User happiness, one portal at a time

Portals seldom come from the top down, across an entire organization. Instead, they grow department by department, beginning with where they're needed most.

Storage provider Network Appliance got into portals early, according to CIO Scot Klimke. In the mid-1990s, impressed with Cisco Systems' partner portal, NetApp rolled out a similar self-service portal for its own customers. But it wasn't long before NetApp employees got the portal religion and wanted the presentation and integration benefits for themselves.

NetApp's first B2E portal was for its sales organization, Klimke says. "The business problem was: Could we create an environment where we could customize and personalize information from myriad ... transactions, and pack it together on an individual basis for each member of our field organization?"

The company had already deployed SFA application. "But our field organization was really interested in information from ... at least three systems and sometimes as many as five or six. So the way that we packaged it together, the portal provided an integration level for aggregating all of this information."

The first implementation rolled out using a corporate solution from Yahoo, before the Internet giant got out of the corporate portals business. "We then shifted to BEA (Systems)," says Klimke, whose developers he characterizes as "Java bigots" who were impressed with BEA's technology. "Today (the sales portal) looks very much like the one that's been in place for several years. But today it is all predicated on BEA WebLogic. We've also deployed a general-purpose internal portal for the normal employee productivity stuff like benefits and expense forms."

Altogether, Klimke now has four separate portals running on top of WebLogic in sales, HR, and other departments. Eventually, he wants to consolidate the four into one, with user identity determining which applications and information get served up to each user. (Currently, he uses Netegrity Inc. for the sales force's identity management.) But Klimke doesn't seem in much of a hurry to consolidate because, for once, he has happy users. "Now that I look back on it, this is one of the few technology choices we've made that has received pretty much uniform acclamation. Everyone has agreed to use it. It just kind of worked culturally."

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