Features - To Portal or Not to Portal - That is the QuestionBy Catherine Monte, Published on October 27, 2003
Catherine Monte is Director of Knowledge Management, Fox Rothschild LLP, has over twelve years experience as a law librarian and legal researcher. In her current position, she manages both the library and all knowledge management initiatives within the firm. She serves as Project Lead for the firm Intranet which was launched in January 2002 and is now focusing primarily on practice management, portal development and taxonomy integration.
Market TrendsIn July I received two magazines whose front covers touted the importance of portals in the business environment. EWeek’s Portal Power: Enterprise Information Portals are More Compelling than Ever (July 21, 2003) and Portals Magazine special report on The State of Enterprise Portal Initiatives: Portal Adoption Trends 2003 (July 2003), both of which discuss the burgeoning market and future growth of this technology.
Major business analysts are touting the same messages. Delphi Group, Gartner, Meta Group and Forrester Research all allude to the fact that we are in the midst of a hotbed of portal development with more features and enhancements coming down the pike. Dan Muse cites META Group’s study Enterprise Portal Frameworks METAspectrum which predicts that “85% of Global 2000 companies will have selected an enterprise portal framework by 2004” and concludes that the number of companies that “treat portals as core systems will …reach 35 % by 2007.” (Enterprises Sailing Towards Portals, ASP News.com, November 13, 2002).
Gartner Research also observes a new trend in the portal market – the creation of a product they term “Smart Enterprise Suite” – which would include “content management, knowledge management and collaboration inside and between enterprises.” Furthermore, they conclude: “By 2004 smart enterprise suites will emerge as an aggregation of the functionality offered today by portals, team collaboration and content management” (Tear Down that Wall” by Andy Moore – Best Practices in Enterprise Portals, Vol III Special Supplement to KMWorld, May 2003, Volume 12, Issue 5).
It seemed like a foregone conclusion – as Craig Roth, vice president with META Group states: “For most organizations, the decision to invest in an enterprise portal is not a question of “if,” but “when”? (META Group Outlines six steps for enterprise portal best practice…M2 Presswire, 6/3/03).
2003 Price Waterhouse
Coopers-Legal Research Center Knowledge Management Study confirms that
legal practitioners are on the portal road. Of the respondents to the survey,
“82 % said they would be more efficient if their KM solution could access
legal knowledge in multiple formats from multiple sources” – in other words,
via a portal.
Questions and Considerations
Perhaps it made sense to consider a radical move to a full fledged portal.
As Project Lead for our firm intranet, I had doubts about devoting staff time
to developing a second generation redesign. We were adding more and more
“knowledge management” databases to our intranet, but we were not able to
easily integrate existing applications with them. We did not have an
enterprise-wide search option and, of course, we could not offer customization
to individual users.
I needed to find more information. I wasn’t surprised to discover that a significant percentage of larger firms had purchased portal software, but was curious to know how many had moved beyond the initial phase, how many were still piloting the software and who had actually deployed the technology. And if they had deployed, what sort of project plan did they develop for such a complex undertaking? Factors such as document management platform, firm culture, attorney workflow, staffing and of course budget, will greatly impact a decision to choose a portal. How did these factors influence the project plan during roll out and beyond?
I was initially overwhelmed by the types of portal choices and the plethora
of technology vendors available in the marketplace. Naturally I put on my
research cap and trolled the internet for incisive articles and analyses.
Having some luck, but still overwhelmed, I decided to contact several
informational professionals in the law firm arena to explore their development
processes and learn first hand from their experiences. Most especially I was
hoping to obtain guidance and glean some ”lessons learned.”
These discussions primarily included firms who had recently deployed or were soon to deploy a portal, but I included experiences of a few firms (like mine) with institutional intranets as I wanted to know what features, functionality and enhancements these firms currently had in place and also what they would want on their “wish list.” This informal poll yielded some clear conclusions and also a few interesting surprises.
Firms had various reasons for migrating from an intranet to a portal. Nola
Vanhoy and the library staff at Kutak Rock felt that there was a need for
intranet content to be more interactive and less "flat" in nature. They
encouraged the IT department to find a tool that could do more for the users –
a “more robust technology that could [handle] internal data.” The idea was to
migrate the existing intranet, Internet web presence, extranet and web tools
into one portal. Vanhoy readily admits that making a decision to implement a
portal is a “risk-taking venture.” She also firmly believes that change
typically results when administrative staff take the plunge. "Very little
change in organizations comes from the top down, but from the bottom up"...we
"lead others to lead." (See Further Readings below for additional
Several firms stated that their portal decision was based on a technology or firm strategic plan. Elise Bellicini from Hogan & Hartson : “The firm is looking at technology to solve business processes.” A portal serves as a “central repository of information for all offices … [allowing employees] access to the same information.” Jennifer Schroth at Drinker Biddle & Reath echoed this sentiment: “The CIO of the firm was … looking for some type of overlay technology that would integrate all of the firm’s disparate types of systems while still providing an easy to use interface. [The] system would enable users to readily gain access to various pieces of knowledge scattered throughout the network.”
