Outsourced portal hastens intranet development

When a Burger King franchisee decided to develop a corporate portal, it found that it lacked the time and in-house skills for such an undertaking. So it called in the experts.

When he first considered developing a corporate portal, AmeriKing CIO Hernando Manrique called in the experts. Though Manrique has an internal staff of about 20 people, none had the necessary skills or the time for such an undertaking. "These people needed to be focused on keeping everything running inside the company, not on application development," he says.

Instead, Manrique turned to consulting firm Wittman-Hart. Working with Paul Brizz, who was with Wittman-Hart at the time, Manrique and a team of AmeriKing employees from across several divisions, including finance, human resources, and field staff, developed a prototype intranet site using simple HTML that allowed easier access to corporate information. Once company management approved the portal, Wittman-Hart participated in the process that chose Plumtree's Portal Server for the task.

Portal Server includes 600-plus pre-built portal gadgets, which are the equivalent of scaled-down enterprise applications. The gadgets actually control the presentation layer of an application and then display the chosen functionality in an Active Server Page within the portal interface.

AmeriKing is already on its way down the multigadget path. The Burger King franchisee currently has one for its Sagent Technology decision support system (DSS) that allows district managers to view two reports detailing the financial performance of the restaurants. Brizz and Manrique plan to do more extensive integration with the DSS system using XML in the coming months. Brizz says this will allow employees to access more reports and to query the system from the portal as opposed to the extremely basic report viewing that is available now.

An Outlook gadget available through the portal allows employees to access their e-mail both locally and remotely. AmeriKing intended to use the Outlook gadget that was already available from Plumtree, but it worked only for those who were accessing the mail server from within the corporate office. "Because we have so many people on the road and in the restaurants we absolutely needed for them to get to their e-mail through the portal," says Manrique.

Wittman-Hart also built a procurement gadget that lets employees order supplies from Boise Cascade via the portal. In addition, the company has plans to implement a travel and expense gadget that will work in conjunction with its Great Plains accounting system.