Fishbowl Solutions Oracle WebCenter Expertise takes it to South Africa: Q and A with Jerry Aber – Fishbowl’s enterprise architect

Fishbowl Solutions has been helping Oracle WebCenter (UCM, Stellent) customers throughout North America deploy, customize and optimize their WebCenter content management and portal systems for over 12 years now. During that time, Fishbowl has focused on delivering solutions that provide organizations the ability to solve their most challenging information management problems, while maximizing their WebCenter investments. Up until recently, almost all of Fishbowl’s 700+ WebCenter deployments have taken place in North America.

In 2011, Fishbowl announced its European expansion. This was fueled by the increased interest we were receiving from WebCenter customers throughout Europe. This was followed by our announcement regarding our partnership with John Sim. John has provided not only some feet on the street in the United Kingdom, but also expertise and thought leadership around mobile content management applications, responsive design, application development framework (ADF) and much more. John’s latest foray with Oracle technology was his “Avengers Assemble” application he built for the Oracle Social Network developer challenge at OpenWorld 2012.

Also in 2011, we met with some folks from the University of Pretoria, South Africa, at Collaborate in Orlando. I had the privilege of speaking with one of the gents, and he told me about how they had begun investing in Oracle WebCenter in 2009, but were having a lot of difficulty deploying it and building usable business applications. One such application they were looking to build was a Staff Portal – a one stop website where staff members at the university could come to find personalized, staff-related information. As I brought in more members of the Fishbowl team to chat and discuss how this business problem could be solved, the conversation ended with a passing comment from the South African gent that went something like “this all sounds great, but we are separated by the Atlantic Ocean”.

Fast forward some 18 months later, and my Fishbowl colleague, Jerry Aber, finds himself in South Africa for client meetings and to present at the South African Oracle Users Group. Jerry will also be making stops at the University of Pretoria, who Fishbowl has successfully completed several projects for including their staff portal (read the success story). How did this come to be? How did Fishbowl Solutions, who has traditionally done the vast majority of its WebCenter work in North America, win the University of Pretoria’s business and begin to help them lay out their WebCenter road map. Jerry Aber took a few moments out of his busy schedule to do a Question & Answer session to further detail Fishbowl’s relationship with the University of Pretoria.

Jerry Aber is the 2009 Oracle Content Management Architect of the Year and is currently working for Fishbowl Solutions in Consulting Services and Solutions Architecture. Prior to Fishbowl Solutions, Jerry spent 7 years working for MoneyGram International as a Software Development Manager in the areas of web/portal development, enterprise content management, business process management and enterprise reporting. He has been involved in strategic software development/integration, architecture, resource management, business process re-engineering and project/program management. Jerry can be reached at jaber@fishbowlsolutions.com.

Q: South Africa? How did Fishbowl Solutions get engaged with the University of Pretoria?

A: The University of Pretoria had heard about Fishbowl Solutions through other channels, but never thought a relationship would work given the extreme distance between the two parties. After chatting with them at Collaborate, conducting some web conferences, and exchanging numerous emails, Fishbowl Solutions and the University of Pretoria agreed to work together on some WebCenter projects.

This decision really came down to Fishbowl seeing an opportunity to help an organization start to leverage their WebCenter investment and solve their business problems. This factor alone outweighed the distance problem, and greatly motivated Fishbowl Solutions to begin the relationship.

Q: What were the business problems the University of Pretoria was looking to solve, and were they unique to Fishbowl Solutions’ capabilities?

A: The University was looking to build a staff portal that would provide a location where staff members could find information relevant to their roles, as well as collaborate and share information. A part of this was also getting the appropriate content into Oracle WebCenter Content, which would be the enterprise repository used to surface content to the portal. The University had an overly complex security model for WebCenter Content, and this had created a lot of frustration amongst the users who were having a hard time just getting started and adding documents, images, and other files to the Content Server.

Q: What were the various stages of the project that Fishbowl Solutions proposed?

A: The first thing that Fishbowl Solutions wanted to do was to level set on the University’s expectations with their WebCenter system. We had discussed their immediate need and project – simplify their security model and build a staff portal – but we also wanted to find out where else they wanted to utilize and leverage WebCenter. This is our Holistic Content Management consulting approach, where we help organizations put a plan together of how they can make WebCenter part of their information infrastructure instead of a disconnected, departmental solution.

What we learned from the University of Pretoria is that they were not unlike most organizations when it comes to content management. They wanted to utilize the information in their organization to help make decisions, streamline processes, and educate others. So WebCenter for them was a system they were planning to leverage more and more each year. Essentially, they wanted the staff portal to be their launch pad for a university-wide information system that integrated with other Oracle-based systems and applications, utilized standards-based technologies, and provided users with engaging and interactive experiences that kept them coming back.

Once we fully understood their long-term vision and plans with WebCenter, we could focus on their current staff portal project.

Q: What solution was implemented and why?

A: Fishbowl Solutions implemented its Intranet In A Box (IIAB) solution. This solution provides a framework that includes content profiles, JSR-286 portlets, and a user-defined menu navigation structure. IIAB was a good fit for the University because they wanted to have the content on the portal be contributed controlled by users and not IT. They also wanted to leverage what they already had purchased – WebCenter Content and Portal – and not spend additional money on 3rd-party licenses or for significant customization.

IIAB consists of a WebCenter Content bundle that includes profiles for adding images, a landing page and secondary page contribution, and personalization. It also consists of a WebCenter Portal Bundle that is essentially a WebCenter Space that becomes the container for the page template. The overall framework, consisting of the integrated Content and Portal elements, enables organizations to quickly realize a live site in less than 60 days.

Q: What are some of the results so far with the University of Pretoria and its Staff Portal?

A: The current University of Pretoria Staff Portal consists of 5 microsites and around 29 collaboration sites, including Academic, Staff, Senate and IT among others. They have seen an overall increase in collaboration and information sharing amongst staff members, and users are pleased with having a one-stop shop for role-based information. The portal has provided the necessary example of how the University wants to share information going forward.

Q: What does the University have planned for next iterations of the Portal?

A: They are looking at ways to make user access even easier, through single-sign on. They are also looking at ways to leverage enterprise search to improve the relevancy and accuracy of site search results.

Thanks for your time Jerry. Safe travels home!

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