Portals play key role as intranets and extranets evolve

Intranets and extranets, which provide views of corporate data to employees or external partners, respectively, are now sharing the spotlight with another much-ballyhooed technology: portals.

Whereas intranets and extranets are seen as a way to grant access to isolated "silos" of information to appropriate persons, portals provide a single, Web-based access point for corporate data, said attendees at the Intranet-Extranet (IE) Expo in Santa Clara, Calif., last week.

The portal sits on top of the intranet, said Anoma Olmedo, director of strategic marketing at portal vendor DataChannel Inc.

Although search technology has improved intranets, "they're still operated as [data] silos," supplying unstructured information, Olmedo said.

"The nice thing with a portal is it's got the personalisation capabilities that an extranet doesn't necessarily have," Olmedo said. Portals also have role-based security capabilities, with individuals having customised access to specific information, she said.

"We think of the portal as really the new business desktop," Olmedo added.

IE Expo keynote speaker Jakob Nielsen, a senior group member at the Nielsen Norman Group consulting firm, acknowledged the growing interest in portals.

"Intranets really have been the neglected stepchild in terms of design," Nielsen said. "It's grown up organically."

Portals, meanwhile, are "[designed] to impose a structure" on data, Nielsen said.

But there is a need for both intranets and portals, Nielsen said in an interview. Intranets provide a conglomeration of services whereas portals provide a navigation scheme around huge amounts of information, he said.

An intranet and extranet user at the conference said his company expects to migrate to a portal. "We're using Lotus (Development Corp.'s) Notes and we find ourselves drowning in information," said Tamir Levin, vice president of information technology at SPL Worldgroup, a San Francisco-based developer of customer care and billing software for the energy industry.

Portals provide an easier way to distribute information, Levin said. "I expect a portal to have added value" for decision-making and role-based data presentation, he said.

David Scott, vice president of corporate marketing at NewsEdge Corp., a provider of various news feeds, said portals are especially beneficial for larger enterprises in terms of data presentation. "It's all in one place," Scott said.

"If [a company has] 10,000 employees in an organisation and each is saving two hours a week because the information is easier to get to, that savings is huge," Scott said.

Portals and intranets work together, Scott said. "The portal is the infrastructure that then allows people to get at the information that's on the intranet," he said.

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