Planning a Successful Enterprise Portal Implementation

By Marc Rahimzadeh

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A portal provides a standardized way to efficiently manage the creation, deployment and administration of multiple Web sites and composite Web applications to multiple audiences.

For the enterprise, a portal implementation can result in the breakdown of communication barriers and increased operational efficiencies, while at the same time reducing operating costs and duplicated efforts. Determining whether your organization needs a portal might seem easy, but gearing up for successful implementation requires some careful planning and a close look at your overall business strategy and communication goals.

The need to deliver a consistent message (internal or external) and highly relevant information to diverse audiences is one of the many benefits of a portal implementation. Planning a solution for diverse audiences also presents several challenges, including beginning to design a system that will provide the most value, building programs to drive end-user adoption and communicating the relevancy of the project.

An enterprise portal has the potential to change the way business initiatives are accomplished and key messages communicated. Without a clear plan of attack, planning for a large-scale implementation can be intimidating. The following are five key phases of the development lifecycle.

  • Define: Create vision, set goals and identify end users

    Assemble an eclectic task force including stakeholders from various divisions to contribute to the development of the solution. Your initial analysis should pay equal attention to technical requirements, business needs and the portal's ability to adapt to an evolving business. Understanding your current and desired landscape will begin to show how each business unit could benefit from the portal and help you to identify quick wins for rapid user adoption.

  • Secure: Gain top-down support

    Never underestimate the power of enterprise-wide adoption. Getting leadership onboard in the early stages is crucial. However, it's equally important to secure buy-in from end-user employees. You need executive endorsement to get the project underway, but you also need the support of the underlying departments that ultimately will be responsible for mobilizing the portal. Be sure to educate employees in advance about application releases and upgrades and develop a plan for communicating the solution's benefits at a departmental or role-specific level.

  • Design: Develop the solution

  • Deploy: Launch the portal's first application(s)

    Phased rollout is critical. Adopting a "start small, get it right and replicate success" development mantra will pay long-term dividends. Follow one of these two-phased approaches, depending on your company's infrastructure and culture:

    Common Denominator: The "mile-wide, inch-deep" approach evaluates the enterprise as a whole and identifies core portal capabilities that can potentially benefit every business unit.

    Isolate and Permeate: This grassroots/viral approach involves piloting a portal application in one business unit, then modifying it to fit other divisions.

  • Operate: Maintain the environment while creating new solutions and extending the platform's functionality

    Enterprise portals should be viewed as a long-term, ongoing investment that evolves and grows with the changing needs of your business. Don't make the mistake many organizations make by taking a short-sighted view of the solution and thereby missing out on your portal's potential to add value over time. It is vital when the portal is rolled out, that current needs and expectations are met, while keeping an eye on where the solution can provide more value to your organization in the future. This will help you to keep the solution relevant to your organization and maintain its status as valuable technology that is central to the organization's knowledge management efforts. In order to stay ahead of demands and changing needs, a second component of this step is to institute feedback and communication mechanisms to open a line of communication between end users and developers.

  • Enterprise portals can create a variety of business benefits for your organization. This increasingly popular single-channel approach creates greater opportunity for information visibility across the enterprise and can serve as a knowledge management asset for your business units.

    Implementing an enterprise portal must be viewed a strategic investment in your organization, not just a technology solution in order to improve its chances for success. With the right planning, including getting top-down support and understanding and aligning strategic and business priorities, your enterprise portal can meet current expectations while maintaining enough flexibility for future growth. With the right technology and development partners, implementation can be less daunting than you think.

    Marc Rahimzadeh is director of the Enterprise Portal practice at Macquarium, a Web development and consulting firm that has developed portals for companies such as Delta Air Lines, Merial and UPS. Email him at rahimzadeh@macquarium.com, or visit www.macquarium.com for more information.