Saturday, April 12, 2008

Evolution of Portals for Business

When Dr. Jose Claudio Terra and I wrote Realizing the Promise of Enterprise Portals in 2003, recognized by Harvard as a must read and a Best Seller on Amazon, we knew that portals would revolutionize business as we know it providing web based access to business to consumer portals, business to business portals, business to employee portals, and now today, portals to portals anywhere. We have worked with Groove, Sharepoint, wikis, and most recently Google Aps - internally and deployed solutions for our clients.

What we are currently experiencing is that portals are more dynamic and tools are rapidly developing for business users to create portal experiences, web pages, and dynamic conversations on the fly.

Some of the portal tools that are pervasive and popular is Sharepoint, from Microsoft. Designed to run on an internal computer, Sharepoint requires an organization to buy its own server, and purchase the software licence to take advantage of a collaboration, and document management environment. There are now a number of hosting solution providers that also allow Sharepoint access for a subscription monthly fee model.

We are now starting to experience another generation of online portal services that are enabling organizations to build real-time their websites and host them online for free. Google Sites, from Google offers users a point and click set of tools to build easily websites without knowing how to program them.

What is very attractive to Sharepoint Office Server 2007 is it has an integrated enterprise search tool that easily allows users to filter and sort through both structured and unstructured data. It also integrates with Office which is the standard desk top communication suite for the majority of businesses today (Word, Excel, Powerpoint etc). Integration with calendar, task lists and instant messaging with Sharepoint and Office is a very logical platform for businesses to deploy.

At the same time, Google is extremely aggressive in its office tools development. With Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets, and the attractive free pricing solution, Google offers small businesses and university students a compelling solution. Althought, the functionality of Google is signficantly below that of Microsoft's rich Sharepoint and workflow solutions, we predict that this lead advantage will diminish in time between Google and Microsoft.

What is also going to be an interesting dynamic is that as the university kids using Google for school and small businesses grow up to be mid sized companies - they may have a locked in loyalty to Google putting pressure on enterprise organizations in time to switch to Google. This tension is already underway in New York in the larger investment houses which are piloting Google Aps in consideration of adding it as an approved standard to integrate with Microsoft Office, due to pressures from grads not wanting to stop used their beloved Google Aps software.

Over time, pressures to switch will evolve, due to the economic comparisons, which will cause Microsoft to offer alternative pricing models to maintain market share. We see the office software market as a commodity market as value will derive from unique value in customized processes for competitive advantage that cannot be easily replicated.

In addition, when large global organizations can save over $15-30 Million in software costs, Microsoft licensing terms will come under increased scrutiny as large enterprises become more aware of its alternatives.

The good news is end users are benefiting in the war for portal presence as costs are being lowered, functionality is increasing, and customer service to retain customers is searching for new ways to increase customer value.

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