A portal aggregates information from multiple sources. It is meant to alleviate information overload by providing a common interface to interact with those sources. A content management system (CMS) is simply a potential information source. The two are often confused because most portal software includes some CMS capability and most CMS software includes some portal capability. In this context the term portal usually refers to an http-based Enterprise Information Portal (EIP) and this meaning will be assumed throughout this article.
An EIP provides a single point from which an employee may access all information relevant to the performance of the employee’s job duties. The information is usually personalized to the employee role to provide further insulation from information overload. The EIP will almost always include a CMS to manage the text content. Other potential information sources include the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, Sales Force Automation (SFA) system, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system et al. Note that each of these systems is data oriented.
The CMS core competency is centered on the managing the process by which content is created, modified and distributed. Other information sources are usually handled by making them behave as content within the CMS framework. While simplifying development, this limits the ability to interact with other sources from the EIP. A EIP implemented within a CMS framework will be content driven and deviation from this paradigm will be painful.
The portal core competency is centered on providing flexible interaction with multiple information sources. Any source can be emphasized within the portal framework and different sources are more easily emphasized for different audiences. The portal framework makes it easier to interact with data through the EIP and supports a data driven EIP.
The minimal EIP usually consists of a CMS and another information source. It is usually implemented within the CMS framework because the CMS usually provides excellent facilities for building web sites. As additional information sources are added, or as data interaction requirements increase, the balance shifts from CMS software to portal software.
You can build an Enterprise Information Portal with either content management software or portal software. If your requirements are content driven, then a CMS solution is favored. If your requirements are driven by data interactivity, then a portal framework is favored. And if your requirements are somewhere in the middle, then you’ve got some homework to do.