Other major reasons included: enterprise search and classification technology, knowledge management, collaboration and content management, single sign-on capability and customization for the user.
But there were other firms with fully functioning “intranets” that questioned the need for migration. Nina Platt, Director of Library Services at Faegre and Benson said the firm looked at portal products several years ago but decided to continue to use the intranet they had built in-house using a combination of Cold Fusion, SQL and Access databases. The intranet web pages they create are dynamic, not static, and the content is pulled from existing data warehouses in departments such as Human Resources and Accounting.
At Dewey Ballantine, the Library staff developed a browser-based intranet, adding a “work product database on ISYS, premium fee-based flat rate subscriptions, Westlaw IntraClips & Newslinks.” The firm used this as a basis to add additional functionality: “links to services provided by outside vendors (banking, after hours food ordering, etc.).” According to Gitelle Seer, Director of Library Services, the firm “uses Lotus Notes for many of the same functions that one would have on a portal (firm address book, office manuals, personnel arrivals and departures, picture book, contacts, etc.).”
And at Fox Rothschild, the intranet development team uses MS SQL server to dynamically add content to basic pages such as the firm directory, daily newsletter, and request for services forms, as well as practice area “Hot Topics” and knowledge bank pages.
Portals & KM
It was quite clear from all of the respondents that KM was to comprise a
major component of a law firm portal. But did participation in KM initiatives
necessitate portal technology?
Not according to a recent informal survey by Nina Platt: “Other than use of Lotus Notes, Microsoft SharePoint and a few other less expensive products like DBTextworks, responding firms’ costs on KM technology has been minimal. Several of the firms in the survey use Docs Open for management of document collections. A couple of the firms reported developing in-house applications. (Knowledge is Power: KM Remains Vital to Firm Success. AALL Spectrum, April 2003). This observation is also shared by other informational professionals.
Sabrina I. Pacifici, Founder/Editor of LLRX.com and beSpacific, law firm library director and research portal web manager in Washington, DC, has long been a strong advocate of customization and collaboration in portal/km/intranet design, implementation and content management. She explains: "With the variables that arise in each firm concerning requirements for research, information and technology solutions specific to practices and individual attorneys, there are several key components to keep in mind:
Soliciting content from end users and "encouraging collaboration" was imperative to ensure buy-in for KM initiatives. The literature I read and many of the respondents concurred with this observation. Tricia Bond notes: "Law firms will see that KM is more project-driven than concept-driven. By that, I mean that when clients, attorneys and staff members identify processes that the work well or identify a need, then a KM project can be developed and implemented, and it will be more readily adopted". (Bond, Tricia. "KM and the Law Firm Librarian," AALL Spectrum, December 2002).
“Knowledge mapping” is one method that can be used to obtain feedback in an effective and accurate way. In Knowledge Mapping: A Practical Overview, Denham, Grey defines this as a strategy to “discover the location, ownership, value and use of knowledge artifacts, to learn the roles and expertise of people, to identify constraints to the flow of knowledge, and to highlight opportunities to leverage existing knowledge.”
And information professionals Tricia Bond and Nola Vanhoy state: “knowledge mapping is one of the most useful strategies ….the newest challenge … is converging these KM projects …. into a centralized location – the firm portal.”(“KM and the Law Firm Librarian." AALL Spectrum, 1-30-03).
Perkins Coie has an innovative approach towards gathering knowledge and
expertise within their firm. In a recent AALL conference program, Barbara Holt
described organized committees of web specialists (consisting of a staff
member from the IS and Library departments as well as a paralegal and
secretary) that are created for each practice "community." The web specialists
work with attorneys to provide content for publication. A committee might also
be formed for a specific client or matter. All of this information is posted
by the committee to the portal.
“…[M]any portal projects still end up as shelfware, underutilized, or have
only modest success” states
Ellen Reilly in Portal Best Practices: It’s Time to Wake Up – Again! (KMWorld,
May 2003: S4-S5). She also quotes from an October 2000
Knowledge Management Magazine
article: "Many companies that bought into portals as the killer application
for knowledge management have found themselves instead with solutions that
don’t come close to delivering the expected functions or performance."
One of the primary reasons is the confusion between "simple portals" and "full-blown enterprise information portals (EIPs) or enterprise knowledge portals (EKPs)." Is your objective to integrate desktop applications into a single web based-interface with site search capabilities and single sign-on, or are you contemplating the implementation of collaboration and knowledge tools?
Another issue is the failure to recognize the complexity and detailed project management required by a portal. It is essential to recognize the scope and focus on best practices before diving in. Successful portals require thorough research and analysis of current and future business practices. Some questions to consider:
For more details on constructing a plan, consult A Guide to Defining an Enterprise Portal Project by John Quirk, Jr. and Enterprise Knowledge Portals by Heidi Collins (New York: AMACOM, 2003).
