posted 1 Dec 1999 in Volume 3 Issue 4
Is the portal Knowledge Management? Or
Is Knowledge Management the Portal?
According to the Delphi Group, by the beginning of 2001, 80% of the companies they surveyed in 1999 will have taken on portals as part of their infrastructure. In this excerpt from their Corporate Portal Insight Series report, Delphi outline what is really on offer in the link between portals and knowledge management.
Arising seemingly out of nowhere in 1998, the corporate portal has come into prominence thanks to well-understood dynamics in Internet technologies and the growing adoption of corporate intranets.
In its 1999 survey of IT organisations, The Delphi Group found that 55% of those responding indicated their organisations are currently undertaking corporate portal projects. Sixteen per cent already have portals in production; another 18% are experimenting or piloting the technology; and 22% are working on portals at a concept or planning level. By the beginning of the year 2001, 80% of the survey participants will have portals in production.
The applications deployed in those portals will be led by knowledge and learning support, business process support, and support for customer relationship management and self-service opportunities. The next tier of important portal applications include collaboration and project support, followed by access to data from corporate and legacy systems and the internal company information centre.
Ironically, most organisations still find themselves poorly positioned to take advantage of the recent proliferation of corporate information from intranets, enterprise applications, and electronic business. The key challenge to portal implementations is the relatively poor organisation of corporate information today. Successful portals differentiate and re-integrate business critical information in a function-centred information environment that helps users work smarter.
Bridging islands of automation
The core dynamic driving the rise of the corporate portal is that our expectations for computer use are changing dramatically from acquiescence in a program-by-program, task-isolated environment to enthusiasm for an integrated environment that provides information access, delivery, and work support across multiple dimensions of the organisation.
Intranets have brought us new capabilities to identify, capture, store, retrieve, and distribute vast amounts of information from multiple internal and external sources, at an individual, team, or function level. They have pushed the envelope of legacy computing infrastructures and challenged the assumptions of current models of information processing. Applications-based desktops look increasingly like discrete islands of automation. They separate and segregate functions that are intuitively part of the same process. (This is somewhat akin to using a different type of telephone for every country that you want to call.)
Corporate portals provide an architecture and a set of technologies with which to build a single point of access across these many applications, repositories, processes and functions in the information environment. The result is a shift from information systems as a group of isolated programs that address discrete disciplines, towards a ubiquitous information "environment" . This new environment is working itself into the working milieu in every business and social institution. Many have called it the "digital dashboard" .
While all this has been evolving, organisations have a growing appreciation for the difficulties involved in integrating, reconciling and organising corporate information resources across an enterprise. Inherent in corporate information, however, unlike Internet information, is a degree of relevance and business context that is non-existent in the broad-based Internet data sources.
The opportunity for corporate portal developers is to identify and tap into the underlying organisation in disparate corporate information, which if correctly exploited, can yield significant benefits for middle office workers who daily navigate the myriad of internal and external sources of connections among people, processes, and information.
This is not a small task particularly since as knowledge sources multiply, it becomes increasingly more difficult to reconcile and organise across an enterprise. The compelling promise of the corporate portal is that it offers a unique integration capacity, which takes advantage of the inherent purpose and structure in corporate information. The portal crafted around these naturally occurring centres of action and interest can almost automatically yield a degree of relevancy that is non-existent in broad-based Internet data sources. Individuals share the responsibility for defining the taxonomy of business-critical information, and through their publishing and other information activities, generate a rich content environment at the corporate portal level, without the need for any single individual to have a comprehensive overview of all taxonomies.
Portals and knowledge practice
The development of the corporate portal underlies many of the major themes in the business environment today from the rise of e-business, to the internationalisation of operations, and the changing dynamics of an increasingly mobile workforce. It is particularly linked with the development of knowledge management practices in large organisations.
Is the portal knowledge management? Or is knowledge management the portal? In The Delphi Group's opinion, the answer to both questions is clearly negative. However, there is a significant overlap and relationship between these two new elements in the organisation.
The Delphi Group has developed a framework for conceptualising the relationship between corporate portals and knowledge management and for positioning both in the organisational context. In this view, the role of the corporate portal is to provide an access point (even if only a temporary one given the shrinking cycles of technical innovation) to the larger structure of organisational, cultural, and information management architecture.
Knowledge management and the knowledge practice, on the other hand, is a more permanent feature of the business. The development and enhancement of a knowledge practice works within the context of the organisation's physical and structural design, and is fully linked with the cultural and interpersonal milieu created and maintained by management and employees alike.
As business becomes increasingly based on electronic systems, both knowledge management and the corporate portal depend heavily on the organisation's information infrastructure. But it is at the level of the corporate portal that issues of information design and presentation strategies become a primary concern.
This issue of design and presentation is something that many of the public Internet portal sites have had to evaluate as their online offerings become more complex. Designing effective presentation strategies for portal content is as important an issue as developing the content in the first place. The new presentation challenge can have a major impact on mission critical business campaigns.
Amazon.com, for example, had to delay the introduction of several new services acquired as part of its new business strategy to leverage its brand recognition and customer community as it repositioned itself as a major Internet retail destination. The reason for the delay was that adding the new services required a full portal site redesign to address increasing "clutter" and confusion in its "legacy" portal. Corporate portals face essentially the same set of challenges. Presentation design will play a leading role in second generation portal developments in the months to come.
History will show that 1999 and 2000 will be characterised by rapid and diligent deployment to put in place portal architectures and operations that are both robust from a data management perspective and effective and attractive from a knowledge worker perspective. By 2001, it will almost certainly have become plain that the transition to e-business practices would not have been possible without the tools and technologies, ubiquity and scope introduced to the corporate information environment by the portal projects.
This is an excerpt from The Delphi Group Insight Research Report, "Portals in the Organisation". The Delphi Group has been assisting global enterprises interested in e-business and knowledge management integrate the many services they have needed to understand, evaluate, and deploy information technology in their business systems.
©1999, The Delphi Group