University Web Developers

University Web Developers

I'm in a little bit of a fugue state with regard to our search for a Portal solution. Based on my research, it seems like one of the primary functions a portal provides is to bring content from different sources together into a single location or interface so that people don't have to go all over the web or intranet to get what they need.

There are multiple offerings in the portal space, including CampusEAI (myCampus), uPortal, Luminis, Sharepoint, Liferay, and many others (especially since the concept of a portal is so poorly defined in and of itself), but these products must be integrated with the systems from which they are to pull content and data, as I understand it.

So my question is, given the amount of work it takes to learn and integrate with a "bought" portal solution such as above, does it really add value over an entirely custom solution, which presumably can be built by people with deep knowledge of the systems with which they're integrating?

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I'm going through a Portal Evaluation process myself, and due to limited resources, we're probably going to purchase one. If we had a team available to custom build one, I'd be all for that, but alas we do not. We're currently looking at CampusEAI, CampusCruiser, Datatel Portal, myCampus and Blackboard Learn (though I don't think it integrates well with Colleague? still checking on that).

Here's a bit about Ithica College, who built their own portal:

"The college decided that the best way to proceed was to write our own system by leveraging existing Web developer resources supplemented with a previously known external developer. Using the open source MooTools Javascript framework as a foundation for our development, the service was built almost entirely using javascript and XML, with a little PHP and mySQL to manage user sessions and the portlet library."

Looks pretty awesome, too...


Thanks so much for the reply. I've been trying to get time to see the MyHome@Ithaca portal for a while now, so that link was very helpful. What you said struck me as interesting: you said you'll probably buy a portal because you have limited resources. That's exactly the kind of analysis I'm looking for -- something that demonstrates that buying a portal costs requires less resources than building one. If you have done or plan to do such an analysis, or just want to talk it over with someone, please let me know.

Here's our problem:

We developed our own portal >10 years ago. We were the first in the state to do it, and it was pretty revolutionary at the time.

At the time.

Now, we have a legacy portal running on outdated hardware in a language NO ONE actually learns (InfoBASIC). It's old, cludgey, and generally a pain in the ass. We have a dozen programmers dedicated to keeping it up and running for a campus with an FTE of 7100 (whereas I'm the only person dedicated to the rest of the site). We're facing millions of dollars to get switched to something modern, regardless of how we upgrade.

I generally subscribe to the idea of don't reinvent the wheel. Unless you're MIT, the odds of a campus being able to produce a realistically better product than most of those vendors is basically nil. It's also much easier to develop and write plugins to tie the systems together (easier if they support things like RESTful APIs or CMIS) than it is to write an entire system from the ground up. Overhead is less, maintenance is less. Each path has its pain, but it's a risk/reward scenario.
Are you really sure that if that portal had been bought you would be in a different (let alone better) boat? My worry is that instead of having a dozen programmers dedicated to keeping it up, we'd have six consultants (one of whom would be an account manager) responsible for maintaining our and a dozen other portals.

"I generally subscribe to the idea of don't reinvent the wheel."
I wasn't trying to say we would build it from scratch. I'm really talking about the level of integration work. Presumably, a bought portal requires some time to educate the developers, some time to integrate the content providers, and some time to educate the users.
A built portal requires all that and additionally time to build the initial interface (based on some framework or near-fit FOSS project) however, my assumption would be that an internal development team would take much less time to learn the integration points, and my hope is that they would take away a better understanding of other internal systems, as well. This would ideally be a cross-training opportunity as well as a specific deliverable.

That's my hope, anyway.
I'm so glad you started this conversation. We're starting a search for a Portal solution too. I am not yet convinced it will solve anything, mostly because of the seeming inability of anyone to agree on what the portal should be able to do.

I was having trouble finding much discussion about portals from any time in the last few years.

We will likely go for a "bought" solution, also because of limited resources.

I'm also little worried because I've gotten some tours of another school's portal and it seemed to be just full of broken widgets and very little useful content.
" seemed to be just full of broken widgets and very little useful content."

Soooo.... an example of the perfect portal then?
So you're saying that's the goal?!

I need to update my list of requirements.
Right, that's my fear, too. I worry that our direct (human) content providers will stop providing content, and that our indirect content providers (web services, databases, etc) will have arbitrary future changes that make it difficult to do anything but spend time maintaining the portal, one change after another.

I worry about that regardless of whether we build or buy, though. :/



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