Features – To Portal or Not to Portal – That is the Question

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 Trends

In 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 practiceM2 Presswire, 6/3/03).

The 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.

Primary Reasons for Portal Development

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 information).

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.

Intranets = Portals?

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:

  • “consider using dynamic, easy to design and launch software applications (such as blogs and wikis) that will allow you to meet certain user needs quickly, inexpensively and with a user friendly interface.
  • such applications can be leveraged for internal purposes, as well as for overall law firm marketing.
  • these applications encourage and promote collaboration, and therefore stakeholder involvement.
  • actively seek suggestions for content, application solutions and resources from practice groups and individual attorneys.
  • monitor sources and implement regular updates to the portal/intranet, including free links, CD-based services, commercial subscriptions and other value-added resources.”

    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.

    Successful Portals

    “…[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:

  • How is information communicated throughout the firm?
  • What are the firm’s business objectives?
  • How will the portal achieve these objectives?
  • What tools will it provide employees in their daily work?
  • What will be our strategy prior to deployment? After deployment?
  • How can we measure success or calculate a ROI?
  • 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 deployments.”

    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.

    Further Reading

    Gartner Group. “Management Update: Six Ways That Portal Projects Can Fail or Succeed”, IGG-10092002-03; R. Vales, D. Gootzit, G. Phifer; 9 October 2002.
    Hamel, Gary. Leading the Revolution: How to Thrive in Turbulent Times by Making Innovation a Way of Life, Penguin Group, 2000.

    LLRX.com, Sabrina I. Pacifici, Editor/Publisher – Resource Centers: Intranets & Knowledge Management.

    Special Libraries Association. Electronic Information Resources.

    Anderson, Ron. E-Poll Results: Portal Solutions. Network Computing. 23 July 2001. 8 July 2003.

    Andreozzi, Lou. Law Firms Join Portal Trend. KM World. 1 June 2003. Knowledge Management World. 10 July 2003.

    Auditore, Peter. Global Law Firm Meets Client Service Challenge. KM World. 1 June 2003. Knowledge Management World. 10 July 2003.

    Bellicini, Elise. “Technology Gateways to Law Firm Information.” Practice Innovations. 2.1 (2001): 1-3.

    Bhatt, Anand and Fenner, Joe. A Portal Odyssey. Network Computing. 9 July 2001. 8 July 2003.

    Bolles, Gary A. The Problem With Corporate Portals. CIO Insight. 23 Dec. 2002. Ziff Davis. 8 July 2003.

    Bond, Tricia. “KM and the Law Firm Librarian,” AALL Spectrum, December 2002.

    Bond, Tricia and Vanhoy, Nola. “KM and the Law Firm Librarian.” AALL Spectrum. 30 Jan. 2003.

    Boulton, Clint. IBM Refreshes WebSphere Portal Software. InternetNews.com. 28 July 2003.

    Catterall, Susan. “Using Technology to Enhance Library Services.” Legal Information Alert. 22.1 (2003): 1, 3, 9.

    Collins, Heidi. Enterprise Knowledge Portals. New York: AMACOM, 2003.

    Delphi Group. Enterprise Portals: Total Market Perspective. Boston: Delphi Research, December 2002.

    DiMattia, Susan. Creative Intranets. LLRX.com. 12 August 2002. LLRX. 25 July 2003.

    Ennov. Corporate Portals Require Complete KM Strategies. White Paper. KM World. 1 June 2001. Knowledge Management World. 10 July 2003.

    Gibbons Paul, Lauren. Portal Power. CIO.com. 15 May 2002. CIO Magazine. 23 May 2002.

    Gregory, Gwen M. “Making Your Way Through the KM Maze.” Information Today. June 2003: 46.

    Grey, Denham. Knowledge Mapping: A Practical Overview. Smith Weaver Smith March 1999. 25 July 2003.

    Krill, Paul. Portals Play Key Role as Intranets and Extranets Evolve. InfoWorld. 7 May 2001: 26

    McDonough, Brian. The State of Enterprise Portal Initiatives: Portal Adoption Trends 2003. Portals Magazine. July 2003: 23-25.

    META Group, Inc. META Group Outlines Six Steps for Enterprise Portal Best Practice; New report finds. Press Release. 5 June 2003.

    Moore, Andy. Tear Down That Wall. KM World. 1 June 2001. Knowledge Management World. 10 July 2003.

    Morris, Henry. Enterprise Portals: From Mania Toward a Mature Ecosystem. KM World. 1 April 2001. Knowledge Management World. 8 July 2003.

    Muse, Dan. “Enterprises Sailing Toward Portals.” ASPNews.com. 13 Nov. 2002. ASP News. 19 July 2003.

