A portal is simply a Web site that is designed to collect
and organize information and operations for your business. Setting your
strategy for a new or improved company Web site is a bit more complicated than
simply launching a Web page.

The first part of your business portal strategy should be
determining the audience you want to serve. If the focus is your customers and
partners on an extranet, you have a set of features you want to consider for
your site. If your target is an intranet portal for your employees, you have
a different set of features to consider. Here is
a look at each of these business portal applications for help in setting your

Features for the extranet

There is no one answer to which features are mandatory and
which are optional in portal design. Despite the lack of agreement on a single
list, everyone agrees that there are several important features that you should
consider when setting your extranet portal strategy. Those features include:

  • Search: Your search functionality should be able
    to query both structured and unstructured content by keywords. Structured data are the databases and
    transactional systems, such as an ERP system. Unstructured content includes all
    of the office documents, proposals, and other information that cannot be easily
    entered into a database.
  • Consistent, easy-to-use interface: Portals
    typically have a consistent interface which flows from the home page down
    through every area of the portal. The interface is typically designed
    specifically to make using the portal very easy. This may include breadcrumbing
    to link to higher levels in the hierarchy; and hovering menus, which allow for an
    expanded list of links.
  • Minimal client deployment: Portals typically
    do not require that the users install new software. This generally means that
    portals are Web-based.
  • Discussions: Some portals provide discussion
    forums where users can interact with one another and with the portal host.
    These forums are designed to strengthen the relationship between users and the host
  • Aggregation: Pulling links and content together
    into a single place helps users know where to go if they are looking for
    information. Aggregation allows a user to interact with several systems from
    one single user interface.
  • Alerts: Users can sign up for e-mail notification
    when the information that they are interested in changes. This can include both
    key performance indicator changes and changes in information within documents.
    Alerts shift the model of user interaction from a pull model, where users must
    go check the portal, to a push model, where they will be informed when
    something of interest on the portal changes.
  • Self service: Portals can be a home for a
    variety of self-service applications, which allow customers, employees, and
    others to take care of their own needs.

With the features listed above you can create an interactive
environment where clients and other partners can find what they are looking for
and interact in an easy-to-use way that should increase users of your extranet.

Features for the intranet

In addition to the features that you should consider for an extranet
there are special considerations for intranet deployments. You should consider
additional features for your intranet, because intranet users typically stay
connected for longer periods of time than extranet users. The additional
features include:

  • Digital dashboard: A dashboard lets you display
    key status indicators for several business processes and systems on a single
    screen, giving the user a quick overview of overall status and allowing rapid
    identification of problems.  Digital
    dashboards offer an opportunity for executives to get a complete view of the
    overall landscape of the organization, including portions of the organization
    that cannot be reduced to a set of key performance indicators.
  • Personalization: The ability for groups and
    individual users to customize the way that the information is displayed.  Filtering content to the information that a
    group is interested in and being able to change the location of the information
    on the screen is considered an important way in which portals create a
    user-friendly experience.
  • Knowledge management:Your employees hold the keys to most of the information in your organization.  Portals provide a
    repository for the information that employees have developed through
    experience.  Portals help to broaden the
    usefulness or leverage of the knowledge that the organization already
  • Collaboration:Some portals provide tools necessary to facilitate better
    collaboration.  This might include the
    presence of information to help identify when coworkers are available, or lists
    to help organize tasks, events, and announcements. 
  • Distributed control:One of the challenges that many IT organizations face is trying to
    maintain their existing intranet systems.
    Distributed control via a content management system allows individual
    owners to manage the content aspects of the portal in their areas.

Defining your business portal

Just knowing what a portal is will not help you define what
your business portal should look like. For that, you’ll have to evaluate the business problems facing your organization
and how a portal strategy can be formed to solve those problems.  From there, you can select the features that
you need to implement in order to solve that business problem.

One of the greatest challenges is creating a portal project that
is both large enough to be of interest to the users and small enough to be able
to become functional in a reasonable period of time. Portals can demonstrate
clear value, but only when they have a targeted business problem to solve and
an overall architecture to fit into.

When defining your portal, first make sure that you’ve
identified a small number of projects or initiatives that will benefit most
from the portal. Develop a solid plan on how those problems will be solved with
process revisions and automated support through the portal.  Second, make sure that you allow for a small
amount of time to put in provisions for larger, enterprise-wide solutions when
they are ready.

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