by September 25, 2006 0 comments

Does your enterprise have one application for accounting, another for CRM, a
third for ERP and so on? If so, how are your users accessing them? The most
common scenario would be that they need a separate user ID and pass code to
access each system and each system in turn is in a
separate silo. We talked about integrating both the application as well as its
data in the last two articles in this series. Seamless integration of both can
be easily achieved if we had a portal for our application set. 

By ‘portal’, we do not mean a page of links-that would be the simplest
case. We are defining our enterprise application portal as a singular point for
your users to access and use at least some of your applications. Ideally, this
portal would also link all the different credentials your user needs using one
multipurpose credential. Possibly that could be as simple as a Smart Card or
another user ID. Before we go on, let us define the features we would like our
portal to have.

Integration of applications and data is possible using portals
enterprise portals

Portal features
Broadly speaking, we should add some fundamental features to our portal:

1. Singular identity management: The system would prompt the user during
initial access for credentials and then transparently authenticate him when he
accesses any sub-feature or application. This frees the him from having to
remember multiple credentials.

2. Combined interface for applications: This in fact is the very definition
of a ‘portal.’ Instead of having to remember multiple addresses or program
names and menus, the user can access just the relevant sections of those

3. Web based access: Naturally, such a portal cannot be a a rich desktop
application). Our enterprise portal is best built using Web technologies and
presented as an Intranet/Internet website. Users can then access the portal
using just a Web browser and this lets it be used for more than one purpose.

Enterprise portals can combine multiple
applications as well as provide internal news, calendars and upcoming
events, etc to improve employee productivity

4. Dashboard: Because we can poll different applications for information and
even query for authorization, we can include features like at-a-glance views of
pending tasks, schedules of various kinds, messages from co-workers, snapshots
from various databases and so on according to the user’s preferences as well
as his role.

Benefits of portals
Here’s a ready reckoner to the ways in which an enterprise
portal can improve productivity and business.

  • Single point access for all enterprise information and decision
    support systems. Everyone knows where to go and there’s a
    standardized UI, improving productivity.
  • Easy administration and access control. Your administrators no
    longer need to worry about creating, managing and removing a multitude
    of IDs and passwords across
  • Anytime anywhere access. Being a Web-based application, a portal
    just needs a Web browser to permit access. This can be even through a
    mobile device or a cellular phone.

Now, it is not necessary that all your applications (those already deployed) be
friendly or amenable to such portalization. So, what should an application have
or do that can make them portalizable?

1. Implement connectors, API or Web services: These enable us to easily hook
on to the application and pass information. Web services should be preferred
since they work both for traditional client/ server kind of applications as well
as Web based ones. Plus, they’re also easier to maintain and change.

2. Be able to accept inputs from an external source: Instead of re-inventing
the wheel for data validation and cascading updates across several database
objects, we could opt to go through each application’s own mechanism. For
this, individual applications should allow external entry of data
without its own UI.

3. Publish capability information: A true enterprise portal would be a
front-end to an EAI resultant. This data would include information like: how to
connect to the application; what kinds of credentials it would accept; what
functions to call and what those functions do; what parameters do you pass into
the functions; what output would you get, from where and why; and so on.

Through this series we have consistently found ourselves facing one answer-enterprise
knowledge. Different systems across your enterprise are silently accumulating
information. This information can benefit you in a myriad of ways. The best way
to achieve that is the sum total of our learning so far.

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