Should you use a portal platform for your workflow and business process needs?

A common question keeps popping up among our subscribers: when to use built-in services within a portal technology platform, versus opting for a third-party solution.  Sometimes this question arises in connection with workflow services.

Many portal platform implementations entail workflow services. Since portals usually provide access to multiple systems, the ability to define multi-step procedures that can span multiple systems and actors may prove a critical feature for you. Also, most portal tools provide some sort of content management -- either for managing website content or for managing documents.  By extension, most portal tools also provide workflow or Business Process Management (BPM) capabilities.

So should you use portal-provided workflow capabilities or integrated an external tool -- such as a Document Management tool like Alfresco, Documentum, Nuxeo, or one of the others that we review in our Document Management research?

The short answer is that in general, portal platform workflow services are usually somewhat lightweight, but typically come included in the price, and decently well integrated into the portal. Pure-play workflow or content management tools tend to be substantially more robust, but represent an additional license fees, and greater integration work.

While simple task-based workflows prove sufficient for many use cases, you might require more sophisticated BPM capabilities to model complex business processes or even as a basis to integrate multiple applications. Portals often provide a simple web based interface for workflows but when it comes to BPM, you will likely need to master a third party DM or BPM product, or manipulate complex APIs yourself to create those processes.

Of course, the portal vendors will disagree and point you to their "sophisticated" BPM capabilities. So if your requirements include complex business processes, take extra time to understand how portal vendors can truly help you model and execute such processes with real-world tests.

You can learn more in both our Portals and our forthcoming Document Management research.

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