Assessing Portalness

Campuses are continuing to expand their offerings of online services. In the past it was the core administrative systems. When most course management systems were initially implemented, they were isolated from the traditional enterprise administrative systems. Soon, however, it became clear that users were not well served if they were addressing each system individually. There rose a demand to integrate not only these offerings, but also other online services outside the university. A portal implementation became the means to address these needs.

For many students and faculty, the portal is a critical integration component for the course management system. In the following viewpoint we explore how to evaluate the portal's effectiveness.

For those who have gone through the arduous task of developing and deploying a Web portal for their college or university, as we have at the University of Georgia, now comes the work of assessing the success of our individual-centric gateway to Web-accessible content and services. We can certainly use access statistics and assume that increased utilization quantifies success. But how do we qualify a portal? If a portal is a single Web location (or address) where an individual can access the Web-based services and information most important to that individual, how well d'es our portal implementation succeed in offering self-managed, personalized, and customized information environments? What are its attributes and how well d'es our portal measure up to those attributes?

Vertical and Horizontal Attributes

The terms "Vertical Enterprise Portal" or "Horizontal Enterprise Portal" submitted to any popular search engine will return thousands of hits. However, a Syllabus TechTalk featuring Howard Strauss titled "What is a Portal, Anyway?" offers an excellent explanation of these portal types [http://www.campus-technology.com/techtalks/events/000120portal.asp]. Using Strauss' description as a base, we see that a true portal has aspects of both portal types, and exhibits vertical and horizontal attributes.

Horizontalness most fundamentally refers to the breadth of information contained on the portal. Horizontal portals offer visitors an aggregation of content and services at one Web location and are available to anyone on the Internet. They may be very general (My Yahoo!) or focus within a particular subject area (WebMD). Because of the large volume of content and services, these sites typically offer ways to personalize the visitor's experience. This personalization includes preferences regarding content interests and appearance (e.g., fonts, colors, arrangement of content), with these preferences retrieved when the visitor accesses the portal. An actual login may not be required, since Web cookies (small bits of information stored on the user's computer and retrieved by the Web server each time the portal is visited) can be used to determine preferences.

A vertical portal is one characterized by depth and pertinence of content and services, particularly as the content and services relate to the role of the individual within a specific enterprise. Vertical portals are typically not available to everyone on the Internet, but only to those with an affiliation to a particular enterprise. Within a college or university, for example, these affiliations include student, faculty, staff, and administrator. When a student logs into the portal, he/she should receive a different view of the academic enterprise from a faculty member or administrator. These are custom views and are not under the direct control of the visitor but are based on the relationship of the visitor to the enterprise. And this verticalness can be articulated down to the individual. When Dr. Sam Jones logs into his portal, he will see an integrated view of his courses, his "business" e-mail, his communities of interest (which may be assigned based on presumed interest according to departmental affiliation), his vacation days, and his retirement benefits. At this individualized level, multiple logins are eliminated even though the information may come from a variety of discrete Web-enabled services.

We have concluded from these general descriptions that there is a significant correlation between horizontalness and personalization (making the portal look and feel a certain way based on individual preferences) and between verticalness and customization (providing content and services based on the relationship the individual has to the enterprise). Specific attributes associated with each are:

Horizontal Attributes
(Breadth of Content and Services)

Vertical
(Depth of Content and Services)
Significant number of content/service choices Authorization (user ID and password)
Ability to arrange choices on and across pages within the portal Affiliation detection (part of the enterprise)
"Skin" choices (ability to change general appearance) Affiliate type detection (student, faculty, staff, alumni)
Font, color choices (ability to change specific appearances) Association (department, class, school)
Agile visual integration (default consistent appearance for static and dynamic content). Process integration (single sign-on; data/process integration across multiple applications and services).

The Portal Magic Quadrant and the Ultimate Goal: A "Blended" 10

To easily and quickly assess the quality of our portal implementation, we adapted Gartner's Magic Quadrant. Gartner uses their Magic Quadrant to rate technology vendors and service providers with respect to their ability to execute within the marketplace and completeness of vision. We used the same general template to assess portalness, using verticalness/customization and horizontalness/personalization as the metrics.


Verticalness and horizontalness work together to complete the successful portal. A significant number of services (horizontalness)-e-mail, online registration, online courses, online communities, and employee services-should be accessible via a single sign-on (verticalness). Online communities and content should be presented to an individual based on affiliation (verticalness), but he/she should be able to remove content, subscribe/unsubscribe from communities, and arrange content based on preference (horizontalness). Only by offering a blended, complementary, and complete view of the enterprise can the ultimate goal be achieved-an individual-centric gateway to Web-accessible content and services.

[Author's Note: The University of Georgia is using Novell ExteNd Director as its portal platform. We launched our portal in February 2003. We would position ourselves in the "High P/Low C" category, with the confidence that the solution we have chosen can move us into the "High P/High C" category. For more information on Novell ExteNd Director, see: http://www.novell.com/products/extend/director. You can visit MyUGA at http://my.uga.edu. A guest login is available.]

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