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How to Implement Lighter Weight Portals, Part 2: Portlets

In part 1 of this series, How to Implement Lighter Weight Portals, I wrote about the infrastructure and installation aspects of Portals. To make the tasks of managing and installing portals, I recommended cloud solutions and for IBM, their PureApplication system both in the cloud and on-premise.

In Part 2, I turn my attention to applications and how to make task of developing portal applications more lightweight.

The goal of a portal is to combine applications and content at the glass for a user.  By this definition alone, we should always think of how to make lightweight portlets.  If you have a larger application to build, break it down into core components that can be built into separate portlets, rather than one large portlet.

Even if you can get to smaller, bite-sized applications or portlets, you are still faced with the underlying framework imposing additional layers on your efforts.  We’ll focus on Java-based portals to make the discussion simple and I’ll use IBM WebSphere Portal as an example.  Say we want to simply display a feed from Reuters as shown in our first picture here.

Reuters News Service

Reuters News Service

Reuters provides the javascript, so all we need to do is put it into a portlet for display on our page.

To create a portlet for use in IBM WebSphere Portal, a developer is going to use IBM Rational Application Developer (already a heavy-weight tool), create a new project using a wizard, fill in some details about the portlet, like name, Java version, etc.  and then hit go.  RAD will do a nice job of building the portlet shell with all the right components set up.  These components include xml files, TLD files, libraries or references, file folders and start JSP files.  Already, we have a lot of code to manage.

Once I put in my custom code, I then have to build the project, create a .war file, and then deploy it to WebSphere Portal. After its deployed, I can create a portal page, and my new portlet and I’m all set.  In most IT shops, build and deploy to production can take weeks or months just because IT has to control the changes to production very tightly.

If I’m a business guy who just wants a very simple portlet, this makes portal look heavyweight to me, but its likely the process than the technology.

So how to fix this?

Read the rest of this post »

Why Patient Portals Remain Healthcare’s Enigma has an interesting article about why patient portals just aren’t popular.  I think the author, Brian Eastwood, gets some things right but also misses some key reasons or challenges.  Here’s what he got right.

  1. Why Patient Portals Remain Healthcare's EnigmaAdoption just isn’t very high. No one is using the patient portals that are out there.
  2. Doctors don’t use portals………….and they don’t have patients who use portals.  In other words, if a medical provider still thinks the best way to communicate is when someone is sitting in front of them then things won’t change.
  3. The features don’t match what your users want………. and herein lies the rub.

Now I don’t disagree with what Brian says. I think he makes a number of great points.  But I also take issue with one point he makes:

So what will get patients to use a portal? It’s not as hard as providers may think. The functionality that patients told Software Advice that they want – scheduling appointments, paying bills, viewing lab tests, refilling prescriptions and emailing staff – should sound familiar (on the face of it, at least) to anyone who regularly uses ecommerce applications.

Here’s the reality.  Patient portals are hard. They are harder than many ecommerce or consumer sites that sport similar functionality.  Frankly, they aren’t that much harder from a technical perspective but there are a number of issues getting in the way.  Let me name a few of them.

  1. Healthcare in general is still coming up to speed in their technology evolution.  You don’t just launch a bill pay option without a hook to both your billing back end system and a payment gateway.  Both are foreign concepts to many healthcare providers.   By providers I mean doctors and hospitals.  So slapping a front end onto something isn’t going to solve your problems.
  2. Healthcare is a mishmash of systems that never wanted to communicate with each other and weren’t architected to do so.  I can tell you about hospitals who have a patient pre-register online and then pay someone to key that data into their EMR because the EMR doesn’t have any hooks. I can tell you about trying to pull certain data from an EMR and then missing key information demanded by MU2.  Many companies are springing up whose sole job in life is to allow you to schedule an appointment online because of the variety of systems without proper hooks.
  3. Healthcare is comprised of many, many, many separate entities.  You may find a doctor on a hospital site or an insurance site but they are only affiliated to the doctor at best. That doctor won’t support a common standard to let you query their scheduling system and make an appointment.  This disjointedness leads to challenges.
  4. Doctors don’t like spending money on technology.  Yes, there are exceptions but most would far rather build a new office, add on a hospital wing, or buy a cool surgery robot.  Many think of technology from the standpoint of their tablet or computer and don’t understand the complexities of multiple server systems supporting high uptime, disaster recovery, security, etc.  Lack of funding until very recently means you have so much further to climb.
  5. Conflicting government rules make it difficult to create a good patient experience.   HIPAA demands you keep all patients data intact.  MU2 demands you open up that data to your patients.  Specific rules within both conflict.  People in charge of security within these healthcare organizations tend to take the least risk approach and demand multiple levels of security that adds to the expense very quickly.  Let me give you the most common example of how this can go wrong.  I know of multiple hospitals that only let you register for the patient portal in person and with your id.  Using your patient id, unique number from your last discharge, and common questions from your credit report all fail the test.  Only an in person visit will do.   If you want to see and manage healthcare for your child, that only adds to the complexity.  This means that in order to run a successful patient portal, you have to modify your business processes to have front office and discharge people do one more thing and do it in a secure fashion.
  6. Most out of the box patient portals………and I use out of the box very lightly here, only support you accessing your medical record.  They don’t even do a great job of that. These EMR based portals let you see your lab results but they don’t help you interpret them.  They are sometimes very hard to read.  These portals don’t provide access to bill pay, find a doctor, pre-registration, classes and events, or schedule appointments.   They don’t personalize the experience and tell you about your care team.   Many of these portals have no plans to add these types of functionality into their patient portals because adding these features is hard given the diverse number of systems out there.

