Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Enterprise Portals Are Popping

Jakob Nielsen on the current state of enterprise portals ...

"A usability analysis of 23 intranet portals finds strong growth, increasing collaboration features, and cross-functional governance.

Web portals have suffered a highly variable existence. Every few years, they're in, and every few years, they're out, with many of last season's darlings filing for bankruptcy or being snapped up on the cheap. It's a different story inside companies: enterprise portals know only one way, and it's up. More and more companies are establishing intranet portals, and they keep improving their features and usability.

It's been 3 years since our last assessment of intranet portal usability. High time for an update. This time, we collected case studies from 23 companies and organizations. The new data supplements the information from the 25 companies in the report's 2 previous editions. Our current intranet portal recommendations are therefore based on the collective experience of 48 companies and organizations over the 5 years since we began our initial portal usability research.

The first new finding is that all 62 previous findings continue to hold. Although much has changed — and we have many new findings (for a total of 117 best practices in the new report) — things don't change much in terms of best practices for user experience. The technology changes and vendors produce ever-more dot-releases, but usability issues move much more slowly because they're based on human characteristics.

For example, we again found that role-based personalization is the way to go. People very rarely use corporate portal customizations, however much they ask for them. (Yet another great example of why you shouldn't listen to what users say.)

An interesting exception here is with university portals, where many users do engage with customization features. Why? Possibly because university staff has a tendency to tinker and to value exploration for its own sake.
Growing Portal Maturity, But Many Newcomers
As in previous years, no portal product has all the answers; I therefore remain vendor-neutral. Regardless, an intranet portal's quality depends more on how it's set up and run than on the technology platform — which only provides a user-experience sketch that the team needs to fill in.

Despite my vendor-neutrality, I can't resist quoting portal vendor BEA, which stated that the portals market is "positively popping" and projected an estimated $1.4 billion in annual sales in 2011. While I can't speak to the sales prediction, I can confirm that we saw significant growth in portals uptake.

We first studied intranet portals 5 years ago, and the idea is certainly older than that. Even so, many company intranets are only now sufficiently mature that teams can begin turning them into full-featured portals. Some of the bigger and more established portals we studied have reached very impressive levels, but the companies are nonetheless continuing to evolve them as they try to reach single sign-on nirvana (see below) and add new collaboration features.

Our knowledge of intranet portals has expanded along with their increasing maturity over the years. Using the report thickness as a primitive metric for the amount of information we've collected, the page count has grown from 104 pages five years ago to 343 pages now. That's an annualized growth rate of 27% in knowledge about intranet portals and their usability."    (Continued via Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

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