    Ojala, Marydee. Forrester Research Hosts Portals Summit. Information Today. Nov. 2002: 1, 62.

    Pelz-Sharpe, Alan, Harris-Jones, Chris and Ashenden, Angela. The Need for Portals. KM World. 1 Nov. 2001. Knowledge Management World. 8 July 2003.

    Platt, Nina. “Knowledge is Power: KM Remains Vital to Firm Success”. AALL Spectrum, April 2003: 26.

    Plumtree Software, Inc. A Framework for Assessing Return on Investment for a Corporate Portal Deployment. San Francisco: Plumtree Software, Inc., 2002

    The Corporate Portal Market in 2003. San Francisco: Plumtree Software, Inc., 2003

    PricewaterhouseCoopers. Legal Knowledge Management Improves Quality and Speed of Service, Reduces Costs and Delivers High ROI, According to Landmark PricewaterhouseCoopers-Legal Research Center KM Study. Press Release. 9 June 2003.

    Quirk, Jr., John. A Guide to Defining an Enterprise Portal Project. Intranet Professional. 5.1 (2002): 1, 4, 6.

    Rapoza, Jim. EIPs More Compelling Than Ever. EWeek. 21 July 2003: 51-58.

    Reilly, Ellen. Portal Best Practices: It’s Time to Wake Up – Again! KMWorld. May 2003: S4-S5.

    Surmacz, John. Prime-time for Portals. CIO.com. 22 Jan. 2003. CIO Magazine. 8 July 2003.

    Tacit Knowledge Systems. Power Your Portal with Real Brains. KM World. July/August 2001: S18.


    BELLICINI, Elise
    Law Practice Tec
    hnology Manager
    Hogan & Hartson L.L.P.
    555 13th Street, N.W.
    Washington, DC 20004-1109
    (202) 637-8740
    [email protected]
    iManage Portal

    Program Director, DBReSources
    Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP
    1 Logan Sq.
    18th & Cherry Sts.
    Philadelphia, PA 19103-6996
    (215) 988-1116
    Fax: (215) 988-2757
    [email protected]
    Plumtree Portal

    FULLERTON, Barbara
    Manager of Information Services
    Locke Liddell & Sapp LLP
    2200 Ross Avenue, Ste. 2200
    Dallas, TX 75201-6776
    (214) 740-8800
    Fax: (214) 740-8800
    [email protected]

    HOLT, Barbara
    Director, Library & Research Services
    Perkins Coie LLP
    1201 Third Avenue, Ste 4800
    Seattle, WA 98101
    (206) 264-3720
    Fax: (206) 583-8500
    [email protected]
    Plumtree Portal

    MATTHEWSON, David S.
    Director of Attorney Services
    Haynes & Boone, LLP
    901 Main Street, Ste. 3100
    Dallas, TX 75202-3789
    (214) 651-5712
    Fax: (214) 200-0527
    [email protected]
    Plumtree Portal

    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
    (202) 736-8510
    Fax: (202) 736-8711
    [email protected]

    PLATT, Nina
    Director of Library Services
    Faegre & Benson LLP
    2200 Norwest Center
    90 S. Seventh Street
    Minneapolis, MN 55402
    (612) 766-7522
    Fax: (612) 766-1600
    [email protected]

    ROCCI, Lisa
    Intranet Content Editor
    Fox Rothschild LLP
    2000 Market Street
    Tenth Floor
    Philadelphia, PA 19103-3291
    (215) 299-2826
    Fax: (215) 299-2150
    [email protected]

    SCHNEIDER, Linda-Jean
    Director of Library and Research Services
    Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP
    1 Logan Sq.
    18th & Cherry Sts.
    Philadelphia, PA 19103-6996
    (215) 988-2951
    Fax: (215) 988-2757
    [email protected]
    Plumtree Portal

    SCHROTH, Jennifer
    Electronic Content Services Coordinator
    Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP
    Suite 300
    105 College Road East
    P.O. Box 627
    Princeton, NJ 08542-0627
    (609) 716-6500
    Fax: (609) 799-7000
    [email protected]
    Plumtree Portal

    SEER, Gitelle
    Director of Library Services
    Dewey Ballantine LLP
    1301 Avenue of the Americas
    New York, NY 10019-6092
    (212) 259-6610
    Fax: (212) 259-6679
    [email protected]

    VANHOY, Nola
    Director, Library and Knowledge Services
    Kutak Rock LLP
    225 Peachtree Street NE
    Suite 2100
    Atlanta, GA 30303-1731
    (404) 222-4628
    Fax: (404) 222-4654
    [email protected]
    LawPort Portal

    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.

    Posted in: Features, Information Management, Intranets, Libraries & Librarians, Portals