Portal technology has come a long way from the hype of the technology boom when it was described as an ‘intranet on steroids’ and with the pressure on IT budgets and the need for tactical solutions, the enterprise portal has made something of a comeback.

Companies like Procter & Gamble claim to have saved $2m using enterprise portals so we asked our CIO Jury if they really do deliver bottom-line business benefits.

The majority came down firmly in favour of the technology with two-thirds (eight) of the jury saying ‘yes’ and just a third (four) saying ‘no’.

Phil Pavitt, CIO at NTL, said enterprise portals have resulted in tangible savings. “The common training and the ability to shift work geographically has brought NTL large savings. We now intend to share many of our portals directly with our customers,” he said.

Another in favour of the technology is Gavin Whatrup, IT director at advertising agency Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners, who said portals can quantifiably improve the flow of information through an organisation – but he warned of pitfalls.

“Portals can, if not scoped accurately, be as harmful as they have the potential to be beneficial. All parts of the organisation can benefit from an enterprise portal. No part should be excluded but planning and phasing will be key. Like all systems that have the potential to touch all elements of the business, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

Hugo Smith, IT director at Sporting Index Group, is slightly more sceptical of the vendors’ claims about the benefits of portals.

“Intranets have historically failed to deliver benefit as they have tremendous content value but if no one visits or reads, there is no value delivered,” he said. “The ‘enterprise portal’ is just an evolution. With out a fundamental culture change to train staff to visit the portal first, they will not deliver business benefit.”

Pete Smith, director of IT and telecoms at Inmarsat, is even less convinced by the technology. “I have yet to see an enterprise portal through which I can deal with all my business processes seamlessly, nor where the portal can keep pace with the rate of change in my company. Having all your eggs in one basket – a portal – is risky, inflexible and more expensive in the long term,” he said.

The message is that portals need to be put in for the right reasons and they need to deliver the applications that employees will use and get benefit from. Dharmesh Mistry, CTO at edge IPK, said: “Portals can be seen as the corporate desktop of the future. Their value I believe is in the applications they provision.”

Today’s CIO Jury was…

Jeremy Acklam, IT Director, Virgin Trains
Frank Coyle, IT Director, John Menzies Distribution
Derek Gannon, IT Director, The Guardian
David Jemitus, Head of IT, Government Planning Portal
Peter Knight, IT Director, Capital One
Kevin Lloyd, CTO, Barclays
Dharmesh Mistry, CTO, edge IPK
Phil Pavitt, CIO, NTL
JP Rangaswami, Global CIO, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein
Hugo Smith, IT Director, Sporting Index Group
Pete Smith, Director of IT and Telecoms, Inmarsat
Gavin Whatrup, IT Director, Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners

If you are a CIO, IT director or equivalent at a large or small company in the private or public sector and want to be part of silicon.com’s exclusive CIO Jury pool, or you know an IT chief who should be, then drop us a line at editorial@silicon.com