Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What's a portal?

Usually I'm right there with the 3 major consulting firms (Mercer, TP and WW). However, this time I'm not quite sure if Mercer get's what a portal is vs a web page.

Joe Loya and Debbie Slappey of Mercer said here:

In the past 10 years, many organizations grasped that the Web could transform the way they manage their HR activities — and many were quick to create HR portals on their intranets. Today, few HR portals are living up to their creators’ aspirations, and many, in fact, are simply “link-farms” to enrollment forms, vendor pages, outdated material, basic benefits information and change-of-address forms.

Clearly Mercer has a different definition of what a portal is. I'm sticking with Plumtree's explanation here. Basically, a portal brings together a large set of data within what are called portlets or pagelets depending on the specific technology you're using. Either way id doesn't matter. The portal and portlets will read your log-in information and retrieve data from other data sources using the permissions defined by your log-in. So when you go to your Yahoo or MSN homepage and read news, e-mail summaries, maps and whatever, that's a portal. Sure, you might have to launch another area to do more detailed stuff (like reading the entire article), but the fact is, you set a preference to have certain articles presented to you on the page. The HR portal is the same thing. The portal retrieves the relevant data and presents it. The portal does not simply provide hyperlinks.

You've heard me rant about vendors misuse of HR terminology for the sake of sales. For example, my favorite one is Talent Acquisition systems that call themselves Talent Management (to me a much broader category). I think Mercer does the same here. Their "new HR portal" is at first glance a total comp statement that might bring together 401(k), benefits, payroll, etc.. People... a total comp statement is not a portal. The data within the statement is not a dynamic reflection of real time data.

I'll give Mercer the second one. The DHL example really does look like a valid portal experience. Unfortunately, the title of the paper " Companies may be missing the whole picture on HR portals" turns out to be a sales pitch about total comp. I think the authors doe a great disservice to their employer (a great consulting firm) by misdirecting their audience and not really understanding the technology. Clearly these are comp consultants who should not be teaching the world about portals.