Tag: Portal

Building Enterprise Customer Portals with Liferay

Posted by on April 04, 2013

Remaining competitive in today’s market means customer-driven companies must continue to provide their clients with added value, and one of the most effective ways of achieving this is through a customer portal that enables a holistic view of the information customers care about the most. Customer portals also present an opportunity for organizations to generate revenue through strategic discovery features that expose clients to products they might be interested in.

Liferay for Customer Portals

Liferay Portal provides a versatile platform for solving a variety of business needs, including intranets and extranets, collaboration sites with blogs, wikis, and forums, consumer facing websites, and social community sites with built-in social networking features. And one of the most common use cases we’ve seen is customer and self-service portals.

Liferay’s site-based architecture makes it ideal for customer portals. A key capability of these portals is to provide separate sites, pages, and content for each customer. And since Liferay allows you to easily create individual customer sites with very little work, the scoping of the content and digital assets within those sites is supported natively.

LIferay easily supports the two most important features of customer portals – personalization and site-based security.

  • Personalization – Liferay allows for creation of personalized pages for each customer. The information collected within each customer site can then be utilized in creative ways to further enhance personalization and increase user engagement. Liferay roles and teams are often used as an elegant way to differentiate between user types within a single customer site, which in turn opens the door for further fine-grained personalization.
  • Site-based Security – Liferay’s architecture facilitates security by enabling straightforward management of site members and their permissions within the site. Moreover, end users can be appointed as site administrators to help decrease help desk load while providing customers with much needed content ownership and management capabilities.

Challenges and Solutions

Every project has its challenges, and it’s important to follow best practices and address them in the beginning to ensure a smooth implementation. From our experience in implementing customer portals of varying sizes, we’ve seen a number of common challenges and have found successful ways of addressing these with Liferay’s flexible platform.

Information Architecture

The quality of the information architecture will have a large impact on the success of the portal. The information architecture defines the types of content your customers will see inside the portal and the navigation within the portal to get to the right content, so it’s critical to define and categorize the content and display it in a way that’s easy for the customer to understand. A customer portal that makes finding important content difficult is destined for failure.

To resolve this in Liferay, you need to gain a clear understanding of Liferay’s architecture along with best practices. It’s important to involve a customer sample when defining and categorizing your content to determine which content is important for each customer.

Integration

Integration is a critical part of every customer portal because, more often than not, the content that customers typically care about usually resides in external third-party enterprise systems, some of which may change over time. Therefore, the best way to approach integration is with a reusable integration layer.

Liferay supports this with their service builder library, which allows developers to create a standard service layer abstracting all integration logic. With this, technical architects can easily provide their developers with a standard API to use for systems integration, resulting in increased developer efficiency and better overall solution maintainability.

Flexibility

Many customer portal solutions in the market were built to satisfy the immediate needs of those customers. This often leads to the solutions becoming inflexible, so when new technology or new use cases are required, these solutions simply can’t keep up. In addition, today’s users expect Web-based solutions to constantly evolve and get better, making the portal solution framework’s flexibility a key factor in determining both short- and long-term success.

Liferay addresses this challenge with its native support for the implementation and deployment of custom plug-ins to address any future customer needs. Additionally, Liferay was built with customization in mind – almost every aspect of the portal can be customized or overridden without sacrificing the ability to maintain a clear and supported upgrade path.

Branding

The ability for a customer portal to support different branding aesthetics for each customer provides a much appreciated, tailored experience to the users of the portal. The challenge here is that the majority of portal frameworks in the market today don’t easily support site branding, which usually forces adopters of those technologies to stick with one look and feel for all customers. Support for interchangeable skins or themes in a portal, though challenging for the portal vendor, enables more personalized user experiences.

Liferay’s Themes, Layouts, Mobile Support, and Custom Site Metadata allow developers to create unique look and feel options for each customer. The technical knowledge required to implement different skins is standard user interface technology such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. This doesn’t just make branding easy, but also quite flexible.

Innovation

Interaction within a customer portal is typically thought to be business-to-customer. However, customer interactions don’t have to be unidirectional, and a new market trend is introducing social customer-to-customer interaction within portals. This social interaction can be particularly beneficial to companies whose revenue depends on successful ongoing transactionality between customers.

Liferay’s flexible platform and robust feature set also allows it to support innovative new features as market trends change. Rivet Logic is proud to be one of the few, if not the only, Liferay partners to have implemented such a portal with a fully integrated marketplace experience for buyers and sellers of services to collaborate and transact within the portal. With features like Google Maps-based discovery, quote management, private messaging, customer service, and more, we were able to build an extremely successful customer portal with the help of Liferay’s flexible framework.

Liferay’s robust portal platform provides a versatile solution for satisfying a variety of enterprise needs, including building consumer-facing websites. Implemented correctly, these customer portals can bring great value to your customers, resulting in increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Building an HR Portal With Liferay

Posted by on March 04, 2013

Leading enterprises are constantly looking to improve employee productivity by enabling efficient communications throughout the enterprise. This usually starts with an effective portal for human resources – an enterprise HR Portal – which enables organizations to disseminate corporate information to the work force in an engaging, efficient and intuitive manner.

