How To Magnify (In)Efficiency: Three Thoughts on Portals
Think for a minute about the progress your team has made in the first quarter of 2006. Has communication improved or collaboration increased? Have key employees shared their expertise with the team? A corporate portal can address these issues. But, while some organizations see formidable returns on investment, others do not see the expected results. Where do portals go wrong?
The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency. ~Bill Gates
With this thought in mind, i-Squared kicks off our countdown of Top Ten Portal Mistakes. As we cover mistakes #10, #9, and #8 in this issue, bear in mind that the secret to a successful, efficient portal lies in the planning.
#10, Lack of properly identifying cost and effort
We begin our countdown with this essential part of the planning process. Too often, the budget and planning goes only as far as the tool. "Most portal projects get dumped entirely in IT's lap and, as a result, suffer from misalignment with business needs, low adoption, and an unorganized overabundance of features," according to a Forrester report, How to Organize a Successful Portal Project.
A shortsighted, technology-focused approach ignores two critical components: process and user. Process is the component that makes and keeps the content and tools relevant. The user is the factor that either accepts or rejects the portal's usefulness. These components promote longevity. Without identifying the processes and users involved to maintain the portal, a number of problems occur, including outdated content and misuse by employees who were never trained to use it properly. No one adopts the portal, and it is left unused. Eventually, employees ask, "What's the use of a portal at all?" An essential part of planning is to identify how to make people a part of the effort.
The defense engineering firm Raytheon foresaw the need for people to commit and collaborate to make a portal work and planned accordingly to integrate it with the corporate process and culture. In its approach, Raytheon appointed a knowledge management design team, who grew into internal advocates for the knowledge management tools, and put a human face on the initiative.
When identifying cost and effort, resist seeing the portal as a tool alone and recognize it as a living system that requires interdisciplinary processes and people.
#9, Lack of identifying ROI
If you don't consider a portal an investment, take a look at the stats from the following companies who implemented portals as part of broad knowledge management initiatives.
- Ford documents a savings of over $1 billion since it began a knowledge management program in 1995 (Information Outlook, Sept. 2004).
- IBM saved $50 million a year in travel costs alone by connecting employees and resources virtually through a portal (Information Outlook, Sept. 2004).
- Caterpillar implemented portals at two communities that generated returns on investment of over 200 percent and 700 percent, totaling $1.5 million (Information Outlook, Sept. 2004).
- Halliburton determined a savings of $1.6 million in 2002 attributed to its knowledge management efforts (Knowledge Management, June 2003).
These numbers should sound neither extraordinary nor unattainable. A portal is supposed to bring a positive ROI. Among companies with a portal, 87 percent of those that determined ROI reported a positive return, according to an October 2003 survey by Line 56 Research. However, only 45 percent of the 522 companies in the survey took efforts to identify ROI at all.
From the very beginning of a portal project, determine objectives for ROI, and then devise plans to measure them. Here are some examples of areas where you can plan for savings:
- Printing costs
- Travel costs
- Training costs
- Cost to use other systems
- Development time
- Time spent on administrative tasks
- Time spent searching
Once you have identified where a portal can save your firm time and money, record your results, and keep the results visible to management. Leaders in the company will continue to provide support for the portal if they can see the (positive) results. With support from the top, the portal continues to progress and grow.
#8, Technology obstacles
When it comes to the deployment of portal software, companies reported the number one challenge to be the development of a company vision for what the portal will be (Line 56 Research, October 2003). Surprisingly, the solution to this obstacle is not all that technical: connect the efforts of your business leaders and technology experts.
"Getting technology experts involved early in the process gives them a better idea about the intentions and desires for the portal," said Jonathan Weber, information architect at i-Squared. "This allows them to knowledgeably select or develop the technology solutions and be more strategic about the implementation and architecture."
Once you have selected a portal team from both the business and technical sides, document the ideas, plans, and processes that the team develops. Your documentation provides the groundwork for team members and other employees to understand the expectations and business goals. Additionally, documentation enables new members of the portal team, both business and technical, to come up to speed.
The portal team must establish written software requirements. Because of the variety of portal technology that exists, requirements help technical members to select and implement the best technology for your environment. Seek technical members of your portal team with proven portal experience. You do not want someone to select your technology based on what they already know instead of what would help you meet your goals.
The upfront efforts you take to find the right people and tools pay off in the end. A client in the chemicals industry successfully uses a Sharepoint portal to provide employees access to critical business applications. Because the tools are accessable in one place, users can focus on work and not the tools. The portal saves hours of IT support that would be required to set up and assist employees with these business applications, which the portal allows them to access and use on their own.
To be continued…