Give Them What They Want - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Business & Finance
04:20 PM
Connect Directly

Give Them What They Want

Company portals with information for every customer are so last year. Personalized portals with mash-ups and other features are the future.

To get an idea of the future of business portals, take a look at what, eBay, Google, and Yahoo are doing.

They have embraced openness and data portability, and they're letting users choose their own content. Visitors can build personalized Web pages, bringing in data from various sources throughout the Internet. And these companies have opened up their APIs to let others gain access to their content. One result is so-called mash-ups, where a programmer might take traffic information from one consumer site, map data from a different site, and combine it into a new and useful mash-up site for commuters.

My Yahoo has helped drive the power of personal portals.

My Yahoo has helped drive the power of personal portals.

(click for larger image)
These techniques are being translated to the business world. But instead of Web pages that aggregate traffic information, sports scores, online news, and photo sharing, the users of next-gen business portals can look forward to information tailored to their professional needs, which might include RSS feeds or graphs of operational metrics that have been both pushed and pulled from corporate data sources. "The integration technology, the 'mash-up' stuff, is something that [businesspeople] are starting to demand more and more because they can do it in their personal lives," says Rebecca Wettemann, a VP at market-research group Nucleus Research.

Hard To Grasp
Giving customers what they want is always good business, but personalization within portals still is a difficult concept for many companies to grasp. In many cases, a customer or employee portal is a Web site that presents information and provides tunnels into other data sources but falls short of combining and presenting information in a way that saves people time or imparts new knowledge.

People need to think differently about how various data sources within a company can be used together and even combined with outside data sources to provide better information for customers. It requires work and investment in new approaches and technologies, such as Web services and portal-development tools.

Stuart Maue, a firm that audits legal bills for businesses and provides online legal-bill invoicing, has upgraded its portal to include personalization and a flexibility that's more in line with the consumer portal approach. Brad Maue, the firm's CTO and VP of IT, likens the portal to the user experience of Yahoo's My Yahoo. "The content is alive and changing, and you define what's in there," Maue says. "It's a lot more dynamic and fun and entertaining to look at."

Portlets within the portal, which is served up on a Linux/Apache Web server, gather data from the firm's HP-Unix transactional database or data warehouse or its Oracle Projects 10g-based legal-case-management system. TCP/IP is used for almost everything, although occasionally WebDAV services--which enable collaborative editing and managing of files on remote Web servers--are used for publishing content from graphics applications, among others.

This all adds up to helping the firm better service clients, Maue says. By viewing multiple pieces of information simultaneously, an auditor can see noncompliant billing entries and a budget portlet on a single page, at which point an abusive billing pattern could emerge, Maue says.

Customers are provided with software tools to build ad hoc templates for bill reports--a big improvement over the previous method of porting billing data to a spreadsheet to build reports. They can bring information from other parts of the Internet, including third-party E-mail, into their custom Web pages. "The possibilities are limitless in that you can populate whatever you want into these portlets, and if you want an RSS feed from an external source, you can do that," Maue says.

People love the new look and feel, Maue says. "The actual ROI is very hard to get a handle on. I see it as a client-retention thing," he says. The more helpful online services the firm can provide, "the less likely our clients will be to seek out other vendors."

Happy Customers
At Unicco Service, a facilities-management company, CIO Jeff Peterson says clients haven't been shy about what they want online. "I have what I would call an overwhelming customer demand to start to bundle more things into the portal for building a knowledge center with the customers," he says.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
1 of 3
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
The State of Cloud Computing - Fall 2020
The State of Cloud Computing - Fall 2020
Download this report to compare how cloud usage and spending patterns have changed in 2020, and how respondents think they'll evolve over the next two years.
InformationWeek Is Getting an Upgrade!

Find out more about our plans to improve the look, functionality, and performance of the InformationWeek site in the coming months.

10 Things Your Artificial Intelligence Initiative Needs to Succeed
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  4/20/2021
Tech Spending Climbs as Digital Business Initiatives Grow
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  4/22/2021
Optimizing the CIO and CFO Relationship
Mary E. Shacklett, Mary E. Shacklett,  4/13/2021
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Current Issue
Successful Strategies for Digital Transformation
Download this report to learn about the latest technologies and best practices or ensuring a successful transition from outdated business transformation tactics.
White Papers
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Sponsored Video
Flash Poll