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Sun 2 Aug 2009 04:00 AM

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Portal potency

Portals can be a window into the company's world and one of the strongest assets an enterprise can muster, though it takes more than a little insight to avoid becoming trapped in the maelstrom.

Portal potency
SAMUEL: Websites are very important because of the age group of our tech-savvy customers who want to interact online.
Portal potency
MACCOMASCAIGH: Homegrown systems just can’t keep up in terms of value with what is out there in the market now.
Portal potency
BELLINGER: Extranets are becoming a big subject as people take advantage of content in back-end systems.

Portals can be a window into the company's world and one of the strongest assets an enterprise can muster, though it takes more than a little insight to avoid becoming trapped in the maelstrom.

It is common knowledge that every company needs a website, but how best to sail through the treacherous depths of a new project and avoid the vortex of wasted investment is a much rarer slip of information.

Websites often serve as portals into an enterprise's world - with varying degrees of success - and allow customers and stakeholders to be greeted by a slick interface that acts as an electronic receptionist spurring strangers on to find the appropriate information about the business.

This can be seen as part of a marketing strategy, as it allows customers to window-shop through products and services, though this also needs to be viewed from a technological standpoint as a significant amount of grunt is needed to bring an enterprise's content online.

For Sebastian Samuel, group IT manager at the A W Rostamani Group, websites are high on the agenda, particularly because the enterprise operates a conglomerate of automotive, real estate, interior design and IT companies.

"Websites are really important because we are into the automotive dealer management business and now if you look at the customers, most of them are below 50 years old. You look at the age group for it - these are tech-savvy people. Instead of sitting in a showroom and chatting with the customers, a lot of people directly interact on the website and we can see a lot of increase in the trade details," says Samuel.

Samuel explains that in this era, IT strategy is paramount, particularly given the prevalence of web 2.0 technologies which has become a major project unto itself for the group.

"I feel that the next era is for web 2.0 and 3.0 technologies, like social networking, and you can even see customer relationship management applications integrated with web 2.0 so this is really important for us. I feel that even the direct marketing will reduce because of the direction of new technology," he says.

The torrent of technology required to enable a website with audio, video and user-interaction systems like comments, feedback and forums are quite complex. Often leading to the rollout of web content management and digital asset management.

Mick MacComascaigh, research director at Gartner, explains that most of the calls the analyst firm receives from CIOs about web content management are asking how they can get more value from the technology.

"A classic example is that about 20% of the calls I receive are from CIOs or IT leaders who have a homegrown system for their web content management. They built it themselves because six to seven years ago it cost more than a million to set up your web content management," he says.

MacComascaigh points out that these costs can stem from the pure license fees associated with web content management, whereas others were from the price of the implementation.

"One of the primary interests the [CIOs] have is the trend that Gartner is seeing where the homegrown systems just can't keep up - in terms of value - with what is out there in the market," continues MacComascaigh.Easily the biggest question on the lips of modern day decision makers when it comes to large-scale web projects is the return on the significant investment required. While it's one thing to admire the gravy that a sophisticated web portal can provide, it's another to hold the same opinion when the cost of the technological meat is on the table.

According to MacComascaigh, the return on investment argument is about establishing a sound business case: "Don't rush into buying a product because it is the market leader or because you're using the product elsewhere in the company and therefore it must be good for web content management. Rather list what your business objectives are and how you can break that down into specific metrics so that it is more meaningful and achievable. Then say ok, of those metrics what subsets can be identified and wrapped onto individual solution components."

"One thing I see quite a lot is folks - not just in the Middle East - expect maybe too much from the web content management component and they run into difficulties when they try to store video and audio. What they really want is web content management combined with digital asset management. For example, when they need strong integration between applications and that's run well, that's when they probably need a portal component in there as well," notes MacComascaigh.

"This process will help them identify what overall pieces of the jigsaw they need for a complete picture and you start off with your business case with a focus on return on the investment. That not only justifies the path that you take but it also helps with the selection itself because you will be thinking of the overall solution you need and not just a bottle of numbers," he continues.

Web content management is a familiar playing field for Michele Vaccaro, pre sales manager of EMEA South at EMC's Content Management and Archiving division which handles Documentum: "When you manage these types of projects, that means you have to manage hundreds and thousands of documents that then need to be virtually related to each other."

When talking specifically about web content management, Vaccaro believes the main aspect to be concerned about is the brand awareness and management.

"For companies, not only in the Middle East, they want to work abroad with the rest of the world. We have usually seen these big companies - we're not talking just about websites - we're talking about a part of the website of different companies belonging to the same group and these websites need to maintain the brand across all countries and languages," says Vaccaro.

Andrew Palmer, business development manager for the Middle East at Vignette, explains that the real leap at the moment is that CIOs in the region are very technology-aware and understand what's required. "They are very keen to leverage the web being their shop windows to their business and they understand they don't want a static site and they are looking for a dynamic site with things like analytics."

"I am seeing from a business perspective that at the C-level there is more discussion around how they can leverage the website to be their main delivery mechanism of the products to their customers. We're no longer seeing purely text-based content," continues Palmer.The Middle East presents an interesting case for web content management, as the adoption of online technologies is not at the same point it is in the USA and Europe.

Andy Bellinger, EMEA marketing manager for web solutions at OpenText, explains that the content management vendor is seeing corporate extranets become a very big subject at the moment, with people trying to take advantage of some of the content they have wrapped up in back-end systems.

"We've got a number of customers who are creating their own revenue streams from delivering their corporate knowledge from within the organisation, out to partners and out to membership type sites. Now people are going and using that and getting that extra level of knowledge that they would not of seen before," claims Bellinger.

"What we're actually seeing is the delivery of content is different to what it has been in the past. What it has been in the past has typically been internal to the corporation - companies are now looking at a much broader picture," he adds.

When there are companies making cuts and tempering forecasts in order to stay afloat, the stakes for getting a web strategy right have never been higher. Deciding whether to invest in a hefty internet portal may be tough for those who are just trying to weather the storm, but others may find it is smooth sailing once the digital door into the corporate world is swinging on well-oiled hinges.

Green thumbEnterprise content management can bring efficiency gains and help out the planet at the same time, according to Gartner. The analyst firm released a report examining how reductions in paper-based process and the inherent latencies and costs of those legacy systems can reduce the environmental impact of the business.

Gartner examined six areas which can be modified to reduce harmful effects on nature and improve efficiency while doing so:

• Overcome capture inefficiencies by analysing how you source information from customers and suppliers.

• Store records electronically and avoid heating/cooling costs.

• Build an enterprise content management strategy.

• Explore outsourcing.

• Optimise processes with content-enabled vertical applications to save money and paper.

• Explore new digital information approaches and manage expectations.

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