One of the biggest problems with an ERP implementation is the complicated interface and the difficulty in providing adequate end user training. Portal technology provides an attractive starting point for end users accessing corporate information, regardless of whether these users are customers, employees, or suppliers. Chuck Kao, Portal Wave’s vice president of corporate marketing, discusses how portal technology ties front and back end applications, making end user interaction with the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) easier.

Portal Wave Inc.

Founded in 1999, the Sunnyvale, CA-based Portal Wave offers portal solutions that help users unlock information that may be tied up in their ERP and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. The company’s pre-built applications can be integrated with Siebel 99, Vanitve 8, Oracle R11, and SAP R/3.1.H. Portal Wave’s technology is based on “wavelets,” which the company says can be customized to integrate into any ERP, CRM, supply chain, or legacy system.

TR: What do corporate portals do?

Chuck Kao: They deliver tailored information and transactions to users, regardless of location or time of day. Through the portal, end users can get all the information and transactional capabilities that they need. Portal solutions service the entire extended enterprise, comprising customers, partners, and suppliers, as well as employees, by connecting front office and back office systems. Currently, many companies use stove top applications like ERP systems and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems that don’t communicate with each other. This is a real problem that portals solve. ERP and CRM applications were set up as a silo-like structure that frequently reflected how organizations worked. For example, manufacturing and purchasing maintained the ERP systems, and marketing ran front office systems. In the Internet world, companies need to run their businesses efficiently and seamlessly. These divisions hinder the business process because customers don’t care what applications you need to get the information.

TR: How will portal interfaces change the way users interact with ERP Sytems?

Kao: The portal will reduce training costs and make users more efficient. The user-friendly portal interface takes much of the complication out of the normal ERP user interface. Completing tasks will be as simple as pointing and clicking. Thus, a larger number of people will be able to access ERP. You will no longer need to be an application specialist to use it. Of course, we’re not bringing the entire ERP functionality to the Web. We are simply supplying about 20 percent of the ERP functionality that 80 percent of users need.

TR: How does portal technology work with disparate systems?

Kao: The portal can combine the functionality of disparate systems. Take, for example, two separate applications—say ERP and CRM. Instead of having two applications open and switching between them, a portal can be designed to integrate the functionality of both. Now the user stays within the portal and simply clicks on the functionality he or she needs. The portal is designed around business processes so tasks can be completed in a logical sequence, regardless of what application they come from. Also, the portal unifies user logins so that only one login to the portal gives users access to all the systems they need. Finally, the portal can combine other productivity tools, such as Internet content discussion groups, that an application cannot.

TR: What is the future of portal technology?

Kao: I believe that portal solutions will be the application. This is already evident in desktop applications. Before, you had discrete e-mail and Personal Information Managers (PIM) applications. Now, with consumer portals like Yahoo, people can access their e-mail or enter appointments or contacts. To them, the portal is the application. While this process will take longer for the enterprise, I believe that the same process will occur.