I want to make one final comment which Brian gets right in his article.  I think that with lots of room for improvement comes a lot of opportunity for healthcare providers to truly engage their patients.  A lot of these providers are looking to the future and asking what it will take to do true patient engagement and to add in features like sensor uploads, better reporting, proactive personalization that helps you understand what’s in your medical record etc.  So while it’s an uphill slog, the future is bright.

Hilton Changes The Game, Mobile Enables It

Hilton announced on their web site that they plan to change the game when it comes to the guest experience at their hotels.  While the press release doesn’t state the investment, the Wall Street Journal quotes it at $550 million.  But what’s really cool is that the smart phone will become:

  • Your room key: bypass the line and head straight to your room
  • The way to choose your room: choose your room from a map of the hotel
  • Special requests: get upgrade, ask for amenities, etc.

At first glance you may wonder why it costs $550M but if you think about it, Hilton had to do quite a bit to make this work.  First they had to enable a map.  That probably comes from a back end system or two or three or four………    Of course, you have to then do the integration and put a nice wrapper on it because I guarantee that it doesn’t look good to start.  When you add in new amenities and want to build an infrastructure that’s more ecommerce like, then you make even more work for yourself.  Using NFC or some other standard also ensures a change in every single hotel room lock.  That will probably drive the majority of the cost.

But think about what they get out of this investment.  First, they get the cache of being first with a key enabling technology. Second, if they architected this right, they setup their application to do everything.  If you can get a special amenity ordered up then how hard should it be to order room service?  How about adding in concierge requests for tickets to that special event or restaurant?  Of course there’s the chance to treat all the elite guests in a special way.   They walk through the door and notify them you opened up a set of rooms they can choose for an upgrade.  Tell them they just earned faster internet or that they should stop by the mini-store for a treat.   The skies the limit as far as what you can do now that the Hilton App became a must use application.

I’m excited about the possibilities here.






Why Social Needs to be Part of Your Portal

IBM’s 2014 Digital Experience Conference started Wednesday off with a great session by Mac Guidera, Social Workforce Strategist from IBM, titled “Why Social Needs to be Part of Your Portal.”  The session was very insightful blending a mix of statistics, trends, best practices and insightful thoughts.

Why Social Needs to be Part of Your PortalSocial Business Patterns

Patterns represent modernized processes with dynamic, repeatable and measurable “people interactions” created by building social into work and life.  These patterns are repeatable way to interact an engage, share innovative ideas, finding out who knows what and find information.  Key patterns include:

  • Customer Engagement
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Customer Service
  • Recruiting
  • Supply Chain
  • Expertise and Knowledge
  • Workplace & Safety

Each of these patterns has value propositions and ROI, for example Customer Service maps to customer satisfaction, increased revenue and efficiency.  Marketing can map to awareness, marketing effectiveness and trust. Read the rest of this post »

Consumer Engagement at Florida Blue with IBM Digital Experience

Glenn Kline of Perficient and Phani Kanakala from Florida Blue presented a case study of how Florida Blue, Florida’s largest healthcare payer, uses IBM Digital Experience to engage consumers.  Florida Blue’s mission is “To improve the health and well-being of Floridians and their communities”.  This really is a good reason to engage customers.