Future challenges: Application Integration, New Content, Training, Storytelling
It should come as no surprise that firms are struggling with the integration
of legacy applications. Accounting and financial information is a key component
that most firms recognize as essential to a well-rounded portal, but have not
yet released. According to Delphi Group: “Application integration remains one of
the greatest challenges and common causes of dissatisfaction for portal
That is why vendors such as IBM are developing software that provides a greater degree of integration than current technologies. Their product, WebSphere Portal Version 5,“ [adds} more portal application functionality to help users feed information from one application to another,” (Boulton, Clint. IBM Refreshes WebSphere Portal Software, InternetNews.com, 28 July 2003) and “enables quick portal integration with backend systems via portlet builders,” IBM, WebSphere Portal for Multiplatforms. In other words, information from an application currently housed on the Marketing page of a portal could be seamlessly shared with Accounting.
Adding new content and engaging users is also a concern among many firms: DBR
is contemplating ways to “sustain freshness and maintain valuable content so
that the portal remains a compelling place to find information.”
Continual marketing and training were noted as other important challenges
Hogan & Hartson emphasized the importance of one-on-one training. After
deployment, the library staff noticed that though users had received training in
document management, the reality was that they did not understand basic
functionality – so more intensive customized training was required and this
resulted in greater buy-in.
Drinker Biddle elected to offer "on time" training: “We turned the classroom training sessions into a self-help session by creating a CD that serves as a portal introduction and guide … Classroom based training is still offered to those who wish to attend and learn more advanced portal capabilities.”
Gathering tacit knowledge and fostering communication among practice areas were also noted as challenges. Kutak Rock holds the opinion that “we need to do a better job at storytelling,” what Nola Vanhoy terms the “electronic water cooler effect,” to encourage the development of communities of practice.
Content is key
“In the real world, a portal is a door. A door by itself doesn’t provide much
value, nor do we call it “door technology”. It’s what the door provides access
to that matters.” (The
Problem with Corporate Portals, Gary A. Bolles, CIO Insight, Dec. 23, 2002).
Whether you are continuing to develop an intranet or contemplating portal technology, it is important to focus first on content and also how a user would collaborate and share this content across the enterprise. Having mapped these "flows of knowledge," you will be well on your way towards making a beneficial impact on a users day to day workflow.
Nola Vanhoy at Kutak Rock knew that her firm's portal was an integral part of firm business processes when she attended a recent practice area meeting with senior partners. One of the attorneys discussed the placement of content on the practice area portal page and everyone in the room nodded their heads in agreement. No looks of confusion or questions about why or how it would be accomplished. That’s when you know the technology is inherently embedded in user workflow – the quintessential definition of success.
Gartner Group. "Management Update: Six Ways That Portal Projects Can Fail or
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Law Practice Technology Manager
Hogan & Hartson L.L.P.
555 13th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20004-1109
Program Director, DBReSources
Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP
1 Logan Sq.
18th & Cherry Sts.
Philadelphia, PA 19103-6996
Fax: (215) 988-2757
Manager of Information Services
Locke Liddell & Sapp LLP
2200 Ross Avenue, Ste. 2200
Dallas, TX 75201-6776
Fax: (214) 740-8800
Director, Library & Research Services
Perkins Coie LLP
1201 Third Avenue, Ste 4800
Seattle, WA 98101
Fax: (206) 583-8500
MATTHEWSON, David S.
Director of Attorney Services
Haynes & Boone, LLP
901 Main Street, Ste. 3100
Dallas, TX 75202-3789
Fax: (214) 200-0527
PACIFICI, Sabrina I.
Director of Library and Research Services
Web Manager, Firmwide Research Portal
Sidley Austin Brown & Wood LLP
1501 K St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20005-1403
Fax: (202) 736-8711
Director of Library Services
Faegre & Benson LLP
2200 Norwest Center
90 S. Seventh Street
Minneapolis, MN 55402
Fax: (612) 766-1600
Intranet Content Editor
Fox Rothschild LLP
2000 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-3291
Fax: (215) 299-2150
Director of Library and Research Services
Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP
1 Logan Sq.
18th & Cherry Sts.
Philadelphia, PA 19103-6996
Fax: (215) 988-2757
Electronic Content Services Coordinator
Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP
105 College Road East
P.O. Box 627
Princeton, NJ 08542-0627
Fax: (609) 799-7000
Director of Library Services
Dewey Ballantine LLP
1301 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10019-6092
Fax: (212) 259-6679
Director, Library and Knowledge Services
Kutak Rock LLP
225 Peachtree Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30303-1731
Fax: (404) 222-4654
This is a
revised and edited version of an article that appeared in AALL Spectrum,
Volume 8, No. 1,
Sept/Oct 2003, page 34. Reprinted with permission.