2.2 Architecting portal solutions

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2.2 Architecting portal solutions

An organization might want to consider using a portal if it needs to:

  • Aggregate information and services

  • Target information and services to a specific set of users

  • Collect and manage information

  • Analyze the use of information

This section will help you make an informed decision by showing you how to derive value from a portal solution and some important points to remember when creating a portal solution. Should you decide to use a portal solution, it will provide you with a overview of the steps involved in developing a successful one.


A portal solution, though designed to result in many different portals, typically aggregates multiple information sources and applications in order to provide a single, seamless, personalized access to users via a wide variety of client devices.

2.2.1 Deriving value from portal solutions

A portal solution leverages various mechanisms (for example, content management, user interface formatting and display, and data aggregation) to bring together the appropriate information and existing systems to serve the goals of the business.

For example, when attempting to grow customer mindshare and knowledge, a portal system can bring together the proper information tailored to the type of user that the business would like to target. This can be implemented in a number of ways. The point to remember is that when customers are made to feel that a business truly understands their wants and needs, there is a high probability they will be retained as customers. Customer wants and needs can be satisfied through the business achieving product leadership, great customer service, or highly efficient transactional processes that support product leadership and/or customer service. The components of personalization, multi-type device access, a presentation-rendering mechanism, and a business rules engine are combined with the ability to search and index content of various types and formats as well as the management of content via a workflow process in order to provide both content aggregation and a collaborative environment. A portal can help a business gain market share, retain existing customers, and reduce costs through the ability to target the delivery of information to specific user audiences.

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Figure 2-7: The most commonly reported IT priorities

Business drivers for choosing a portal solution

Business drivers are specific goals that the business is trying to achieve. In most cases, they have the ultimate goal of reducing costs, increasing revenue, or improving productivity. In fact, a business can be any type of organization [2] that seeks to make the best use of its available resources and to determine if new resources are required. The design of a portal can help clarify these goals, and analysis of interactions with the portal can further define and enhance these drivers. There are various "paths" that can be followed to achieve the desired results, including:

  • Deep customer knowledge and mindshare

    This can be thought of as customer intimacy. When a business wants to provide the "best customer service" experience, and this is its primary driver for revenue, it needs to understand its customers and market as much as possible. It is therefore important to identify these types of customers when designing a portal so that once implemented, it can provide valuable knowledge about the habits of the targeted audience. This information can also be used to determine if the target audience is helping the business achieve its goals. Thus, an organization can increase customer retention through deep knowledge of that customer, resulting in increased revenues through more efficient marketing practices.

  • Product leadership

    Some organizations want to be the best in their market for the products or services they provide. These organizations want to achieve leadership from a quality and/or marketplace mindshare perspective. One of the common methods for providing product mindshare leadership is by communicating to the targeted audience certain information about upcoming products or enhancements to existing products. If the business can identify other possible audiences to expand its customer base, this can contribute to product leadership as well. A portal can assist in disseminating both the technical and marketing information about the products or services provided, and this information can be tailored to specific user audiences. [3] In addition, the usage of the portal by these targeted audiences/customers can be analyzed to determine if marketing efforts are successful.

  • Transactional and process efficiency

    Organizations that have identified increased efficiency in their internal processes want to attain the highest possible efficiency in the transactions that take place between departments, divisions, employees, and external partners. [4] A portal brings together information and access to that information into a single, aggregated view. This aggregated portal view of data provides just the information necessary for the person or entity to gain maximum efficiency in how tasks are accomplished. For example, in automobile manufacturing it is important for those on the assembly line to have focused technical information for the specific part of the vehicle they are assembling. They may also need information on parts that are related to their focus area because of the impact of given changes to their set tasks. As this information is being accessed, management can review how often and what specific parts of the information are being accessed, and thus determine if possible changes are needed to increase the efficiency of the assembly process.

Consequently, a portal implementation requires the identification of the information desired, the audience for that information, and an analysis of the usefulness of that information to arm the business drivers of the organization. Organizations may have only one of these business drivers, or there may be a combination of them that will help it meet its goals.

