Imagine if libraries had no indexing systems and librarians simply put materials away on the nearest shelf. Or what if there were no shelves and every library devised a different method of stacking books on the floor? This is largely the reality of the Internet. Although the Internet has extensive information resources, there is no standard indexing scheme, and people can put things pretty much anywhere they like.
To make Internet resources more accessible, netropreneurs started developing web sites that concentrate information for users. From this idea arose the concept of the Internet portal – a tool for managing the massive flood of online information and utilizing a new generation of management tools. Now, portals can provide a competitive edge for managers who use them to obtain business information, communicate, and organize daily activities.
What makes Internet portals useful to the business practitioner? According to one review it is their ability to deliver content in a useful way, facilitate communication, and create a sense of community among users. These services bring users to the portal over and over again.
Many popular portals are free services that generate revenue by carrying banner ads. Yahoo!, Excite, and LYCOS each offer free portals that deliver information in a highly customizable format and provide a suite of useful communication and organization tools. These portals can be accessed over the Internet from any location at any time. Individuals or organizations needing specialized applications, or access to proprietary data, can implement custom-designed portals from firms such as Plumtree, SAP, and Oracle. These systems can interface with a firm’s existing information system to deliver information to selected users.
For the purposes of harnessing information, practitioners need to COPE (“The Empty Glass and Too Much Water: Controlling Data Overflow,” Bjorner, Susanne, Online Magazine, March 1998).
A variety of portals offer this potential, and a new rating scale based on the COPE model can be used to determine which portal is most suited to a particular business setting. Portal services useful to business people can be broken down into four major categories:
- Time Management
- Information Management
- Information Resources
- Communication Services
Table 2 rates the most popular portals based on the general criteria of time/information management, business/information resources, personalization, and communication. Other services provided by some portals, such as shopping, auctions, and ticket sales, are less relevant to the typical businessperson.
|Time/Information Management Ratings|
|Time & Information Management|
To Do Lists
PDA/mobile links Briefcases
Small Business News
News Clipper Services
E-Mail & Voice services
But more importantly, how do these portals help a user consolidate, organize, personalize, and edit? Yahoo! and Excite probably do the best job helping personalize and, therefore, reduce the amount and types of information you receive as well as helping to consolidate time and information management tools. All of the services let you personalize to some extent to create a personal page with the tools and information you select. But Excite probably does the best job of consolidating the time management tools into a single page. Yahoo! gives you the ability to get to all of the various tools separately but Excite lets you see a Summary Page with your calendar, address book, Notepad and ToDo list all visible. All of the others force you to view the tools separately.
Yahoo! does offer one feature that trumps the others in terms of providing access to time and information management tools. Users can create a toolbar at the top of the browser with links to Your Yahoo, and tools such as the calendar, Notebook, etc. This means that users can go anywhere on the web and still remain just one click away from Your Yahoo. Portals such as Excite and Lycos provide a selection of other customization tools. Excite even has free voice-mail boxes which are great for users with sound capabilities. Users can listen to short voice-messages left by callers who have his or her free Excite voice mail extension. Calls are free for those dialing Excite’s 1-888 number.
Comparison of the Major Portal Sites
Examples of Implementing COPE
Let’s say you have configured a portal such as MY Yahoo, My Excite, or My Netscape. Now, imagine that you go on a sales trip to meet a potential new client. Upon checking into the hotel, you receive a voicemail message saying that you have a new appointment at 2pm the following day. So you plug you laptop into the hotel room’s phone jack and connect to the Internet.
Once online, you log on to your personal portal page. This portal can be configured to show a personal calendar, address book, stock quotes, news, and other types of information. First, you check for new e-mail messages and, seeing none, you move on to the calendar to review the next day’s meeting schedule. You can use the Quick Add feature to insert the new appointment.
Then, you can go to the Notepad feature to review notes you made previously in a folder for the prospective customer. You realize that you have a lot of good material for the meetings but, because of the new appointment, you could use some additional information and pictures. You decide to e-mail someone back in the office and request that they provide you with more product information and pictures for your presentation. You use the search feature to search through your address book and find the person in your company who can provide you with that information. Then, you ask them to upload the information to your Briefcase and to put the pictures in your Briefcase folder album. Later you will put the information into a slide presentation you run off your laptop computer. You will also print out some of the copy to give to the potential clients.
While you are still online, you decide to check tomorrow’s weather by typing in the local zip code. The Weather section will give you the forecast. You also decide to look up directions to the company’s office – so you type in their address and print out a map of the area. Then, you type in the address of your hotel to get directions and driving time information.
Finally, you look through the news section of your portal page and notice some news about a company whose stock you have been watching. You have saved a search in their News search section and you run the search to see if there are any new articles on your company. You find two new listings so you turn to them and read them. One item is a short CNN News Video that you can watch on your computer via streaming video. You then turn to the stock market section of your page, type in the company’s stock symbol, and receive information on its price and other factors related to the company.
The next day, before you leave for your meeting, you check your e-mail again and consult the Yahoo! local traffic reports to see if the freeways are clear for your drive to the company’s office. You drive to their headquarters, make the presentation, pick up a few business cards, and return to your hotel. You call up your My Yahoo! portal again, update your address book, make some more notes in the Notepad, and send e-mail some people in your company to update them on your trip.
As you don’t have to leave until the next day, you check the Yahoo! Local Events feature and check your favorite music category. Since there happens to be an event that appeals to you, you order tickets online and print out driving directions to the show.
So, how did this portal enable you to COPE?
1. Consolidate – You were able to gather a number of different information and time management tools – from calendars to stock and entertainment news – in one place.
2. Organize – The Briefcase and Notepad features were particularly useful for storing and accessing both text and picture files.
3. Personalize – You were able to personalize not only the My Yahoo! page but also the Yahoo! Toolbar at the top of the page to allow you to jump to any of your MY Yahoo! features no matter where you were on the world wide web.
4. Edit – You could get just the information that was helpful to you such as Small Business or saved searches for particular topics.
Although YAHOO does force you to look at some of their news categories, many portals force you to look at a lot more. So, this portal provides the necessary tools to help you consolidate, organize, personalize and edit the information and time management tools you need to succeed in business.
Portals represent a whole new way for business practitioners to manage their activities and to access the information needed to remain competitive in a fast changing environment. Today’s portals offer as many as 20 applications to satisfy the demands of users for greater functionality and interactivity. The key to success with this technology is to personalize a portal so that it becomes a window on the vast information resources available on the Internet.As this new knowledge management mechanism evolves, it may ultimately determine who stays afloat in the information deluge.
For more information on portals, visit…