Continued innovation with Rapid Application Development tools like Ruby on Rails, Grails, Cake PHP and others can occasionally prompt IT shops to ask “Given all of these advancements – what value does an enterprise portal framework provide? It seems like I can quickly develop extranet, intranet and other web solutions with RAD tools. Is a portal overkill?”
As an architect I would agree that a portal framework is not always a “one size fits all” strategy for dealing with business needs on the web. With this being, a series of core concepts and capabilities inherent to mature enterprise portals add undeniable value not generally available from RAD tools. As additional upside – the RAD tools can end up adding a lot of value when used within the context of the following enterprise capabilities, enriching what they are normally capable of, to round out a complete solution.
Some key considerations when evaluation how and where an enterprise portal may be able to provide additional value to your organization
- Integration Centric UI Platform – Organizations growing through M&A activities will find enterprise portal technology is especially useful in allowing reuse of existing enterprise application and services – pulling them under a unified brand with reduced effort. In these instances the portal ends up acting as a harness to manage and present data from disparate sources seamlessly to the end user. Some portals are even capable of providing a single, consolidated UI on top of heterogeneous development technologies*
- Authentication to Enterprise Directory Services / Misc User Stores – Enterprise portal allows authentication to occur on top of a central directory, a series of directories, relational databases and other sources. This enables IT to adjust authentication sources as needed, with minimal or no impact to the end user experience.
- Role-based Access and Authorization to Resources – Most applications require some level of granularity with access to resources in and around an application or content. A portal framework will natively provides this, allowing various application components and resources to be mapped to enterprise roles and groups that encapsulate users accessing the system.
- Enterprise Search – Search is viewed as a ubiquitous part of web site / application capability and should not require additional development effort to incorporate into a project. An enterprise portal will provide a single infrastructure to support various global or project-based search needs (please note that not all platform offer search solutions with item level security capabilities within search).
- Multi-Site Management – As lines of business create web solutions it is beneficial to have a centralized layer to access and administer the various deployments. Modern enterprise portals support multi site capability from a single infrastructure. Without this, long term costs increase drastically and the manageability is greatly reduced.
- Delegation – A contemporary user interface framework should provide the ability to delegate the management and development of resources to be included in a given solution. The delegation should be capable of being scoped to a finite portion of the application or platform or for various resources that reside within the platform.
- Shared Services (Analytics, Auditing, etc) – Various web solutions may require a handful of features from a range of services like discussion forums, workflow, social networking components, wikis, blogs and tagging. With this being said – services like analytics and other should not need to be deployed for each initiative, but be an inherent part of the plumbing underneath a web application.
- Content Management – An application will always have content in some form – whether terms and conditions on a site, paragraphs of text, graphics, video or documents. Content management should be available natively through a portal, without the need to integrate a third party service. The service should allow both traditional web content, as well as document management functionality to be available for inclusion with a deployment.
- Standardized Development Approach – As an organization deploys various web solutions, key developers will move throughout or outside of your organization or perhaps be part of an external consultancy. It is critical to have a standardized development approach with standard tools, ensuring that a web solution can be maintained by other technologists – enabling them to quickly contribute to your development goals. A portal will provide a standard interface for development and the vendor, training on how to develop to that interface. This protects the value delivered in a portal solution, isolating it from organizational and skill changes.
- New Functionality – As the web evolves, functions like a personalized web experience will be requested from lines of business due to it becoming the status quo to remain competitive in the market. For a portal vendor to stay in businesses, they must innovate, build and maintain these services and tools to allow an organization to perform with state of the market capabilities. This allows organizations to take advantage of tested technology to support their newest business needs, taking a configuration – opposed to development – based approach to deploy them.
* Please note that not all portals support aggregation from various platform technologies. Oracle WebCenter for instance can consume .NET and other applications
Hopefully the above list can spark some critical discussion within your organization to understand where and why enterprise portal solutions may fit well into your overall IT strategy. For companies looking to develop IT roadmaps in alignment with business goals, enterprise portal can go a long way to allowing IT to be more responsive to those needs and reduce effort previously spent on maintenance and development.