This is an ongoing series. Here are the predecssors:
It used to be that the most common question regarding portal was about Single Sign On (SSO). Lately, Personalization (PZN) seems to have overtaken it. Almost every client I talk to these days ranks personalization very high in their “must have” category. Personalization comes in many flavors and not all vendors define it equally. So when I say personalization I mean the following:
- Security: Based on the users groups, show or do not show content and applications. You can get part way to a personalized portal just by allowing security at a page and sub page level.
- Customization: the portal provides the ability to let users customize what they will see on a page and how a portlet/widget/web part will act. Think of it as your My Yahoo or iGoogle page. You can create pages and define what goes on each page. You also define what goes in the portlets. For example, you probably changed the stock portlet from Dow Jones and S&P 500 to your favorite stocks. Portal products will have a customization database to track both kinds of these customizations.
- Personalization: Based on what you know and attributes from a variety of sources, you will highlight content or applications for a user. Let me be specific, this is NOT security based personalization. This is the pushing of content and transactions to a user based on their defined preference and rules based on known attributes. For example, you might target a content article about the bbq in the Houston only to people who belong to that office. You might display an alert about a recent policy change only to managers in the East region. You might display that policy change only after October 3rd. This relies on a rules engine that has access to a variety of attributes about a user. Typically, the rules engine should be accessible to business users and not just to developers.
There are other types of personalization related to item number three like targeting based on what a user bought or what they saw. You can also target very specific rules like, “John is about to have a knee operation, next time he logs in, tell him about the cost differences between facilities.” For now, I’ll just lump all of that into bucket number three.
So the question we want to ask is how well each portal allows you to personalize your site and whether or not that’s a business driven activity or an IT driven activity.
Vertical portals have a problem. They do supply you with some levels of personalization. However, they generally don’t allow you complete control of the user experience. They will most likely apply security without a problem but they won’t get to an attribute level personalization. So here’s my general rating:
- They will meet your security level needs. No portal can hit the market without the ability to define what’s secure and what’s not. That applies to both pages and most likely to portlets/widgets/web parts if they choose to use that metaphor.
- Vertical portals probably won’t let users customize their pages and components of pages. They may let you define some things. For example, in your profile, you could say that you want to be notified when a certain event occurs. That’s a start but it’s not full support for customization.
- Vertical portals fail the most when you want to apply personalization rules driven by the business. Getting a rules engine is a piece of cake. There exists a couple good ones. Red Hat even has the open source Drools engine that could be integrated. However, that integration takes time and effort to integrate correctly into both page, component, and content of a portal. I don’t see many vertical portals doing that.
Horizontal portals have been thinking about personalization for a while. Some like IBM’s Portal have had this down pat for several major releases. Others like SharePoint took more time to get there but you can meet all three needs. Liferay took until the last major release to get it right with their integration of Drools but they got and it’s a powerful engine. Oracle’s portal even has a powerful personalization that can do quite a bit even though it geared more towards developers than business users. The point is, all the major portal vendors support all three levels of personalization and can talk to how they would do it.
Combined portals have the advantage of what a vendor has already done. That makes life a lot easier for you. As with other categories, I would warn you to look at how the vertical vendor has implemented their customizations on the horizontal portal. It’s possible to paint yourself into a corner where you can’t take advantage of the personalization services. It’s also possible that their licensing may not allow it. For example, Microsoft Sharepoint can use the FAST search engine for some levels of personalization. If your vendor hasn’t licensed it then you may have to pay a little extra for it.
I’m not down on combined vendors and personalization at all though. Just take a close look and ask good questions.