Knowledge workers unite Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

Just over the horizon is a new frontier where a knowledge worker’s commute might last only as long as the drive time to the nearest WiFi coffee shop.

The evolving technology to create this oft-predicted “end of business-as-we-know-it” environment is arriving, thanks to cooperation between the software giants and reasonable costs for emerging technology platforms, including portal implementations.

“The next frontier for businesses to raise their performance is to help knowledge workers to be more productive and innovative,” says Bill Russell, executive vice president of Allegient. “Portals represent one of the fundamental enablers for new ways for people to work together virtually in a much more tightly integrated fashion, and far more efficiently and effectively.”

Smart Business asked Russell about how the new portals are advancing collaboration, workflow, and information management, and how companies should be preparing now to step into and thrive in this exciting frontier.

How have portals evolved from their initial applications?

Portals originally debuted as a platform that companies could use to do what I refer to as mass customization, or personalization, of static information. Workers could log in and have delivered to them standard information that was most closely related to their primary job or role.

Now, portals have evolved and are becoming an actual place for knowledge workers completing their work, or at least organizing their work and their collaboration around that work. Work within the portal is not constrained by a person’s title. It can be very specific to the person’s role or contribution on a particular initiative, and the portal presents only the information and the business process piece that is specific to what that person needs to work on for that issue.

How are portals creating all new levels of collaboration within companies?

It’s not as if knowledge workers aren’t trying to deal with their information needs. The problem is that it’s usually through all types of disparate systems or capabilities like e-mail, Web sites, an intranet, document management systems and others. Some consulting firms like Gartner, Forrester, and others now estimate that a typical knowledge worker is spending as much as 50 percent to 60 percent of their day just sorting through emails, different information or document systems, trying to put themselves in a position to deal with a business issue, event, or need.

Portals, in a single integrated environment, can bring together the right people and the relevant information by focusing three elements including the content and information management piece, the collaboration piece, and the business process or workflow piece. The emerging portals pull it all together.

What are examples of projects or events that are best administered through portals?

Procurement crosses all kinds of traditional business functions that typically involve people from across the enterprise. A portal can lay out the procurement process, involve the right individual at the right step of the process, and bring them the information needed to make a choice or to make a decision – or to approve and advance the event. The entire procurement decision process happens within the context of that portal’s system and results in a purchase order through the appropriate vendor.

What process might companies first target when considering an initial portal implementation?

Companies should first consider dynamic and human-centric processes that may happen frequently and are a bit unpredictable and event driven, such as the on-boarding of new employees. A new employee has to get a cube or a desk, plus identification and passwords, employee benefits documents and much more, typically crossing many responsible functional departments well beyond HR. Most companies have very inefficient and sloppy on-boarding programs that make for a poor first impression and high costs. An embedded on-boarding portal application allows the hiring manager to enter the portal to start the process and transaction, and then the company and new employee can work through the different departments who advance the on-boarding of that employee. By the way, if anything, the typical exiting of an employee is usually worse, even more fraught with inefficiency, cost, and now risk for the typical organization.

Have we reached a point where all businesses must implement the new portal technology to compete and survive?

At the end of the day, this is about helping information workers to become a lot more productive. If we are entering a knowledge-based economy, then we’re talking about knowledge workers who have to make decisions every day to help the business or the enterprise operate more productively, and to do that, it’s going to take this type of capability.

BILL RUSSELL is executive vice president of Allegient. Reach him at (317) 564-5701 or brussell@allegient.com.