reason for deploying a portal.5

To realize the full value of a portal at the lowest cost, it is a good idea to look to vendors that offer a full spectrum of knowledge management features. Superior portals feature a knowledge management capability with the following capabilities:

  • Automatic scanning of repositories to discover new content and eliminate broken links.
  • Standardization and filtering of document meta data.
  • Indexing and categorization of content in a hierarchy of folders.
  • Synchronization of security between source documents and links within the portal.
  • Routing of indexed items to experts for publication approval.
  • Subscription in portal pages and via e- mail.

Probably the most crucial element is the security synchronization. Each underlying content repository - Notes, Exchange and/or Documentum - has a different security system. Because businesses want to preserve the security of content in native repositories, the portal needs to be able to replicate the security setting on each content item as it indexes these items in the portal document directory.

Leading portal vendors automatically "mirror" the security of documents in their native repositories. Other vendors either bypass document security or expect portal managers to manually reapply the security settings when documents are brought into the portal.

Web Content Management

To add the most value, an enterprise-wide online working environment solution must go beyond merely indexing content from other repositories and must capture, store and deliver content directly. Surveys by analysts and vendors show that most customers are today looking for ways to extend the knowledge management capabilities of their portals with content submission templates and richer content approval processes. Therefore, there is a need for self-service Web publishing, requiring the templates, workflow and storage repository of a content management system.

As customers increasingly use portals to capture and publish content, and as analysts continue to advise enterprises to implement simple content management systems, portal content management is emerging as the preferred alternative to standalone Web content management solutions.

According to Gartner Inc., when enterprises buy content management products, they often purchase more software than they need.6 The 80/20 rule holds true in content management: 80 percent of the usage comes from 20 percent of the functions. Gartner predicts that a basic content management system can satisfy many strategic and tactical needs, especially in a portal context.

Specifically, Gartner defines a simple set of mandatory functional requirements that provide strategic and tactical benefits without the long, complex and expensive implementation efforts that can plague larger content management systems. These basic requirements include:

  • Browser access to content across repositories.
  • Integration with desktop authoring tools.
  • File tracking.
  • Content check-in/ out.
  • Version control.
  • Content security.
  • Administration of roles and responsibilities.
  • Simple workflow and document routing.
  • Form-based templating.
  • Content rendering and simple categorization.
  • Search.

With these content management capabilities in mind, customers are now demanding that vendors deliver these capabilities within the portal, rather than as part of a separate solution. According to Giga Group, a few portal vendors are beginning to offer basic Web content management features that allow end users to publish content to portal pages directly, not just to the portal repository for the purposes of search, navigation and classification.7

Giga Group has identified several common models for portal and Web content management integration. The best model involves exposing Web content management functionality through portlets, the modular units that make up portal pages. This model exploits the reach of the portal by extending basic capabilities such as content submission, workflow, task management and check- in/out to everyday portal users through the simple, familiar interface of the portal. Users submit Web content through portlets and access Web content through both portlets and the document directory. The solution is well-suited for use cases that involve a large number of content contributors and where joint authoring, review or approval extend beyond basic content editing but do not require a complex approval process.

Portals with integrated content management offer an enterprise Web experience in which everyone in the business can share information, and every line of business can create its own directory of information, its own brand, its own intranet or extranet sites, and its own Web applications. Figure 1 highlights the kinds of Web applications that the portal can more easily support if it includes an integrated content management system.

Figure 1: Types of Web Applications Supported

In addition to Web applications, portal content management systems allow business users to create intranet sites through the portal. According to Giga, organizations revamping intranets find that portals help to expose, organize and deliver content more effectively than the chaotic internal networks that grow out of multiple departmental initiatives. Indeed, as an enterprise-wide arena where all stakeholders can interact with a wide range of corporate information and applications, the portal often replaces sprawling intranets - which are less dynamic, more difficult to manage and isolated from other Web resources. A portal content management system provides the templates, workflow and content publishing capabilities to build and host intranets from within the portal. From the portal, end users can navigate through intranets and IT can utilize the additional layer of security the portal provides.

A Foundation Service

Because content management systems thrive when included as part of a portfolio of enterprise-wide online working environment foundation services, Gartner has predicted a convergence of content management and portal capabilities: "By year end 2002, six or more vendors will offer packaged 'smart enterprise' portfolios of portal, content and document management, KM and collaboration products."8 Giga concurs that the Web content management market is converging with other markets, citing integration with portals as critical for Web content management vendors to succeed.9 Butler Group agrees that while most content management solutions are good at actually delivering Web content, these solutions often fail to solve the problem of how to distribute this content internally. Portals, Butler believes, will fill this gap by providing the platform of distributing content to wide audiences.10

Analysts agree that Web content management needs to be reconceptualized as a foundation service for building composite applications. Composite applications integrate foundation services such as search or content management with elements from traditional systems to meet the business needs of audiences whose interests typically range beyond a single system. For example, a complete employee services experience features a wider range of services than a single human resources management system (HRMS) can provide: we might imagine a composite application consisting of benefits services from different suppliers, corporate policy and procedure documents, discussion forums, e-learning services and corporate communications. Similarly, think of a customer support experience that offers a view of open support incidents, a searchable knowledge base, Web conferencing and a set of frequently asked questions and answers.

Portals will serve as the aggregation, delivery and personalization framework for composite applications. Hosting composite applications within the portal builds on the portal's user environment with common branding, navigation and administration, as well as the portal's integration infrastructure for reliable, scalable communications with many other systems. If current trends continue, organizations will increasingly be managing content through portals. The convergence of knowledge management and content management in the portal provides an example of how the enterprise Web is steadily increasing enterprise productivity.


1. Roth, Craig. "State of the Portal 2002." META Group. September 13, 2002.
2. "The Corporate Portal Market in 2002." Plumtree Software. February 18, 2002.
3. Markham, Robert. Moore, Connie. and Ramos, Laura. "Portals and Web Content Management: Key Differences and Choices for Intranet Implementations." Giga Group. September 19, 2002.
4. "The Corporate Portal Market in 2002." Plumtree Software. February 18, 2002.
5. "The Corporate Portal Market in 2002." Plumtree Software. February 18, 2002.
6. Johnson, T. Latham, L. and Logan, D. "Simple Content Management: A Good Place to Start." Gartner. June 25, 2002.
7. Markham, Robert. Moore, Connie. and Ramos, Laura. "Portals and Web Content Management: Key Differences and Choices for Intranet Implementations." Giga Group. September 19, 2002.
8. Caldwell, French. "New Focus on Knowledge and Collaboration begin in 2002." Gartner. January 7, 2002.
9. Moore, Connie. Markham, Robert. and Narsu, Uttam. "The Future of Web Content Management." Giga Group. December 31, 2001.
10. "Content Management in the Portal." Butler Group. Opinionwire. August 22, 2002.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Enterprise Information Portal (EIP) and Content Management.

Jenny Michel, product marketing manager for Plumtree Software, is responsible for alliance marketing/management and product marketing for Plumtree server products. She may be reached by e-mail at Jenny.Michel@plumtree.com.

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