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Vertical Portals

2003-10-09

Vertical Portals: Vertical Portals

By Mark Burfield

Vertical portals are sprouting throughout the Internet, providing virtual communities for those sharing interests in specific industries. But today's vertical portals often are closed to companies that are perceived to compete with the vertical portal's owner and aren't fully integrated with corporate business systems – maintaining some of the same basic business inefficiencies that the Web was supposed to eliminate.

First came portals, then vertical portals. It's too easy to dismiss vertical portals as simply the fad of the year. In fact, vertical portals provide a tremendous framework for changing the way business is conducted on the Web, although you may not realize that by looking at vertical portal sites today.

Today's B2B vertical portals often provide news, research, discussion vehicles, online tools and other educational services specific to an industry. Often, through interfaces, they also support some e-commerce capabilities for their participants. But, the full potential of vertical portals won't be fully realized until they become integral parts of corporate systems and become truly open communities that provide compelling business reasons for stakeholders to participate in them.

Vertical Portals: Fully Realized Vertical Portals

Imagine a swirling vortex of water that pulls from the outside edges and brings everything into the center. This vortex delivers valuable information to all stakeholders in an online environment. The working environment combines Internet, extranet and intranet functionality to create a blend of public and private information accessible at various levels to everyone. This dynamic environment becomes a receptacle for knowledge management in which knowledge, products and services may be shared by all stakeholders based on who they are and what level of access they may have. The more content captured, the more everyone will benefit.

Fully realized vertical portals will move beyond today's simple communications and e-commerce capabilities to include innovative areas where stakeholders may:

  • Buy and sell business objects and related services.
  • Participate in user and focus groups.
  • Contribute and obtain best-practices information from a comprehensive knowledge base.
  • Contribute to and obtain market research.
  • Obtain information and goods from the broader universe including competitors of the vertical portal owner.
  • Work directly from their corporate applications to accomplish all of this without additional hardware or software requirements.

Vertical Portals: Stakeholder-Centric Model

Consider the difference between a creator-centric vertical portal and one that is built around the needs of all stakeholders. If a vertical portal is centered around stakeholders, its value correspondingly increases the more it's used because contributions to the vertical portal (new trading partners, additions to the knowledge pool) benefit all of them. In fact, with this model, a vertical portal has the potential to generate revenue for the creator, its participating partners and even for end-user customers (by buying and selling opportunities provided). In addition, each stakeholder will likely find its own uses for the portal.

But, when vertical portal creators maintain closed communities, it reduces the overall knowledge pools and limits business opportunities. A stakeholder may want to have a business relationship with the vertical portal owner's competitor if it has a place in its value and supply chain. Why should it be restricted by factors external to its own business?

Internal System/Vertical portal Integration

Beyond the open community concept, we'll also see an increased level of integration between corporate systems and vertical portals to the point where they become indistinguishable. It isn't enough to simply interface with vertical portals using additional software. The vertical portals of tomorrow will be built from the ground up as part of corporate systems. For example, purchasing managers will be able to exploit all of the benefits of a vertical portal directly from an ERP system so internal databases automatically reflect all business activity.

There are few technical barriers to these types of advances. Rather, restrictions come from traditional business mind sets and the conversion of older business systems retrofitted for the Internet. But, with the emergence of new business thinkers and extended ERP systems, we'll likely be benefitting from these open vertical portals in the near term.


Mark Burfield is with Miracle XRP, Inc., a Wilmington, Massachusetts- based company specializing in enterprise solutions that extend ERP capabilities outside of the enterprise via the Internet to its customers' partners, customers and suppliers, enabling them to compete more effectively in the global e-marketplace. Burfield can be contacted at markb@miracle.com.

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