Thursday, January 20, 2005

Portal software: passing fad or real value?

I noticed today that James Robertson has agreed with an article by Janus Boye called Portal software: passing fad or real value?.

It seems that James and Janus are of the opinion that portal software is overrated and unnecessary if you have a good Content Management System (CMS). Hardly surprising given they are both running "vendor-neutral" content management consultancies.

To be sure, Janus' portal examples do seem to make his point. However, I don't think these problems are as relevant to Windows SharePoint Services / SharePoint Portal Server 2003 as they might be to the portals he gives examples from.

Specifically the problems of 'portlets' going missing is not applilcable to SharePoint, and their URLs are more human readable than many websites I've seen. Cost may be an issue, but then has he priced MSCMS recently?

Performance can also be an issue, but when used to integrate line of business (LOB) applications you need dynamic pages, and most content I've seen is meant to be dynamic - not static. Of course SPS 2003 does have web parts that let you edit content in place, with either WYSIWIG or raw HTML editors, so that's another touted benefit of CMS that's been absorbed.

When he gets to the bit that talks about the "top features requested on corporate intranets" (and from what survey did you get that Janus? :P) they are exactly the sort of features (enterprisewide search, employee info) that something like SPS 2003 can enable better than MSCMS, so where is the argument there?

When you then also consider the collaborative benefits of MS Office 2003 plus SharePoint, it becomes much harder to see why you would imagine a CMS can offer your enterprise anywhere near the same functionality.

Of course Janus does make some good points. A portal solution (as with any IT solution) is "not a silver bullet", and the human side of the project is always going to take hard work. Portals are also not going to make your internet site the next big thing, and are probably a waste of time for most internet/extranet sites. The most interesting point for me is that Microsoft have merged their CMS and SharePoint teams, and we may very well see the tools moving closer together in the next few versions.

Jakob Nielsen has made some good points about what a good intranet portal should be about, and most interestingly said:
Intranet portals aim to replace the wild Web model with a tool metaphor, where a company's content and services work together instead of undermining each other. Having a single starting point, a single overview of each user's most important services, a single search, a single navigation scheme and information architecture, and a single set of consistent page design templates all combine to make the intranet portal a more promising corporate information infrastructure.
To my mind that is a vindication of Microsoft's direction with SharePoint, and their .NET integration toolset (Reporting Services etc.). There are still problems, but it will be interesting seeing how they get ironed out over the coming years, because, guess what, SharePoint isn't going away.

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