Planning a Successful Portal

By Marc Rahimzadeh

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Determining "Does my organization need 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.

Planning a solution for a diverse corporate audience presents several challenges including: designing 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:

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.

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 will be ultimately 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.

Develop the solution: Develop a holistic governance model that:

  • sets the best practices, process and rules for how each audience will interact with the portal;
  • defines the process rules for how and why groups and user roles are created and modified;
  • defines the technical standards for portal implementation; and
  • ensures that the portal is configured to provide audience segmentation in a way that content distribution bottlenecks are eliminated.
  • Develop an infrastructure that:

  • delivers quickly;
  • scales easily; and
  • provides long-term flexibility.
  • 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.

    The LTV

    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 of many organizations 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.

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