Town portal
Town portal was the single entry point to access what’s inside the city wall. Photo by Maria Li

Despite the shift toward integrated software, there are many aspects of a company operation which can not be covered by the integrated software. For this, the company needs other software. To make it easier for employees to access the multiple software used inside the enterprise, a single point of entry, i.e. a portal, has to be provided: the enterprise portal.

Enterprise portal is just like town portal in the olden days, in that it can be well or shabbily constructed. So how do you construct a great enterprise portal? There are 3 major components to it

1. Single Sign-On

While it is compulsory for enterprise-grade software to have security system, it can be overwhelming for users to have to remember all the different access codes (user name and pass word) required to access each system. It is better if users only have to remember single user name and single password to access all the systems. This is the essence of Single Sign-On (SSO).

Mobile phone on phone book
You can use phone directory to find people’s phone number, including your own. Photo by jarpur

The easiest way to implement SSO is to use directory service. What is directory service? In telecommunication, the term refers to the service that telecommunication carriers provide to its customers so that they can ask the telephone number of certain person or business. You can even ask your own phone number from the telephone company, if you feel like it. In computing then, a directory service tells information about computer users, like their e-mail address, for example. Moreover, users can ask information about themselves there too. For example, they can ask the directory service if they are registered in the directory. And it is this exact function that is utilised as user authentication mechanism.

The most widely used directory service is Light-weight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP). Majority of good software can utilise LDAP as authentication mechanism to varying degree. So next question is, “How should we go about building the LDAP directory to be used for this central authentication mechanism?” If you’re using Active Directory to manage your servers and workstations, then you’re in luck. Active Directory is LDAP-compatible, so you can simply leverage the directory already created (and maintained) by it for central authentication.

Active Directory LDAP
Active Directory LDAP-support can be used as basic building block for Single Sign-On

Once the underlying directory has been set up, it’s just a matter of configuring all the enteprise applications inside the company to verify user identification to this central directory. This configuration is easier in some applications than others. One point to note is that most of LDAP-enabled applications actually make copy of user identification from central directory, not just consult it. This is so that a more fine-grained access right can be defined within the applications themselves.

LDAP support in Joomla
Configuring Single Sign-On for some applications like Joomla is very easy

2. Enterprise search

What is enterprise search? Enterprise search helps users find business information stored in the multiple business software used in the company. Sure, each software where the information is stored may already have its own separate search engine, but enterprise search can search for information in all of those sources and present them to users in single viewing.

OmniFind search results
Enterprise search helps users search for information scattered across multiple storage inside the company (file server, CRM, intranet, etc), and present it in one viewing

So, what are the criteria for good enterprise search engine?

  • Book index
    Index helps reader find the text they want fast. Photo by Paul Pambudi

    The ability to crawl through all major business information storage and create index for them for easy searching. If you remember index in thick books, it really helps reader find the information they want when they want it, and is well worth the extra effort required in creating it, as well as the extra pages it takes at the end of the books. Same principle applies here. The major business information storage are:

    • file servers
    • database servers: ERP, CRM, HRMS, DMS, etc. Good enterprise search may be able to crawl web-based ERP, for example, but the nature of the crawling through the list and detail pages will yield redundant records for each business data. For that reason, it’s best to use database crawler for this type of information.
    • intranet web servers
      • unsecured: announcements, etc
      • secured: enterprise wiki which may contain classified information
  • User-friendly administration screen
    • only allows authorised persons to tinker with the search settings
    • easy registration of new information storage
    • control override of the indexing process
    • visual indicator of indexing process
    • troubleshooting of indexing process
  • availability of Application Programming Interface (API) for ease of integration to other software, mainly the Content Management Software (CMS) discussed below
OmniFind web, file system, and database crawlers
Good enterprise search solution like IBM OmniFind Yahoo Edition is easy to administer

3. Content Management System

The last major component is what the users will actually see first. This is the component that brings all together as one piece. It is the one that takes care of how the information is presented to the users. So, what differentiates good Content Management System (CMS)?

  • security system which comply to the Single Sign-On system explained above. The enterprise portal is going to be central point of information disbursement in the company, so it needs to make sure that only employees can view the information.
  • Extendable search engine, so that it can present centralised search results from the enterprise search solution explained above
  • web linking to all pre-existing web-based software in the company
    • network monitor
    • manageable hardware (firewall, routers, switches, Wi-Fi access points, printers, etc)
    • server remote management
    • DMS
    • wiki
    • bug tracking system
    • version control system
    • ERP
    • CRM
    • BI, etc
  • plethora of ready-to-use modules
    • Company calendar
    • Employee directory
    • On-line form to help automate some business processes in the company
      • Purchase requisition
      • Leave request, etc
    • Meeting room booking system
    • Authorised software download repository
    • Company car booking system
    • Company stock monitor for public-listed companies
    • Media coverage about the company
    • Library management system
    • Photo gallery
Joomla form
Good CMS like Joomla has many ready-to-use module relevant to company operation, such as on-line form shown here for leave request processing