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A portal to profits?

A properly administered enterprise portal can cast a positive reflection on your company.

For companies still recovering from information excess and process overload of the past years, enterprise portals offer a gateway to cost savings and efficiency improvement.

Portals often evolve through an enterprise first as an outlet for employees; then as an enhanced application aggregator; next as a content and service integrator; and finally as a collaborative business platform opened to partners and customers.

You could be the catalyst for portal development within your company. As you dive into portal implementation, you will likely evaluate multiple vendors and integrators and determine risks and rewards. But start by navigating the seven C’s of the portal launch–simple rules to steer your way to cost savings and efficiencies:

1. Confirm c-suite buy-in.
In the quest to organize information and processes in a personalized platform for all of constituents, you must wear multiple hats. Manage their expectations while maintaining a technical fluency about why the portal is a destination worth building.

Start by reminding executives how visionary they were to invest so much in ERP. Portals bring relevancy to ERP and extend applications across the enterprise. The portal’s layer of collaboration leverages ERP to deliver information that will enable users to better solve problems and serve customers.

Many industries have found specific niche benefits in portals that improve business processes. One healthcare client introduced a portal that enabled faster order processing. An insurance company’s portal was the source of uncovering information to detect fraud. Whether the value lies in personalized customer reports or simply on-time performance, the portal’s centralized access to information and applications allows you to refine raw data into useful metrics.

2. Construct a governance model.
Whether it’s a consortium of tech-savvy leaders from each business unit or the domain of a central department, the governance structure you choose determines your probability of success.

Poll your constituents; you’ll find in every department challenges that can be solved through a common collaboration platform. Salespeople need to keep pace with evolving messages in a rapidly shifting competitive landscape. The human resources department wants to handle more strategic tasks but is swamped with paperwork. Production teams need instant access to data and to draw from past tools to avoid recreating the wheel. And accounting needs the ability to spot exceptions and nuances in the numbers they’re crunching.

With one of our aerospace clients, the governance of his company’s portal lies in the communications department, and he has shepherded content ranging from instruction manuals to medical insurance forms to newsletters and sales force automation tools all into one system. Department designees meet with him once a month to ensure the portal is meeting their needs.

3. Check out other innovators.
Your company may already have standalone sites for specific business processes or single units, or you may have stopped a prior portal implementation in its tracks because of lack of consensus. One thing is for sure, though: someone in your industry has implemented a portal successfully. Learn from them.

To benchmark best practices, choose a standout company (or competitor) from an industry with business processes that are a lot like yours.

Benchmarking can mean borrowing as little or as much as you need. In one case, a financial institution modeled its taxonomy and infrastructure in a format similar to one a credit bureau had used. In another case, a retailer borrowed only the process for creating customized reports from the consumer products company whose portal it emulated.

4. Calculate return on investment.
Take a look at your company’s key metrics or business objectives, and map to these the critical areas in which your portal can have the most immediate, abiding impact.

For instance, if your company is a shipper, you can calculate how your portal could enable proactive notification and help shipments arrive on time more often for the top ten customers who comprise the majority of your business.

Or if your engineering firm requires teamwork across the globe, the ROI of a portal becomes a function of collaboration ability: One engineer can work on a project until the sun sets, and another in a different time zone can pick up her lead, leaving notes about updates. Allowing multiple teammates to collaborate without relying on email trails, paper sharing, or overnight-shipped high-density discs proves the value of a portal after the first successful project.

5. Create change.
Implementing a portal means "free agents" will now draw from and add to the collective company knowledge repository. This post-portal reality means data can now transform into information that leads to knowledge and more decisive action. This sea change requires change management.

From teaching fundamentals of access control to setting up metadata tag protocols, it is critical to put structure around changes in the way employees approach daily tasks.

One organization (a biotech company) enforces rules that make content additions and collaboration check-ins mandatory. As a result, they demonstrate to key stakeholders their compliance with industry regulations and maintain an employee base that is 100 percent educated on key information.

6. Classify priorities.
If you’re creating a portal to solve your most pressing business needs, it won’t be difficult to get basic functionality up and running for your employees. There are always other bells and whistles that you can add later. To start, let Column A reflect your requirements and Column B your wish list.

One mandatory item will be search capability. Information you put into your portal should be classified in pre-determined categories and tagged for a quick search. This could make everyone in your company more resourceful.

In addition to features that directly support your business objectives and help you reduce costs, increase efficiency, and even generate revenues most expediently, there are a variety of advanced capabilities to consider as you expand your portal. These may include Web services, online learning centers, instant messaging, and common calendars.

7. Conduct an adoption program.
Suppose you built a portal and nobody came. This was a scenario that one food company faced when it launched its enterprise portal. A portal requires perpetual input; and end-users’ collaboration in the portal space will build on its own success. An adoption program–a methodical initiative to communicate the portal’s benefits and encourage use–will bring your portal to full, vital life.

Gain user acceptance early, to get employees to use the portal significantly so you can justify continued spending and resources to maintain it and upgrade it. Training comes in many forms and is specific to your organizational culture. Some companies offer self-paced learning programs; others use videos, teasers, brochures, and special events around the launch of a portal to jumpstart use.

Take a bottom-up approach in promoting the portal. Any constituent who believes the portal is forced on them will reject it. The portal’s value will be clear to users who discover they can leverage it to save time spent on mundane tasks, connect with colleagues, or more easily solve problems.

Portals can be a center of convergence for business processes. If you do your job well and follow the seven steps, all your work should be seamless and the portal will truly open the floodgates of savings and efficiency as an organic extension of your company’s mission.

Kevin Foster is president of Atlanta-based Web development and consulting firm Macquarium Intelligent Communications, where he founded an enterprise portal practice. Macquarium serves clients such as UPS, Delta Air Lines, CIBA Vision, and Randstad. He can be reached at 404-554-4000 or via [email protected]

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