Over the years, Liferay has evolved into a platform that can satisfy most Web-based enterprise needs, from corporate intranets to customer portals and enterprise websites. And one of the most popular Liferay use cases is the HR Portal, which is often the first step towards building an intranet. An HR Portal provides an efficient means of disseminating various company news and offers an ideal medium for employee outreach.

In a recent webinar, we demonstrated how to build an enterprise HR portal with Liferay in just 30 minutes. The demo showcased our latest open source Liferay community contribution that allows developers to easily create a fully functional HR Portal. This easy-to-deploy portal solution comes with many useful features, including:

  • Corporate news authoring and publishing
  • Customizable news publishing channels
  • User-friendly people directory
  • Customizable portal-wide main navigation bar
  • Smart news carousel
  • Customizable quick links

This HR Portal solution will soon be available in Liferay Marketplace – with the Community Edition available in a matter of weeks and the Enterprise Edition under development. Both versions will be available for free download.

Watch our recorded webinar to see a demo of the HR Portal in action!

Liferay’s Latest 6.1 EE Release Packs a Punch

Posted by on February 24, 2012

Over the years, Liferay Portal has transformed into a complete Web platform for social collaboration, Web content management, and development tools to create customized solutions.

The new Liferay Portal 6.1 EE features extensive updates to existing Web content management and document management systems plus new capabilities that are designed to provide more power to end users. Extensive user interface updates will make document management more productive and intuitive, with desktop and mobile access, live previews, and integration to external enterprise document repositories. Liferay 6.1 EE also simplifies the development and maintenance of rich websites, with sophisticated page templates and multiple site and page version editing. The new release also integrates with Liferay Marketplace, which will allow administrators to find and install applications to extend functionality directly from the portal.

“The new Liferay 6.1 EE release matures the 6.x branch with much anticipated implementations that in so many ways completes Liferay as an enterprise-grade product,” says Alaaeldin El-Nattar, Engagement Director and Certified Liferay Trainer at Rivet Logic. “Liferay 6.0 EE introduced several services that opened the door for the development of Auditing, Reporting, Workflow, and other enterprise features, while Liferay 6.1 EE takes Liferay as a leading and powerful portal framework and packages it into a fully functional enterprise ready portal solution. We have been waiting a long time for this release and are very excited about all the client needs that we will now be able to fulfill with relative ease. I am especially looking forward to making full use of Liferay 6.1’s new CMIS support, Document Sync, Website Management, and Mobile support. Cudos to the Liferay team on a job well done.”

To learn more, please visit www.liferay.com.

Join Us at Liferay WCS!

Posted by on September 21, 2011

Liferay’s annual West Coast Symposium (WCS) starts today in Anaheim, CA, and offers two full days of thought-provoking, eye-opening sessions that showcase interesting ways companies have used the Liferay platform to meet their business goals. The highly anticipated Liferay Portal 6.1 and Marketplace will also be announced at this year’s WCS.

As a Liferay Platinum Partner, Rivet Logic will be participating as a Diamond Sponsor. In addition to our main booth, our solution showcase will demonstrate our Team Beachbody case study. We will also be presenting a business track featuring a Sensus case study.

If you’re attending WCS, stop by and visit our booth!

Intranet Portal Usability, From a User Experience Perspective

Posted by on July 25, 2011

The Nielsen Norman Group recently published a report on intranet portal usability based on 67 real case studies from enterprises worldwide. In contrast to other reports that typically offer vendor solutions, this report is seen from the user experience perspective, providing insight on what portals mean to users and how to deliver a portal solution that organizations need.

Jakob Nielsen touches on some important points from the report in his column. The overall trend for enterprise portals seems to focus on ways of making the existing features more robust and better managed as portals have become more widely accepted. The early definitions of portals being gateway access points have evolved; today’s portals can be thought of as a dashboard integrating all enterprise information and applications that employees need to do their jobs through a unified interface.

Interestingly, but maybe not too surprising, the biggest finding is that portals aren’t adding mobile features at the expected rate, at least not when compared to consumer apps. Most of the companies studied saw true mobile portals as being at least a few years out. Research has found that good mobile usability requires a separate design with a reduced feature set for mobile use cases, focusing on time- and location-dependent tasks, so it’s not enough that an existing portal is made accessible through phones since the UI is optimized for desktop use.

Since this report focuses on the user experience, it comes as no surprise that personalization is a critical component of a well-designed portal. The ability to integrate information from multiple sources can have its own disadvantages as the information can be overwhelming for the users, especially when it’s irrelevant. The more the portal serves up to the users, the stronger the need to curate what each person sees. Allowing users to customize what they see through individual user profiles provides an effective way display content relevant to each user.