Florida Blue has been using IBM Digital Experience platforms since 2008.  Every year Florida Blue added new features and new sites to their customer experiences.  The IBM platform allowed the business people to manage content on the portal.  logo-header

Back in 2010, Florida Blue started to implement metrics and marketing concepts into their site to provide a more personalized shopping experience with guided selling.  They extended this to provide cost metrics regarding hospitals and doctors, so members could evaluate the potential cost of a provider against five others in their plan.

In the mobile space, Florida Blue was an early adopter of mobile sites and applications for their members.  After implement mobile capabilities with Digital Experience, they saw an immediate boost in customer transactions and shopping.  Today all sites at Florida Blue are accessible via mobile devices.  They have recently added videos, agent tools and more healthcare content for mobile users.

Today, they show 20-25% increase in traffic every year, but have to deal with ever changing consumer and regulatory changes.  Because of healthcare reform, they now have new customers for whom to provide an experience.  These are younger consumers who are demanding different engagement models, different payment services and new products.

IBM solutions that Florida Blue uses include the following:

  • Websphere Portal
  • IBM Web Content Manager
  • IBM Tealeaf
  • IBM iLog
  • DataPower
  • WebSphere Application Server

Glenn talked about why Web Content Management is so important to Florida Blue.  WCM helps them react quickly to consumer needs by letting business users manage the site content. One WCM system feeds multiple Florida Blue portals to provide consistency of content across their various properties.

On top of WCM, Florida Blue has implemented a lot of Personalization capabilities using IBM Digital Experience.  They used visibility rules to deliver reform capabilities tailored to each individual consumer.  Allowing the business to change the rules lets them react quickly to marketplace demands.  They load contract materials in WCM and then use personalization rules to select correct documents based on the individual user.






IBM Digital Experience in the Cloud: New Options and Capabilities

Tony Higham and Paul Kelsey spoke about deploying IBM Digital Experience on both an on-premise and public cloud.  There are 5 properties of the cloud generally recognized in the market.  IBM is fully supporting each of theses properties:

  • On-demand & Self Service – its there when you need it
  • Broad Network Access – a global network with fast access from any device
  • Resource Pooling – customers share computing resources at some level.  IBM is not really embracing shared hardware.  They are really into private instances on bare metal.
  • Rapid Elasticity – you get what you needXDXCloud1
  • Measured Service – pay for what you get

IBM is going after the cloud using the following concepts because the cloud presents real business value:

  • Months to Minutes
  • Heroics to the Easy Button
  • Automate Everything

Digital Experience on the cloud creates the entire infrastructure so you don’t have to separately install and  configure each type of software you need in the application.

Here is how IBM Digital Experience works on the cloud.  It really is the IBM PureApplication story.  IBM has built PureApp to provision application patterns quickly and efficiently.  You may have heard about the WebSphere Portal Pattern on PureApp. In the recent past PureApp was an on-premise box.  Now IBM has implemented PureApp Services on their SoftLayer cloud.  As a result, you can use the Digital Experience Pattern right on the SoftLayer cloud and have an instant cloud-based system.

In a non Pure App infrastructure, it typically takes several engineers and two weeks to install a WebSphere Portal cluster with a database and security in a production environment. What is the impact of PureApp on the portal?  This same environment can be installed in 45 minutes either on premise or in the cloud.  Paul demonstrated creating a clustered environment on PureApp.  Everything needed for a production environment is setup, configured and tuned.

With the new PureApplication Service on SoftLayer, you can run your entire WebSphere Portal cluster and take advantage of all the PureApplication capabilities on-prem.  PureApp on Softlayer is a pay as you go service in increments of three months. You can also incrementally add cpus and memory to nodes you have installed on SoftLayer.

Another interesting feature is the ability to move your Portal environment from on-prem to SoftLayer or from SoftLayer to on-prem depending on your needs.



IBM Digital Experience Conf: Developing Portlets Using JQuery

jQuery is one of the most pervasive scripting libraries in use today. The session “Developing Portlets Using Javascript and JQuery for Engaging Digital Experiences” by Stephan Hesmer, Web 2.0 Architect, IBM and  Jaspreet Singh, Rational Tools Architect, IBM provided good insight as to how to leverage jQuery in IBM WebSphere Portal.

