An Enterprise Portal: Essential or Indispensable?

Suppose each person at your college or university could have a Web site that knew who they were. One that customized itself to provide each person easy access to all the information and computer applications they needed. A place where each person collaborated with the system to shape the data, the applications and the user interface to what was ideal for them and the way they worked. Then your university would see an unparalleled burst of productivity and efficiency. The entire university community would use the IT infrastructure to actually get work done, rather than spending most of their time trying to figure out how to use the system or get around it.

A Web site that d'es this is called an enterprise portal. An enterprise portal is a revolutionary change in the way that users use the Web. It changes the Web from delivering institution-centric applications in which everyone sees the same Web pages, to delivering user-centric applications in which everyone has their own customized, personalized, adaptive collection of Web pages.

A portal also revolutionizes the way universities build Web sites. Your Web applications group who built Web pages in relative isolation will be replaced by a group that has influence over all institutional data and applications and builds complex enterprise portal components.

Real-Life Examples
Andrew is the office manager for the engineering school at Euphoric State College (ESC). He is skilled at getting even the most arcane reports from ESC's systems. Everyone depends upon his knowledge. Jennifer, who runs the Law School, couldn't get through a week without a few frantic calls to Andrew. Getting information is such a challenge that little time is spent using it to make important decisions. Getting the right report has become an end in itself.

With ESC's portal, Andrew's ability to produce reports will become superfluous. All of the information that anyone needs will appear on their own portal pages. Not entire reports that contain the information, just the few numbers from each report that each person needs to make decisions, which they will now have time to do.

Archeology professor Willie Wasyl is always on the road where he buys unusual artifacts. The paper work he generates to pay for his travel and purchases rivals the weight of the stone relics he collects. Every bit of that paper is handled by scarce HR and purchasing staff. With ESC's portal there is no paperwork. Professor Wasyl usually keys information into the portal as he travels so that back at ESC he has a check waiting for him. He spends time teaching students, not filling out forms. HR and purchasing now have the time to handle new government regulations and the growing ESC staff without adding staff of their own.

Adrienne wants to change her major. Before ESC's portal, she had to meet with her department chair, the registrar's office, the financial aid office, and more. Today, she uses the portal to temporarily change her status to each of several possible new majors. She can easily see the effect of each change and how each will affect every aspect of her future at ESC. All the people she would have had to meet with now have more time to perform high-level work instead of showing Adrienne what-if scenarios.

Natalie is a prospective student interested in special education. ESC has a small but growing special ed program. If Natalie went to the ESC home page before they had a portal she'd eventually find the local search page buried three levels down. Searching on "special ed" she would have gotten the entry for Ed Webster's slide show and hits for everyone named Ed. She'd also get the entry for 6,455 special things happening on campus. Scattered among 19,670 useless hits, she'd find 8 that were right on target. If Natalie were tenacious enough to return to ESC's home page, she'd have to start all over.

As an outsider, Natalie d'esn't have direct access to the ESC portal. Instead she uses ESC's home page which is designed for outsiders. On that page she checks Prospective Student, provides some information, and is given a user ID and password for future access. After choosing Special Education and Child Development she is wowed by all the special ed things that ESC offers. With her permission, her name is passed on to Frank, a junior in the special ed program, who follows up with a personal call. When Natalie returns to the ESC Web, she will enter the portal with her ID and password, and when she applies for admission, which she will, much of the form will already be filled out.

No Corner Untouched
Building an enterprise portal is an expensive, time-consuming, culture-wrenching endeavor that requires support and buy-in by everyone from senior management to users. It will leave no corner of a university untouched. Creating an enterprise portal will challenge your IT staff, upset anyone who thinks they own institutional data, and require rethinking every system and procedure on campus. Yet no matter what the size, focus, or budget of your university, this new technology can't be ignored. In the long run it will save your university a great deal of money, deliver essential services, and increase the effectiveness of the entire university community. Imagine not having Internet access or e-mail today. That's how it will feel if you don't have a portal tomorrow.

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