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Portal Technologies: Fact and Fiction

Well, I am finally getting my first column written. It has taken longer than expected – the joys of cold and flu season here in Canada.

First, a bit of background on why I am here – writing on a Legal Technology site. Working as a Principal Consultant with T4G Limited and having spent much of the last decade as VP of Technology with Whitehill Technologies, I have helped hundreds of clients overcome challenges related to document generation, document automation, and workflow.  Along with leading the teams that developed and maintained Whitehill Enterprise and Paperless Proforma, I was also the driving force behind the creation of Whitehill’s workflow solutions for legal.

My primary focus currently is on portal technologies and the deployment of portal solutions in the enterprise. Of course, one of the big challenges I find is that the whole idea of “portal technologies” is very broad, and often ill-defined. What I mean is that a lot of organizations decide (or are told) that they need a portal solution, without having a clear idea of what that means, or exactly what business problems they intend to solve.

The same goes for SharePoint portals, which are the primary focus of my work right now. Questions arise (in the press, in blogs, in IT shops, etc.) as to SharePoint’s worthiness in the portal space. Is SharePoint appropriate for my organization? Can it handle what we need it to do? Can it replace my DMS? Can it provide the workflow infrastructure we need? And so on. 

Any discussion of SharePoint (or any other product, especially those from Microsoft) tends to produce a lot of heated rhetoric. There seems to be a wealth of broad, sweeping statements as to its suitability. The fact is, there are a lot of things SharePoint is good for, and a lot of situations where it makes sense. There are other places where it either was never meant to do certain things, or it just does not do them very well. The trick is to know what you want to accomplish and then evaluate, in context, whether SharePoint is the best tool for the job.

This to me is the key – recognize that a portal implementation is just like any other IT implementation. The real magic is in looking at it from a business perspective, understanding what problems you need to solve, and what value you are going to bring. If you cannot answer these questions clearly, you have little hope of successfully implementing a portal solution using any technology.

Once you have figured out all of these strategic questions, then you can evaluate whether SharePoint or some other platform can fulfill your needs. It is a strange behaviour for a techie, but to me the technology choice is almost incidental. 

So, what do I really want to talk about in this column? Over the next few columns I will try to cut through the rhetoric of portals, SharePoint, Windows Workflow Foundation (WF), Excel Services, the Business Data Catalogue (BDC) and Enterprise Search for law firms. I will explore the good and bad, at least in my experience. I would also love to hear your experiences with SharePoint as well as other “portal technologies”.

Feedback greatly appreciated: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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