Companies are still confused and cautious about enterprise and customer portals, but the technology can deliver big savings, say users and analysts.
The take-up of portals is still slow, with a survey of 189 UK users by ebusiness software company ATG finding that over half do not have corporate portals, and 63 per cent of those do not intend to deploy one in the next year.
But starting small and focusing on specific business areas or departments can deliver cost savings.
Consignia, formerly the Post Office, is due to launch a consumer portal later this year. It will be a single point for up to 20 million customers to access information and transactional services from the Royal Mail, the Post Office and Parcelforce Worldwide.
But Paul Kelsall, information systems director of the online enterprise unit at Consignia, warned that IT managers could end up with a costly problem if there is no business need for a portal.
"If they are not careful, users can end up with a solution trying to find a problem, and that is expensive because it needs a lot of technology to personalise it," he said.
"An approach might be to segment it, because certain types of client or customer want very specific things," he added. "If we had just lumped everything together it wouldn't be useful. That kind of web is already out there and is unmanageable."
There can also be conflict for an organisation implementing a portal that incorporates its different brands or products.
Kelsall suggested that users need to consider whether to develop a separate brand or devise a way for the portal to allow each brand to retain its own identity without being confusing to customers and partners.
Mike Ferguson, an analyst at researcher Database Associates, explained that users are confused by the number of vendors and the definition of portals. But many large companies have successfully implemented them, he said.
"There are at least 30 vendors out there, including IBM, SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, Sybase, BEA and ATG. There is a lot of tug-of-war going on and I see a lot more consolidation," he said.
Ferguson cited car maker Ford which has put payroll transactions into its corporate portal that allows employees to print off their own payslips leading to millions of dollars in savings.
Analyst Butler Group has predicted that users will be spending £2.8bn on enterprise portal products by 2005.
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