Ask Dr. Intranet

FRAMINGHAM (01/24/2000) - Management has told us to turn our main intranet Web server into an enterprise information portal this year. I've heard the term "portal" used to describe Internet sites such as Yahoo, but I'm not sure what a portal is besides a glorified home page with a search engine. What are enterprise information portals, and where can we find information about portal products?

Enterprise information portals have various definitions. The common thread is that a portal provides a centralized browser-based access point for structured and unstructured information sources, ranging from Internet pages to corporate mainframe data.

A good definition of portals can be found at, which compares definitions from firms such as International Data Corp. and Merrill Lynch & Co Inc. Common elements in portals include the ability for users to personalize the interface, and the inclusion of tools to connect to enterprise data sources such as SQL databases and Web-based information sources. Many vendors offer portal products. All offer personalization and collaboration features combined with different levels of push and pull technologies for interactive enterprise knowledge sharing through a Web browser. Most provide tools for building decision-processing support capabilities.

The trick is to make the vendors understand what enterprise information portal means to your company.

Steve Blass is a network architect at Sprint Paranet in Houston. You can reach him at

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