COLUMBIA, S.C. – Emerging from the land of hype and buzzwords, portals are slowly but surely being integrated into the daily lives of a growing number of employees at credit unions and other organizations while the technology continues to shake out. That’s the take from both a leading industry observer and a start-up tech firm that’s placing portals where it can in credit union land. “Portal hype is on the decline,” says Laura Ramos of Forrester Research, “replaced mercifully with a focus on solving real business problems. Business process changes take years, so portals are simply moving along the natural technology adoption cycle that takes seven to 10 years to mature.” Meanwhile, Paroon Chadha, co-founder of Passageways LLC, a portal provider and CUSO of Indiana-based Purdue Employees Federal Credit Union, says, “I think portals were a buzzword a few years ago because they were new and unexplored. Their value is not seen immediately but rather after a while, when adoption widens and the applications built within them begin to add to the bottom line. Since its launch in April 2003, Passageways has landed 17 credit union clients so far, with another dozen on the way, Chadha says. “When we walk through the corridors of our credit union customers, we notice the portal up nearly all the time and employees are not fussing about it,” he says. “They’re just using it because it’s the cleanest and easiest way to get the information they use to perform their day-to-day jobs.” Just defining what portals are can be a bit hard to define. For instance, Ramos at Forrester Research, in a recent report, refers to them as “spanning the gap between application and middleware” and as “chameleon technologies that can simply consume resources or completely change the business.” She adds that “most organizations don’t know how far to head down this path and initial steps are tentative.” Chadha’s co-founder, Christopher Beltran, has various definitions, too. Here are a couple: “A corporate portal is a flexible and powerful surface for presenting information and applications to employees, directors, partners and select employee groups.” “A corporate portal platform can bring together a network environment in an easily understood way that includes middleware, backed databases, front-end user interfaces and end users.” Chadha says his CUSO’s portals organize people (departments, committees, branches); products (promotions, sales tips, FAQs); processes (expense reporting, timesheets, help desk); and procedures (related to products.) The cost for a Passageways portal typically varies from $15,000 to $40,000. The CUSO’s sponsor, Purdue Employees FCU, says it recouped the cost of its $30,000 portal within the first year, Chadha says. He also predicts more credit unions will be considering portals as they eye expanding or revamping their intranets. “The value proposition has certainly matured in a couple of ways,” he says. “Portals are much more understood and appreciated now. Intranets tend to be centralized and are high-maintenance applications. Corporate portals are managed in a de-centralized manner, with every employee having the ability to create. This leads to a much more collaborative environment and frees up the IT resources for credit unions. “Further the portal is being used as an extranet collaborative platform for external groups like boards of directors, telecommuting employees, SEGs and even vendors. All this is evolving towards an enterprise Web for credit unions.” After surveying a number of senior IT managers from major corporations at a recent Forrester GigaWorld IT Forum in Orlando, Fla., Ramos, meanwhile, compares their experiences so far with portal technology to that of other major enterprise technology evolutions. “The frustrations expressed by this crowd are not materially different from what their counterparts experienced in the early 1990s as client/server became the next set of programming methods for new business applications,” Ramos says. At the Orlando meeting, Ramos says, she found those that had ventured into using portals found that directing the technology toward solving specific business problems seemed to be emerging as a key to success, and a way to avoid the “muddle.” Some of the attendees, for instance, said that “spending too much time on features and infrastructure, and not enough on how to accelerate the business process or capture revenue, left them wondering about the source of real value” of their portal deployments. Others, however, found a focus and then value in their portal usage. Ramos says that 3M, for instance, recently launched a new employee portal to help simplify access to 20 outsourced HR systems. “Frustrated by too many systems and passwords, the company now uses the portal to make outside vendors look like they are inside the corporate data center,” Ramos says. “Employees have one place to handle all of their cafeteria benefits, time reporting, and other self-service tasks, secured by a single set of access control rules.” Standardization is perhaps the most obvious single benefit of portals and should continue to evolve, the Forrester analyst says. “Beyond personalization and single sign-on, portals get users and applications onto the same page,” Ramos says. “They will continue to help IT create internal standards for application look and feel, navigation and information management. [email protected]

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