Development of the HKU Campus
What is Portal?
When will the portal be needed?
Desirable features of a portal
Campus Portal Development at the University of Hong Kong
1. What is Portal?
"Portal" has in the recent two years become an increasingly popular term
being mentioned and discussed in the IT sector and many organizations.
The Q&A web page that is put up by CREN (Collaboration Research and
Education Network): http://www.cren.net/know/techtalk/events/portals.html#questions
- would give some idea about what a portal is. In short, it is a web system
that provides the functions and features to authenticate and identify the
users and provide them with an easy, intuitive, personalized and user-customizable
web-interface for facilitating access to information and services that
are of primary relevance and interests to the users. To the organization
that sets up the portal, it is a system that provides versatile functions
for the organization to catalogue or organize collections of different
and multiple sources of information and service resources for dissemination
to many users according to their specific privileges, needs and interest.
Hence, the main purpose of setting up a portal is to bring the vast information
and service resources available from many sources to many users in an effective
"Many to many in an effective manner" should be the essence of a portal
system. As a matter of fact, long before the concept of portal was explored
by IT people in trying to reap the potential values and benefits that could
be provided by using Web technologies, the term "Portal system" has been
consistently used in the field of medical and anatomy studies to represent
the important system within our body that very effectively brings blood
from the many capillaries connecting to our digestive system to the many
fine blood vessels inside our liver.
2. When will the Portal be needed?
Nowadays, many organizations are making extensive use of the web to disseminate
information and provide services to their users, say their staff members,
customers, etc. To cope with the various needs of different users, the
numerous types of information and services that can be available to all
kinds of users would be grouped together and presented on the web according
to the nature of the operational functions. In general, this means
that the information and services are grouped based on the division of
the service-providing departments, and the users must have some idea about
what kind of information or services could be provided by which department
in order to gain access to the required information or service without
much difficulty. Very often, it is not the case because a user may know
quite little about the departments or there could be too many departments
and too many kinds of services of which only a small subset would be of
relevance or interests to the user. Under such circumstances, a user would
face the problem of information overload and find it quite difficult to
locate the needed information or service from the many service offerings.
As it is the trend that organizations are increasingly making extensive
use of web applications for information dissemination and service delivery
to the users, the just mentioned difficulty that could be encountered by
users due to information overload would become a more severe and obvious
problem that needs to be resolved.
To alleviate the problems described, i.e. to improve the user-friendliness
and to enable convenient access to the different kinds of information and
services mounted on the web by users, it would be desirable to set up a
portal for channeling the vast information resource and many services to
different users in an efficient and effective manner so that when a user
can be identified by the portal, personalized information and services
which are relevant or of interests to the user would be presented to him
according to his profile.
3. Desirable features of a Portal
A portal should support the following desirable functions and features:
Allowing different information- and service-providing departments to set
up and update their own information and services tailored specifically
for different user groups according to the common user profiles (such as
grades, departments associated, etc.) and the specific needs of these user
groups at specific times.
Presenting automatically the information and services that a user would
need according to his profile at the appropriate time.
Allowing a user to select the information and services that are his interests
and to customize their presentation.
Setting up information and services from users' perspective rather than
from the angle of convenience of the services providers.
Supporting the "Single-sign-on" feature so that a single sign-on step would
enable the user to gain access to the different information resource and
services that are supported by different application systems provided by
different departments. Technically, this feature can be facilitated
by means of implementing a common organization-wide LDAP (Light-weight
Directory Access Protocol) service and CAS (Central Authentication Service).
4. Platform Considerations
Portal development is a way to integrate the different web-based applications
for supporting deliveries of information and services to form a convenient,
effective and unified system through which different users can have easy
and intuitive access to their needed information and services. Since these
web applications for supporting the information and service deliveries
could be set up by different departments in an organization, e.g. production,
marketing, public relation, research, finance, human resources, etc., the
choice of a system platform for portal development would depend on the
platform(s) employed for hosting the information and service applications.
Many commercial application software vendors have offerings of portal
products that can readily integrate together with their families of application
software products, e.g. ERP. On the other hand, there are also a number
of open-source and sharable portal software initiatives that would help
organizations to adopt in-house development for setting up portal facilities.
5. Campus Portal Development at the University of Hong
At the University of Hong Kong, Computer Centre is now setting up a
Campus Portal based on the uPortal of JA-SIG to enable convenient and effective
communications among University members, and the University Libraries have
also set up MyLibrary as the Libraries' service portal. The Campus
Portal at HKU will provide a single-sign-on entry to the e-mail and other
university-wide network communications functions. At the same time,
the portal will also provide personalized interface to the computer applications
for supporting e-learning, e-administration, online library services, and
other services that are commonly needed and important to the daily life
of individual students and staff members, such as those for student services,
health, IT facilities, leisure, etc. The Campus Portal being developed
will also provide the function of allowing individual users to include
their interested Internet information resources as part of their own tailored
Campus Portal service. The Centre has planned for a soft launch of
an initial version of the HKU Campus Portal in January 2003. We shall
provide more information about his development in the next issue of our
P.T. Ho, Deputy Director, Computer Centre
Tel: 2859 2491