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Educational Portal of the Americas
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Number: 71
Year: 2002
Author: Johann Van Reenen, Editor
Title: Digital Libraries and Virtual Workplaces. Important Initiatives for Latin America in the Information Age


According to a recent Forrester Research™ survey (Ante 2000) “the top three most important software purchases that technology execs will make in 2000 are customer service, software for managing Web pages, and programs that improve personalization”. A database of user profiles is the essential component needed for personalization, and a database of customers is the foundation of a customer service system. A portal, used in conjunction with such databases can address all of these three needs within a single system and interface. Portals are not only  interfaces, not only software tools, they are the basis for the next-generation systems of any business, enterprise and organization. A portal is a notion which brings together useful information technologies and powerful concepts.

It is not easier or less expensive to build a portal than it is to build other information systems, but the impact of having a portal is much more powerful. A portal can reach a wider audience, can be available 24 hours per day without the need for human operators, and can grow with the user requirements. One service that is very attractive in today´s global world is e-commerce (see Chapter2). This service is naturally embedded in the definition of a portal. Therefore, the implementation of an e-commerce function can be facilitated with the establishment of a portal.

There is a well-known lack of consolidated information about Latin America. Industries, government agencies, and private capital corporations worldwide are interested in learning more about Latin America. But this lack of information is an obstacle to investment in the countries that comprise the region and to their development. Building portals in Latin America can help the region overcome some of its informational problems. A portal can facilitate data gathering, analysis and querying. A portal can increase the exposure of an organization and the dissemination of information. With a function of e-commerce  included in the portal, a Latin American organization can have an incentive to gather data that can be sold. An illustrative example of a portal development effort in Latin America follows.

The Ibero-American Science and Technology Education Consortium (ISTEC) is a non-profit organization comprised of educational, research, and industrial institutions throughout the Americas and the Iberian Peninsula.  The Consortium has been established to foster scientific, engineering, and technology education, joint international research and development efforts among its members, and to provide a cost-effective vehicle for the application and transfer of technology. The objectives of the Consortium are to conceive, plan, and carry out activities of higher education, research and development, and technology transfer, for the purpose of facilitating scientific and technical progress of the Ibero-American countries. ISTEC is investing substantial resources in the development of a Science and Technology Education Portal. This portal will concentrate all the services that the consortium provides to its member institutions and will allow the offering of new services. The main purpose of this portal is to provide ISTEC with a multilingual (English, Spanish and Portuguese) real-time forum on Information Technology. ISTEC academic member institutions will be provided with the necessary infrastructure in terms of  hardware, software and protocols, that will allow them to run this system, to access all sources of data, information and knowledge available to the consortium, and to contribute significantly to the enlargement and improvement of  these collections. The system will provide mechanisms for data gathering, information retrieval, reporting and advanced data analysis for exploration and query answering. The data gathered through the portal will be integrated with ISTEC’s Distributed Database of expertise and activities. The industrial members of ISTEC will also benefit from the portal, it will give them access to the collections and it will give them an audience for their own products and services.

Currently there are several portals in Latin America, some of these have been developed with local resources, others were developed elsewhere for Latin American audiences. With the exception of some institutional portals, most of these portals were built for commercial purposes. But ISTEC’s portal is the kind of not-for-profit collaborative effort with the potential of providing many benefits to its academic member institutions.

Some areas where a portal would be very useful for Latin America are digital libraries, university curricula for undergraduate and graduate programs, and demographic information. Since  portal development is expensive and requires resources of varied nature, it is fundamental that the international organizations interested in the development of Latin America contribute to this effort by helping the interested institutions in locating the appropriate funding.