Product review: InfoPortal eludes the enterprise

Now that intranets and extranets are an acknowledged way to improve corporate productivity, and Internet portals, such as Yahoo, have proven a huge hit with consumers, software vendors are attempting to combine the best of both ideas in the form of corporate portals. These next-generation intranets, such as Glyphica's InfoPortal, Version 2.0, are a means of streamlining access to disparate forms of company data.

For maximum effectiveness, a corporate portal should offer integration to legacy data systems; some form of enterprise resource planning (ERP) or Extensible Markup Language (XML) support for Internet-commerce integration; a comprehensive, automated taxonomy for updating meta-data tags; and the capability to quickly customise subportals. On only two counts -- subportal customisation and to some extent, taxonomy -- does InfoPortal fit the bill.

InfoPortal provides a document-centric view of information on a company's intranet or extranet that can be securely accessed, searched and printed from within a Web browser. Though it offers excellent customisation capabilities, InfoPortal lacks distributed database integration and ERP or XML support for I-commerce.

InfoPortal also does not scale as well as competitors such as Plumtree Software's Corporate Portal Server and Viador's E-Portal Suite. Ultimately, InfoPortal is well suited to mid-size companies needing a straightforward way to deploy and maintain a document warehousing portal, but large enterprises are not likely to find it robust enough for their needs.

One of InfoPortal's most impressive features is the Extranet Wizard, a tool for quickly creating targeted portals built on existing data sets. It guided me through building a Web front end from several extensible templates, which provided an entire functioning portal replete with full-text and meta-tag search capabilities. Setting up security was a snap: Parameters can be established on a per-document basis and can be delineated by criteria such as user group, IP or host name. These were easily implemented, and my portal was operational in hours.

InfoPortal's administrative interface provides point-and-click access to all maintenance features on the server, including user group setup and maintenance; batch document indexing and versioning; and tools for optimising portal performance. This easily navigable interface simplifies and speeds up the administrative process.

Although I could quickly set up users and establish working directories and groups, InfoPortal's inability to directly migrate pre-existing, standardised user directories disappointed me.

Further, it only imports delimited text files; thus, each groupware meta-data source must be exported separately and then re-imported. This could quickly become time-consuming at the enterprise level. Glyphica officials said they may resolve this by adding plug-ins to future versions.

On the client side, InfoPortal is simple to use. Users connect to the server via a Web browser. They can view or check out existing files, create new ones and then check in new or revised documents. Documents are organised in an easily navigable, point-and-click hierarchy that shows current document status and security restrictions. InfoPortal indexes all documents, making them accessible, printable and searchable either by full-text or meta-tag taxonomies.

InfoPortal uses Adobe Acrobat and Capture to convert file types such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to Portable Document Format (PDF). This makes all documents in the enterprise viewable in any browser equipped with Adobe Acrobat Reader, regardless of the client's application set.

Because these conversions can strain system resources, InfoPortal provides Satellite Servers to which the process can be farmed out. I found Satellite Server easy to set up and configure. When I uploaded a document to a portal folder, InfoPortal sent a query to determine whether a PDF conversion was required. If necessary, InfoPortal delegated the job to the Satellite Server, which performed the conversion and returned a PDF document.

InfoPortal also includes Agents that send out event-triggered e-mail to notify users or groups about portal activity. Triggers can include revision updates, document additions and folder access.

As a document-management tool, InfoPortal offers an easily implemented solution that assures usability by nontechnical personnel. But although small to mid-size companies may take to it, InfoPortal is not a scalable way to harness enterprise-wide data.

(James Borck is a frequent contributor and IS Director for Industrial Art & Science in Connecticut. He can be reached at james.borck@industrialart.com.)The bottom line: goodGlyphica InfoPortal 2.0Summary: InfoPortal does document management well, but it's far from an enterprise-class portal. The Extranet Wizard is helpful, but database, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and Extensible Markup Language (XML) integration are lacking.

Business Case: Small to mid-size companies may find InfoPortal cost-effective for deploying a dedicated document management portal; larger companies will either outgrow it or have to make additional purchases to create a comprehensive portal solution.

Pros

+ Wizard-based configuration

+ Easy maintenance

Cons

- No database integration

- No ERP or XML support for I-commerce

- Limited directory migration

Platform: Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 3Cost: $US82,500, includes Netscape Enterprise Server 3.5.1, one Satellite Server licence, Adobe Acrobat and Capture. Additional Satellite Servers cost $10,000 each.

Glyphica, Mountain View, California; +1-650-428-1800; http://www.glyphica.com

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