Concepts such as ease of use (for example, single sign-on, security, and reduced TCO [5]) are all examples of specific, tactical goals of a portal implementation that will ultimately support the three core business drivers listed above. Following are additional examples of specific goals that can be used to achieve the ultimate drivers for an organization:

  • Time-to-market

  • Improved organizational efficiency

  • Reduced latency of business events

  • Adaptability during mergers and acquisitions

  • Integration across multiple delivery channels

  • Unified customer view across lines of business

  • Support of effective cross-selling

  • Support of mass customization (reducing the cost of customizing products and services)

IT drivers for choosing a portal solution

In all organizations, those concepts that drive IT to make decisions are ultimately driven by the needs of the organization at the business or enterprise level. [6] Each can be supported through the appropriate use of technologies that help implement the following goals:

  • Minimize application complexity

  • Minimize TCO

  • Leverage existing skills

  • Leverage legacy investment

  • Integrate back-end application

  • Minimize enterprise complexity

  • Support maintainability

  • Support scalability

  • Support availability

Many of these IT drivers are focused on cost reduction through minimizing complexity. These can be further abstracted into five core IT drivers:

  • Availability

    The IT organization needs to have the solution available as defined in the business drivers. A portal implementation requires having the information customers want to see in a way they want to see it when they want to see it.

  • Reuse

    Reusing existing IT assets such as programming code, existing applications, and existing data sources can reduce overall cost. A portal implementation—specifically the Portal composite pattern—brings together various existing and new systems to construct an end-to-end solution.

  • Maintainability

    Maintainability is a goal of the IT organization because shifting business goals often require adding or deleting functionality. In addition, the sources of information available to a portal system may change. Thus, it is vital that a portal implementation be able to adapt to the changing environment by isolating different systems so that changes to one type of component will not affect other components that make up the portal system.

  • Scalability

    The Portal composite pattern is a "best mix" of nodes and components that lead to the Portal composite runtime pattern discussed in "Step 2D1: Seed the AOD (Logical Nodes) with logical system architecture from large reusable asset" on page 128. This Runtime pattern is a high-level representation of a portal architecture that separates the components so that each can be chosen for maximum scalability. Scalability is also important because the system should be designed and built only once and should be able to handle increased demands. This supports the general business driver of reduced cost and operational efficiency.

  • Extensibility

    Extensibility in a system design allows for easier functional enhancement as the needs of the business change and/or increase. Again, this IT driver supports the general business driver of reduced cost by enabling reuse of the same architected solution.


Once an organization has determined that it needs to aggregate information, target that information to specific users, analyze its usage, and collect and manage it, a portal can be used to meet these requirements. Creating a portal architecture can produce the following benefits:

  • A single aggregated view of content targeted to specific user types

  • Ability to analyze usage patterns to make marketing efforts more efficient

  • Ability to tailor the user interface to specific groups, enabling a focus on cultural, language, or nationality-based differences

  • Single sign-on, allowing the user to save time and have access to information while decreasing the requirements for direct interaction with the organization in order to save money


The creation of a portal is a complex undertaking. It requires the linking together of various, normally non-compatible systems to provide a single view of the information in an enterprise, impacting the organization as follows:

  • Organizational changes

  • Process changes

  • Restructuring of existing data sources

  • Rebuilding of some existing applications to support available connectivity options

  • Detailed analysis of the various user groups that need to be supported (usually in much more detail than that which currently exists)

2.2.2 Portal solution best practices


A best practice is a technique, methodology, or innovative use of technology that through experience or research has reliably led to the desired result.

Though by definition somewhat subjective, true best practices tend to spread throughout the industry and become normal practices. In using best practices, a software architect is taking advantage of all available knowledge and technology in order to ensure success.

To create portal solutions that deliver true business value and help lead a business to becoming on demand, the software architect must embrace best practices whenever and wherever possible. This section identifies and describes several best practices for designing and implementing portal solutions.