First, a couple of key statistics to indicate why this is important and cannot be ignored:

  • 57.5% of websites use jQuery.
  • jQuery has a 93% marketshare.

WebSphere Portal still includes Dojo but it isn’t required for view mode.  It is required in edit mode however, especially for in place editing.    One key change in portal 8.5 however is when edit mode, the edit panel is now isolated from pages so it will not conflict with the page. Read the rest of this post »

IBM XDX – What’s New in WebSphere Portal and IBM WCM 8.5

Rob Will, chief architect for WebSphere Portal, once again gave a great presentation at IBM’s Digital Experience Conference 2014.  The focus was on the new capabilities delivered in the last year.

The focus of the digital experience suite has been to provide a framework with tools and services to be able to deliver a great digital experience.  The focus has shifted from IT building the solutions to the line of business being able to own and deliver content and services themselves.  The innovative capabilities below are some of the highlights that direction.

IBM XGX - What's New in WebSphere Portal and IBM WCM 8.5 Mobile

  • Portal and WCM is in the framework business, not application business.  this translates to mobile as well.  Mobile web site business, not web application business.
  • The direction is to deliver mufti-channel digital experiences.
  • IBM Worklight continues to evolve.  It is an application development environment that includes a thin layer of native client code that simplifies building multi-channel web applications.  There are many new capabilities that plug right into portal such as a content adapter to WCM.
  • A new mobile simulator is built in to be able to preview portal content using device emulators prior to publishing.
  • Mobile is part of everything IBM does.

Read the rest of this post »

IBM Digital Experience Conf 2014: Stephen Power’s View

Forrester’s Stephen Power spoke about transforming digital strategy. Stephen is Vice President at Forrester and covers the Digital Experience market.  He started by talking about the age of the customer and how we got to this point (customer centricity per Gary Dolsen).  Preceding the age of the customer was Age of Manufacturing, Age of Distribution and the Age of iInformation.  Starting in 2010, he suggests that the Age of Customer started.

IBM Digital Experience Conf 2014: Stephen Power's ViewComplexity is increasing in the Age of the Customer because of the multi-channel requirements increasing and shifting rapidly.

Business Technology is the term he uses instead of Information Technology because the focus is on business results rather than just information.  He predicts that budgets for business technology will surpass information technology in 2016.

With this shift to BT, digital experiences must adapt.  Here are three points he talked about with regards to digital experience transformation:

  1. Focus on the customer lifecycle, not just customer acquisition.  Switching costs for customers are lower in the digital world so they are more willing to move if they are not taken care of during their lifecycle with you. Ree
  2. Reexamine the technologies and investments for the new digital experiences.  You may end up with overlapping technologies and have to rationalize which ones to keep and which to retire.
  3. Don’t just manage your data – leverage it. Use demographics, historical and situational data to contextualize your experience. Predictive analytics is a key future capability.

Transforming your digital strategy is not about perfection, its about progression.  As you build out new strategies, keep in mind the need to be flexible because the Age of Customer is just beginning.  There will be a lot of changes as the market responds, adapts and changes to customers.


IBM Digital Experience Conference 2014: Opening with Gary Dolsen

IBM’s Digital Experience Conference got underway today in Anaheim.  For those that have followed IBM WebSphere Portal in the past, Digital Experience is a really set of individual point products that include WebSphere Portal, Web Content Manager, Forms, etc.

If you have really, really followed IBM’s portal you will probably know Larry Bowden as the long-time leader and builder of the IBM WebSphere Portal brand.  Larry has recently retired from IBM and Gary Dolsen has taken over the reigns for Digital Experience.  Gary has also been a long-time leader at IBM, so the transition from Larry to Gary should be seamless.

Gary started off by talking about “Reach” and “Engage” as two themes for where we are now with digital experiences.  You have to reach out to your consumers, employees and partners.  Once you reach those people, you have to engage with them through multiple channels and rich experiences.

He continued by talking imperatives over the next three years: Customer Centricity and Flexibility.  For Customer Centricity we need to understand customers and make them the center of your decision making.  People make emotional decisions, so our digital experiences have to evoke emotions.  Mobile is now a key component of centricity because 90% of consumers are using mulitple mobile devices.

For Flexibility, Gary mentioned that the half life of the Fortune 500 list is now 12 years.  So in 12 years, 50% of the Fortune 500 will no longer be on that list.  You can only imagine the flexibility required to stay on target in the fast paced environment.