As I mentioned in an earlier post on usability issues, next generation portals will be unlikely to provide useful access to information unless IT managers take control of infrastructure issues.
By their inherent nature, portals require users to run multiple sessions on screen; each portal application requires a different connection to the back-end infrastructure.
If you’re running many applications in one portal, the strain on your network and hardware can be unbearable. So, why bother with portals?
Well, a well-implemented portal can help present essential information to essential users. But you have to get your approach right.
First things first – identify the process you want to solve. Whether it’s supply-chain management or customer service, recognise the information that will help drive increased business intelligence.
As you strive to create the right approach, don’t think of a portal as a bunch of separate applications that are best served by in-house storage assets.
If you do, the aforementioned information strain on your servers is likely to be unbearable. Instead, look to client side session management and keep data in the browser, rather than on the server (see my earlier blog posting in ‘Further reading’, below, for more details).
Then recognise that most of your users will have a small screen estate that cannot readily support four or five open windows.
Even if your back-end infrastructure can stand the strain of running simultaneous applications, your users’ eyes won’t – and as soon as key executives are straining to see detail, hopes for increased usability and high efficiency start to disappear.
Remember, that one process should mean one application. Pushing multiple sessions is not an intelligent way to provide clarity on your key business process.
Don’t think of your portal as a jigsaw, where small elements create a bigger and more effective whole. Instead, start with the process in-mind, and create a composite picture that includes all the functionality needed to solve your business concern through a single mashed-up application.
Analyst Gartner suggests mash-ups could emerge as an alternative to horizontal portals. I would go further and suggest that composite applications are the future of portals.
Giving users the power to create mash-ups through the browser will increase the effectiveness of your information push and reduce the strain on your servers.