Smart Advice

As budget restrictions ease, an enterprise information portal to centralize IT access functions is going to be on the short list for many companies, InformationWeek's Advisory Council says. Also, WiMax

March 9, 2004

7 Min Read
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Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers three questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to [email protected]


Question A: We don't have an enterprise portal, and with budget-pressure starting to ease, are wondering if we should. What factors should we consider before starting a portal project?

Our advice: It's not surprising that budgeting pressures have stood in the way of your implementing an enterprise information portal. Our research shows that among companies of all sizes, budget limitations are by far the highest barrier to implementing EIP solutions. Now that that problem has eased, however, the questions are whether you should move forward with an EIP project, and if you do, what must it do and what requirements must it meet. The same research tells us that the relative importance of other projects, and the difficulty in assessing ROI potential up front, are the next largest barriers to enterprise information portal adoption. Gaining a clear understanding of EIP benefits is therefore an essential first step.

Direct Benefit
The direct benefits of an EIP solution fall into three major categories:Reduced IT costs This benefit results from the centralization of IT expertise. By creating a single source of control for information, data, and computing resources, IT departments can consolidate expertise in one place rather than having to localize IT at a number of separate locations (or forcing IT personnel to travel to those locations).

Server consolidation Already an important component of IT planning and change, server consolidation possibilities are enhanced via an EIP's ability to present consolidated server functions seamlessly through a Web interface. The result could be savings in hardware, training, and help-desk support.

Reallocation of resources Potential consolidation opportunities exist for organizations as well. An EIP can, for instance, uncover incorrect staffing levels for departments, or systems and applications that aren't optimally utilized.

Since there are few organizations of appreciable size that couldn't leverage these benefits in a significant way, an EIP will likely appear on the IT departments' short lists once resources become available.

If you find these direct benefits attractive and relevant to you, a drill-down is then in order that maps EIP capabilities to your unique situation, within the context of how IT solutions will be built from this point on.The EIP is actually a next step in the evolution of how an organization's information is accessed and delivered (from newsletters, to E-mail, then intranets and extranets, and now, the EIP). The evolution of network-based computing parallels this today in the form of services (of which Web services is an instance) built upon a services-oriented architecture. The result is the ability to interoperate on the application level, internal and external to your organization, in ways never before possible.

The utility of an EIP as part of a services-oriented architecture implementation is obvious, but you should examine your plans to move forward with services-based solutions both as an impetus for creating an EIP, and to understand what you require that EIP to do. Will it be internally focused (used by employees), or will it also be used by external communities? With how many information sources must it integrate? Will users require the ability to modify their own access based on roles (is a "dynamic user interface" needed)?

This brings us to the next step in your analysis, which is the list of requirements against which an EIP solution must be measured. These typically include strong change-management features, high levels of security, a standards-based model to facilitate integration and interoperability, personalization services, comprehensive, easy-to-use portal-management capabilities, cross-platform technology support to facilitate flexible hosting, and an integrated development environment plan that supports developers in building an EIP solution.

Enterprise information portal solutions are relatively easy to justify. Building them with the features, functions, and scale that map efficiently to your current and future needs is your real challenge.

-- Member Steve Garone Question B: What is WiMax? What, if anything, should a midsize-company IT department do about it? Our advice: WiMax, or Wireless Interoperability Microwave Access, is the latest entry in the burgeoning wireless networking technology pantheon. Also known in the trade as 802.16, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers 802.16 Air Interface Standard is designed specifically to enable the delivery of secure carrier-grade wireless data transmissions in a wide-area network environment. Unlike 802.11, which is primarily designed for local-area network deployments, WiMax is intended to address the widely known wireless security issues by using an authentication scheme targeted for the carrier market. Since it needs to be able to transmit the signals over much longer distances (up to 30 miles is possible depending on the frequency), the WiMax forum also has worked with the Federal Communications Commission and other government agencies to reserve radio bandwidth frequencies to minimize radio-interference problems.

Small, rural telecomm carriers, universities, and office-park developers are looking seriously at this technology to solve their "last mile" data-communications problems. Like 802.11 before it, the potential for drastic reductions in infrastructure costs will ultimately benefit everyone and translate into slashed telecomm expenses.

Although many companies are working feverishly to bring products to market, given that the standards were finally established only in July 2003, WiMax-based products won't be widely available for at least another year or two. If you have any thoughts of deploying campus wireless, stick with the existing 802.11g technology for now.

Consequently, the short answer is that from the perspective of a midsize company, unless you're actually in the short-haul data-communications business, this technology is unlikely to have any direct short-term effect on your IT department or corporate infrastructure. In the future, the technology has the potential to cut your data-communications costs drastically, but for now WiMax is still just over the horizon.

-- Member Beth Cohen Question C: How should we evaluate and manage our current consultants' (not outsourcing) performance?

Our advice: The simple answer is you should measure the performance of your consultants against the agreed-upon objectives and deliverables. To do that, you need to have followed best-management practices to:

  • Define and agree upon the problem and solution;

  • Set expectations of both parties;

  • Review progress reports, verbal and documented, on a regular basis;

  • Identify and negotiate changes in direction and scope; and

  • Communicate, communicate, and communicate!

The types of consultants vary, as do the reasons for hiring them and, therefore, so does how you should measure their performance. In summary, these factors look like:

Consultant Types

Purpose Of Hiring


Management consultant

Objectivity and experience

Clarity of problem definitionReasonableness of plan/proposalTransfer of knowledge

Technical specialist

Unusual, rare skills and one-time needs

Deliverables*Transfer of knowledge


Temporary labor for peak loads or one-time needs

Deliverables*Service-level agreementsSame metrics used for regular employees

Vendor support

Support new installations

Deliverables*Transfer of knowledgeService-level agreements

Overall, good consultants are:

  • Professional in their modus operandi;

  • Excellent communicators;

  • Objective in viewpoints;

  • A value-add to their clients; and

  • Aware of when to leave.

--Bart Bolton

Steve Garone, TAC Expert, has more than 25 years of experience as a professional in the IT industry in software and hardware systems, as well as the semiconductor industry. His recent experience includes his current role as managing partner of The AlignIT Group, chief technical strategist for Sun Microsystems' Software Marketing organization, and program VP at IDC. Steve brings his strong analytical skills to his extensive coverage of software infrastructure, Web services, utility computing, business-process management, software development, operating environments, and hardware platforms.

Beth Cohen, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 20 years of experience building strong IT-delivery organizations from both user and vendor perspectives. Having worked as a technologist for BBN, the company that literally invented the Internet, she not only knows where technology is today but where it's heading in the future.

Bart Bolton, TAC Thought Leader, has been developing and facilitating leadership-development programs, with more than 400 graduates, for various clients for the past 10 years. He is a multifaceted information-systems executive with more than 35 years' experience in the field of information-systems management.0

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