Portals have long been known for its social features, but now they have also evolved into collaboration platforms. While most companies didn’t see a sharp distinction between the two, an easier way to distinguish the two is informal vs. formal collaboration, where formal content is officially managed and informal content is left to emerge on its own. This contributes to the issue of governance, which many organizations already struggle with. While governance may be a greater issue for larger enterprises, a key lesson learned is that organizations should plan the governance structure before starting a portal project. While there is no general governance solution that fits all organizations, they can look at governance solutions that have worked for others and adapt them to their own specific corporate culture and circumstances.

So while the portal industry has matured over the years, the focus now shifts to the user experience to create a solution that can be easily adopted and optimized. The full report can be found here, http://www.nngroup.com/reports/intranet/portals.

On a similar note, in one of our own recent webcasts (and at the Liferay East Coast Symposium back in May), we spoke on the topic of building and deploying a global intranet with Liferay, which touched on some of the same challenges that enterprises face when starting this type of initiative – personalization, governance, employee search. Our presentation is available for download here, http://www.slideshare.net/rivetlogic/building-and-deploying-a-global-intranet-with-liferay-8459841, and the webcast is accessible on our website, http://rivetlogic.com/resources/webcasts.

JBoss Portal Gets a Twist of eXo

Posted by on June 10, 2009

Today eXo Platform, a leading European open source company, announced the merger of its eXo Portal project with JBoss Portal to create an open source portal platform.

The goal of the new project is to forge a strong portal solution by bringing together the technical strengths of the two projects through the open source community.

According to eXo Platform CEO, Benjamin Mestrallet, “What has always been a challenge for any portal community or vendor is providing the right balance of robust infrastructure and engaging usability features. This collaborative project will strive to strike that balance and will work to create an enterprise-grade, open source alternative to expensive, bloated closed source portals.”

“The eXo portal has some impressive functionality in terms of ease of use, UI flexibility and straightforward management administration; JBoss.org’s current portal project has a robust engine, performance and security features, combined this collaboration project will help drive portal capabilities forward,” said Dr. Mark Little, Sr. Director of Engineering, Middleware at Red Hat.

What does this new portal product mean for other open source portal platforms like Liferay and Plone? Should they be worried? They may want to keep an eye out as eXo is contributing a new project to the JBoss community, eXo JCR, which is a “robust cluster-ready Java Content Repository that is standards based and a key component for the project”. Could this be seen a threat to other portal platforms which lacks the robust content management features that eXo JCR will bring?

It would be interesting to see how the new JBoss eXo portal platform fares with enterprises in their choice of portal and collaboration software.

Alfresco integration with JSR 168/286 portals

Posted by on April 15, 2009

At Rivet Logic Corporation I’ve been tasked many times to expose Alfresco features through a JSR-168/286 portlet hosted in JBoss Portal or Liferay Portal. Easy right? Not really, and here’s why:

Today Alfresco provides us with a couple of ways to do this:

1. Write a portlet and use Alfresco’s Web services API to expose the Enterprise Content Management (ECMS) features
2. Use Alfresco’s out-of-the-box Web script portlet to expose an Alfresco Web script

The first approach works but in many cases requires that you develop custom Alfresco actions since the Web services API does not cover the full feature set of AFS (Alfresco Foundation Services).

The second approach provides us with more AFS coverage but has one restriction that is not easy to work with. It requires that all of Alfresco be deployed inside the portal as a portlet application. So if you needed to deploy JBoss Portal running an Alfresco Web script portlet that exposes the MySpaces Web script, the deployment would look like this:

The problem with this approach is that it introduces scalability constraints. Namely, if you need to scale the portal you are forced to scale Alfresco with it and vice versa.

For the Web services approach we have an alternative thanks to our Remote Alfresco API rivet (RAAr). With RAAr we are able to make use of Web frameworks like JBoss Seam backed by rich UI component libraries like RichFaces to develop JSR 168/286 portlets that expose most if not all of the AFS features using a Java-based API that uses RESTful communication to provide a secure and scalable interface to Alfresco. One example of a document library portlet that we created using this approach is shown below:

On the other hand, if you need to go with the Web script approach you’re pretty much out of luck unless you’re willing to go with the deployment architecture shown above. The fact that there was no single solution for this problem was all the motivation I needed to create AWPr (Alfresco Web Script Portlet rivet). With this portlet we will be able to have a better deployment architecture that could be represented by the following diagram:

Here the portal and the ECMS are in two separate tiers and can be managed or maintained as such. This not only allows for better flexibility when scaling becomes necessary, it also allows the portal to expose Web scripts that are hosted in different geographic locations.

To make this possible I leveraged a custom authentication component that we wrote called STAr (Secure Token Authentication rivet) that could be plugged into an Alfresco authentication chain. With this in place the portlet can carry the user credentials from the portal to Alfresco, authenticate the user in Alfresco and retrieve a ticket that can be used during all subsequent interactions between the end-user, the portlet and ultimately the Alfresco Web script itself.

We recently released the first public version of AWPr under the GNU Affero General Public License.

The release includes two example Web scripts that, when installed and configured correctly in your portal (e.g. Liferay Portal), will look like this:

If you would like to know more about AWPr you can visit its wiki pages at the following location: http://wiki.rivetlogic.org/display/AWPr/Home