The Proper Care and Feeding of Portals: Three More Tips
Is your portal as responsive as a trained retriever, or is it an out-of-control beast? What makes the difference between a portal employees love and rely on, and a portal that just instills fear and frustration in everyone that uses it?
In our last issue, we kicked off our Top Ten Portal Mistakes with some planning issues commonly overlooked in portal development. In this issue, mistakes #7, #6, and #5 introduce some of the lifecycle-related issues that can keep any portal from thriving.
#7 Lack of Change Management
A 2004 study by iUpload revealed that 50 percent of the companies surveyed reported out-of-date content on their portals and intranets. Content becomes stale when people forget that a portal is a living system! Its lifeblood is fresh content. Without proper care, all of the planning and resources to implement a portal is for naught because stale content can kill the portal by driving users away. "Frustrated users quickly give up the portal, defaulting to established communication tools like e-mail and phone calls," according to TechRepublic , Dec. 2002.
Avoid this fate by incorporating change management as part of the portal project. Change management is a process that ensures the content of your portal is reviewed, updated, and maintained. You should define a process and assign responsibility for maintaining content, right from the start. Not having a defined process makes the problems worse. According to usability expert Jakob Nielsen, "as time passes, the amount of stale portal content grows. Portal managers have therefore started explicit efforts to combat outdated information. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service's Project CleanSweep audits pages across its portal and tells owners of outdated content that will be removed by a certain date if it's not refreshed" (Albertbox, Oct. 2005).
#6 Lack of Ownership
Whose portal is it anyway? An often overlooked component of portal planning is ownership. This is a tricky beast in organizations where portals require care and feeding from several different groups. An owner must wrangle competing goals to be successful. At the management level, corporations are looking to invest resources and they want to see a return on that investment. At the business user level, employees are looking for information they can use in their work. Who's the best owner to juggle these requirements?
Joshua Duhl, an analyst with International Data Corp, states that IT departments have traditionally taken an ownership role "because IT has to rationalize all the budgets and the investments" (Portals Magazine, May 2004). Conflicting goals creep in when looking at keeping users engaged. Quinton Wall, a developer with BEA Systems, points out that "a portal is only as good as its content," and to achieve this goal Wall argues that "a portal must be able to be administered by business, not IT" (Dev2Dev, Jan. 2006).
These issues can intimidate any potential candidates from taking ownership. However, the lack of an owner all but guarantees failure for the portal project. The owner's role is to balance the strategic business needs for distributing information against the practical IT-related issues of implementing and maintaining new technology.
#5 Lack of an Implementation Plan
At i-Squared, we've seen the issues that occur when developers plug every available feature into a new portal without considering how relevant they are. This everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach leaves you with an uncontrollable creature, instead of a useful portal. According to Wall, "a successful portal implementation defines what network it wants to build and what message it wants to communicate" (Dev2Dev , Jan. 2006). An implementation plan is the key to identifying what features to use and what content to choose.
"Considering the reason for a (portal) is the best way to identify its shape," according to Ken Winell, CEO of Econium, Inc. (www.econium.com, May 2004). This approach considers the user's needs, the way people work, and what they need to get a job done. Wall suggests that you "decide early on what you want to get out of the portal. The answer to this question should drive how your application is implemented and promoted."
While we discussed stale content and maintenance earlier, it is just as important to make sure that the first content you put into the portal is useful. An October 2003 benchmarking study by Line56 Research and Portals Magazine found that "more than one in every five respondents believe that their organization has an 'empty portal', and respondents with an empty portal were far less likely to report a positive ROI." Planning what information goes into the portal is just as important as how that information will be distributed.
"Going live does not mean the completion of a (portal) project," Wall states. Planning for a portal is much like the care and feeding of any creature. You need to make decisions early on about what you want, who is responsible, and what goes into keeping it healthy. Avoiding these mistakes can keep your portal responsive, well liked, and active for years to come.
To be continued...