Home > Articles > Information Technology

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

Visualization Tools for Portal Organization

Structural organization techniques like taxonomies, facets, and metadata can aid information retrieval, but even with well-designed search queries that target particular subsets of content, a user can still be overwhelmed with the number of items returned by conventional search engines. Visualization tools effectively reduce information overload by mapping content to visual representations that aggregate content while highlighting significant relationships. For example, visualization tools can rapidly show a high-level structure, such as a site map, while allowing users to easily navigate to a particular area for more detail. In addition, these schemes depict content areas that users may not know exist and shows a broad context for content.

A number of different techniques are used to visualize content repositories such as portals. One technique, called focus+context, highlights one area (the focus) while showing the relationship of that area to other areas (the context). InXight's VizServer uses focus+context to allow users to navigate hyperlinked documents. A study at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), which spun off InXight to commercialize the visualization tools, found that users could browse 62% faster with a focus+context tool than with a traditional two-dimensional tree layout such as Microsoft Explorer [Pirolli et al.].

Relational navigation is a visualization technique that depicts database relationships rather than hyperlinks and is useful for browsing database-driven sites. ThinkMap from Plumb Design software is just one example of this type of tool.

Portals frequently integrate content from hyperlink sources, databases, file systems, and other repositories. In those cases, visualization constructs based on business processes and structures tend to work best. The case study on Center Partners describes one such application.

CASE STUDY: Visualization and Logical Restructuring Improve Customer Care Services at Center Partners

The outsourced customer care industry is demanding on all parties involved. Customer care center providers have to understand the details of their clients' business policies, products, and services and convey that understanding to callers with widely varying needs. Client companies entrust customer care centers to attract new customers, build customer loyalty, provide technical support, and provide other critical points of contact with their customers. Maintaining quality standards is essential. The agents who operate the centers are under the sometimes conflicting demands of maintaining quality service while minimizing the average call time. Training agents and providing them with rapid information retrieval tools is essential to the success of these operations. One customer care center, Center Partners (http://www.centerpartners.com), used enterprise portal and visualization-based information retrieval software to improve quality measures while reducing call time to the point of generating an additional $500,000 per year in revenue.

The Problem: Poorly Organized Distributed Content

Center Partners operates seven offices with 2,500 customer care agents throughout the United States to serve Fortune 500 clients. This customer care firm generates annual revenue of $100 million and serves customers in industries ranging from insurance and financial services to pharmaceuticals and high tech. This service provider, like many in this area, measures operational success by the time required to handle customer calls and the level of service quality provided. Reducing the average call-handling time increases the efficiency of the center; quality measures are required by contractual agreements with customers. Both objective measures are served by improving agents' access to information.

The breadth and depth alone of the information customer care agents must tap in the course of their work demands a structured content management mechanism. Unfortunately, Center Partners does not control its information sources; the clients do. It is not unusual for the firm to depend on corporate extranets designed for multiple purposes that lack the features needed for fast-paced call center operations. David Geiger, Chief Information Officer of Center Partners, reported one client changed 2,800 extranet pages in a single month. “The dynamic nature of the content made it nearly impossible for a busy agent to be up-to-date on the latest information. Moreover, the site, as is common with most Web sites, was difficult to navigate and did not offer any useful search capabilities” [TheBrain Technologies 2002]. Even well-designed customer sites are more likely suited for online shopping than the kind of troubleshooting tasks faced by agents.

Since Center Partners could not redesign its customers' sites, the company instead deployed a middle-tier content organization application in its portal that allowed them to organize content in a manner that better fits the way the agents work. Figure 1.6 shows how a middle tier hides the underlying complexity of the application.

01fig06.gifFigure 1.6. A middle tier can provide a logical organization that reflects users' understanding of a domain without requiring changes to the underlying implementation.

The Solution: Visualization and Logical Restructuring

Center Partners chose BrainEKP from TheBrain Technologies Corporation (http://www.thebrain.com), an enterprise knowledge portal tool with strong visualization and search features, to provide a middle layer for the new navigation scheme without redesigning customer content. BrainEKP completely resides on Center Partners servers; it is external to customer sites and requires no changes on the customers' part. Domain experts at Center Partners first organized content into topics that support particular tasks, such as describing a refund policy or troubleshooting a service problem. Each topic (called a thought in TheBrain's terminology) provides links to content distributed across the Web, intranets, file systems, and databases.

Unlike typical search engines, selecting a topic in BrainEKP immediately displays related topics as well as content specific to the topic of interest. For example, navigating to the Repair topic displays the Tier 1 Repair Website while depicting links to vendor-specific repair information, as shown in Figure 1.7. BrainEKP also provides full-featured search using an embedded version of Convera RetrievalWare. To further improve the effectiveness of BrainEKP, Center Partners allows agents to customize their information sources and add their own notes and links.

01fig07.jpgFigure 1.7. BrainEKP depicts the logical relationship between topics while displaying detailed content on the topic of focus.

The return on investment was clear for Center Partners. Quality increased enough to generate an expected additional $500,000 in revenue over the course of a year and dropped the average call-handling time by 43 seconds.

Best Practices

Center Partners realized these gains by recognizing a number of best practices, including the following:

  • Use visualization to reduce the time required to retrieve information.

  • Customize the logical organization of content through a middle tier rather than implementing a single organizational scheme that serves all usage models.

  • Allow users to customize the portal to meet their particular needs and style.

Content used with permission of Harlan Hugh, chief technology officer and co-founder of TheBrain; David Gerger, CIO Call Center Partners, Chris Kneeland, chief learning officer, Call Center Partners, TheBrain Technologies Corporation.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020