Replacing or Redesigning your Portal? Consider a Community (Part 1)

James Davidson | October 17, 2014

In my role as a Senior Strategist at 7Summits, I have the benefit of meeting with a lot of clients during their discovery to discuss strategy, solution architecture and implementation roadmaps. One of the growing trends that I see in many corporations across all verticals and sizes (Mid, Large and Enterprise) is the need to redesign, upgrade or replace a generation 1.0 portal, while also investing in adding a social community to augment the collaboration gaps ((of their portal solution). As we delve a little deeper into the the portal vs. community discussion, the requirements typically fall into two buckets:

  • Portal Solution: Personalization, Workflow, Access/Permissions, Document Management, Dashboards, Account Management, Reporting, Quicklinks to applications
  • Community Solution: Streamlined Communications, User Profiles and People Search, Topical Groups and Communities, Discussions, Notifications, Content Management

Typically these projects are viewed as related, but separate. And sometimes they are being driven by different internal stakeholders with a different vision or charter in silos.

According to a Gartner’s research:

“Too many portals have failed, falling short of their promised value, scarcely meeting needs and delivering few measurable results.”

This aligns with what we are seeing at 7Summits as we evaluate the merits of a portal project redesign or upgrade over a social community. Often the original project sponsor and/or the technology platform are blamed. As we talk to client stakeholders we hear things like:

  • “We had no strategy”
  • “This was an IT-lead project”
  •  “We focused too much on the technology, and not enough on the user”
  •  “We bought the wrong portal package”
  • “We over customized the solution and never upgraded”
  • “We ran out of budget and never delivered on our vision”
  • … and the list goes on.

Sometimes there is primary research in the form of an end user survey or interviews.  As we review the feedback and comments, it generally falls into these areas:

  • Content is static and hard to find
  • User interface is old and hard to navigate
  • Doesn’t work on mobile/tablet
  • Lackluster adoption – no one visits the portal
  • People work around the portal
  • Functionality is too hard to use
  • No guidance or help
  • Limited to no social engagement features and capabilities
  • Search results can be overwhelming
  • No personalization – one size fits all approach

Given this reality, how can we take the best ingredients of what portals do well and extend their value into our current hyper-connected social and mobile world? I would like to propose another way, or at least point of view for you to consider.

Killing two birds with one stone = Enter the Community Portal

Changing the generation 1.0 portal with a newer 2.0 solution will not address some of the critical gaps that still exist with a static content and push communication centric environment. According to Gartner’s Portals for Mortals: Eight Keys to People-Centric Portal Strategies research:

 “Too many portal initiatives fail or grow stagnant over time. Organizations managing portal efforts must recognize and respond to the new reality, where end users wield control, the social dynamic ensures adoption and business benefits derive only from offering value to the end user.”

Additionally Forrester seems to represent a similar point of view in their study Your Next Portal Should Be An Engagement Workplace:

“Many organizations face an aging and ineffective existing portal infrastructure. Upgrading will require a very different strategy that will not include anything that looks like an existing portal. A mature and once decidedly unsexy technology, portals (or at least the use case for portals) are hot again. These “engagement workplaces” will combine traditional publishing and employee self-service functionality with enterprise social, document collaboration, and extended transactional capabilities wrapped with pervasive mobile access.”

Work and getting work done, be it with customers, partners or employees is inherently collaborative and relationship based with people at the center, not content. The features of a Portal and Community can be combined to create a Community Portal that bridges the gaps of traditional portal solutions (mobile access, personalization, easy configuration) while adding the benefits of social technologies and online community. The differences between a Community and Portal can be characterized in the following diagrams:

Traditional Portal Social Community
Disparate support and communication environment Centralized and integrated social community
flat_portal_1 community_portal_2

Traditional Websites and Portals vs. Community Portals

  Traditional Websites and Portals Community Portals
Creation:
Communication Top-down, structured Bottom-up, horizontal
Media Text heavy, documents Text, video, graphics, audio, “people”
Knowledge Sources Communication teams, formal “experts” (top-down cascade) All members, experts and advocates (top-down, bottom-up)
Structure Based on organization/lines of business and or products/services Based on member role, location and interests
Content Model One size fits all; post it – they will come Targeted/personalized compelling; subscriptions and alerts
Consumption:
Discovery Search is limited, varies by applications, hunt-and-peck Google-like search, improved findability (people, places, content)
Display Fragmented, poor user interface, multiple sources Consolidated user experience, aggregated dashboards
Involvement Detached: view and browse (some commenting) Engaged: participate and contribute
Access PC based, restricted Mobile, flexible
Timeliness Delayed, static Real time, current

Part 2: Building the Business Case for Convergence

In my next blog I will cover the financial justification including measures of success for building a Community Portal, including how to get started.

Stay tuned! 🙂

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