IBM's Patterns for e-business

Best practices can come into play at virtually any phase in a solution's development. When it comes to architecting portal solutions, perhaps the most widely known best practice is IBM's Patterns for e-business.

When a company takes advantage of these documented assets, it can reduce the time and risk involved in completing a project.


For more information on Patterns for e-business, visit the Patterns for e-business Web site at http://www.ibm.com/developerWorks/patterns/

Start with proven solutions

Existing solutions in the form of reference implementations should be used whenever possible as the basis for architecting new portal solutions. By leveraging these implementations, software architects can provide greater value and reduced delivery times for their customers.


IBMers can learn more about reference implementations and industry solutions by visiting The BCS home page at http://w3.ibm.com/services/bcs/ and following the links to Sectors and Industries and from there to the Industry Value Project or Integrated Industry Solutions.

Develop use cases

A use case methodology should be used to identify, clarify, and organize system requirements. In addition to helping the software architect gain a thorough understanding of the portal system's intended use, use cases can help the architect gauge and manage the overall scope of the system.


When designing a portal, it's important to remember

  1. Who are your users

  2. What tasks they need to perform

  3. The context in which they must perform those tasks

IBM's Rational® Software Site (http://www.rational.com/) provides a wealth of information, from developing use cases and documenting them with UML to using a full-blown unified development process such as Rational Unified Process® (RUP®).

Get buy-in

Developing a portal can be an extremely large undertaking. Simply managing the content in most modern portals takes a huge effort. So, before a software architect begins developing a portal solution, he or she must ensure that an executive sponsor and owner has been clearly identified.

The user community represents another group that must "buy in" to the solution before success can be assured. A "build it and they will come" approach is a ticket to disaster. Before a portal solution is deployed, it should be marketed. Providing education materials, introduction messages, preparatory e-mails, letters from executives, contact points, and frequently asked questions can dramatically aid user acceptance and help users overcome the fear of the unknown that often accompany new solutions.

Plan for maintenance

Today's portal implementations can be extremely complex IT environments, encompassing a wide variety of disparate applications, information, and hardware. Portals also have a tendency to grow over time, potentially doubling or even tripling in function and size. Successful solutions might grow even larger. A number of best practices for maintaining complex systems exist, and the software architect must take full advantage of these in order to manage this type of complexity and growth.

Customization and personalization

Though an inherent part of virtually all portal frameworks, use customization and personalization should not be overlooked. User acceptance of a portal can be greatly enhanced by even a small amount of customization (such as providing international language support). Enabling users to personalize a site by choosing content and layout can lead to a high degree of user satisfaction.

2.2.3 Steps for building a successful portal solution

The steps for building a successful portal solution can be simply stated as:


The plan phase formulates and documents an overall solution plan that should clearly link to the customer's business strategy and initiatives. For example, using a portal solution plays into companies' overall e-business strategies. A plan should detail the scope of the project, the customer's envisioned goals, and the business context (in other words, internal and external relationships).


The execute phase creates an architecture that translates business requirements into a portal application. As with any software application, the solution architecture should address both functional and operational domains. The functional domain addresses the business functionality of the solution. It describes the structure and modularity of the software components that will be used to realize business functions, the interactions between components, and the interfaces among them. The operational domain describes the system organization (such as hardware platforms, connections, locations, and topology), the placement of software and data components, the non-functional requirements (such as performance, availability, and security), and system management (capacity planning, software distribution, and backup and recovery). The architecture also needs to align the solution with the overall business strategy and provide a roadmap for its implementation.


The implement phase implements the solution developed and refined in earlier phases. This includes designing, developing, testing, and deploying the actual portal application. Typically, the software architect is not involved in this phase, and when so usually in a consultant role to ensure that customer expectations are met.

[2]For example, manufacturing, research, or military

[3]As defined by demographic and "device type" information

[4]For example, external suppliers who supply raw material for the products or services being offered

[5]Total Cost of Ownership

[6]In other words, business drivers

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Architecting Portal Solutions
Architecting Portal Solutions: Applications Development
ISBN: 0738498645
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 82
Authors: IBM Redbooks

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