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Web Portal Software Best Practices

by Siv Rauv

02 Jul 2020

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Portal solutions come in many forms; a supplier portal, dealer portal, patient records portal, online banking portal, student portal, member’s portal, the list goes on!

Regardless of the form they take, all portals exist to bridge the communication and information gap between organisations and their stakeholders, in a secure and scalable way.

Information is collected from different sources into a centralised and customised interface for users to easily access at their convenience.

Build secure and personalised information and content hubs for internal and external stakeholders, integrated to your existing business systems and tools.

Here are best practices to follow to ensure your web portal meets the needs of your end users.

Web Portal Software Framework

1. Lay the right foundations

Gather information

Who needs access to the portal and what information from your organisation do they need? Start by undertaking practical research and gathering relevant data. The narrower your audience, the more specific the functionality you decide on will need to be. It is not unusual to have to show personalised content on the portal for different groups of users e.g. departments, location or audience type.

This typically involves creating a research plan (with timeframes), collecting survey data, meeting with stakeholders in relevant departments and interviewing end users.

Determine your strategy and goals

How does your portal contribute to your organisation’s strategy and goals? What difference could it make? Does it present opportunities?

Next, gather key operational strategies and roadmaps from different departments including Communications, IT, Marketing and Brand, Digital, HR and Culture, Sales and major lines of business.

From all this information you should be able to spot specific opportunities and dependencies that could be part of your portal strategy. This will also go a long way in helping you get buy-in from executives.

Here are the key steps involved.

  • Document what you have in place
  • Identify the gaps in capabilities
  • Identify technology to retain
  • Identify dependencies
  • Articulate your strategy

Decide on a governance plan

In order for a portal to offer real value to end users, it needs to be regularly updated with new content. Often this responsibility is split out to different areas of the business; with different departments maintaining their own sections. Unfortunately, as staff become busy with their daily tasks, updating the portal can become a non-priority. This leads to outdated and redundant content.

Even when it is regularly updated, you need to ensure the information is appropriate and consistent with what is expected. And, of course, that the right people have access to the right information.

This is where a governance plan can help. While the specifics will vary depending on your portal and your organisation, it generally involves:

  • Clearly defining who are the administrators and the publishers of the portal, and what sections they are responsible for managing.
  • Establishing clear guidelines on creating, updating and removing content.
  • Determining security permissions and access for well-defined roles and groups for staff to be added to. Periodically checking if roles need to be re-defined based on organisational changes.
  • Establishing content creation and approval processes with workflows including who is responsible for approval capabilities.
  • Periodically checking the portal for outdated and redundant content. 

2. Understand the end user perspective

Access

How much of the content is accessible to those who are not logged in? For example, a school portal used by parents, students and staff, will show anonymous users a login page, whereas a member portal used to deepen customer engagement on a website might show several sections and ask members to only login to access personal data. Is access required within a corporate network?

The user journey

Think about how users will navigate through the portal. How will they use the portal? How can they access the login page? How can they login? What happens after they login? Do they need to login again to other systems or can you offer single sign-on capabilities for your portal?

The unexpected

Can you add meaningful error messages when users stumble onto a 404 error page or fail to log into the portal? Is there a self-service password reset option? Can they easily contact your team if something goes wrong? Plan for the unexpected to ensure a seamless user experience!

Design and content

Ensure there is a consistency of branding, colours and fonts with your corporate branding strategy. Will announcements be targeted to specific users based on user repository organisation? Is there content and applications that will change depending on their role?

Accessibility compliance

Your portal should be accessible to all publishers and end users including those with visual disabilities. International standards, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), exist to provide guidelines for web accessibility.

Are administration screens AA compliant? Is the core authoring experience AA compliant? Is there text accompanying images? Is the text easily readable against the background colour? 

3. Think about the technical aspects

Basic security

Your portal must be secure. It contains sensitive information that is privy to your organisation and specific users. Are the right standards and features in place to ensure that your organisation and employees’ information is fully protected?

Identity management

How will credentials be verified? Is the portal a good fit with your organisation’s approach to identity management? Does it integrate with Active Directory or Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP)? Having single sign-on to your portal is a big win and important for user adoption.

On-premises vs cloud

Everything from security policies surrounding your data to future organisational strategy might dictate whether you need to implement an on-premises solution, a fully managed hosted solution, a cloud-based solution or a hybrid solution.

Ensure you read the small print here, as the cloud and hosted versions of the same offering may have differences.

Demands on the internal IT team

Thinking ahead, what are the demands on your IT team to support the solution? Will you need to employ extra staff and or do you have in-house capabilities? This could significantly add to costs.

Platform requirements and compatibility with existing landscape

There are going to be some key platform requirements such as server setup, operating system and database system which need to be taken into account. There will also be hardware specifications and requirements around mobile devices, as well as software considerations. There may also be wider implications of compatibility with your main technology stack.

Future technology roadmap

A portal needs to be fit for the future. Is it compatible with your organisation’s future technology roadmap? Are there future integrations to consider or new hardware that could have an impact?

Regulatory and legal considerations

If you’re working in a regulated industry like financial services, or if you’re a listed company, you’ll know there may be additional regulatory and legal considerations to take into account. Your IT team will probably be very aware of these, but involve your colleagues who handle risk management too if necessary.

Hosting and support agreements

If you’re going for a hosted solution, IT will need to review the hosting and support agreements to see if the right standards, security aspects, service levels and costs work for them. Does the portal come with failover protection in case of server outages?

Technical complexities in getting the solution deployed

Deployment, particularly for an on-premises solution, needs to be carefully planned. Is this easy or a huge complex operation? Think about infrastructure, costs, security (backups, updates etc.), access and software performance.

Any dependencies

Your portal should have the capability to integrate with other technologies already in your organisation such as a CRM, ERP, HR system, collaboration solution, document management system or specialised industry software such as the Synergetic Management System for schools.

Will you simply link to it, embed the functionality into your portal or undertake backend integration to surface specific data into your portal? You need to consider both the resources required to build integrations and the resulting value for end users and the business benefits.

Tip: Due to resource and time restrictions, you may opt for a phased approach, with certain integrations built at a later stage post launch. This will allow you to gather feedback on whether the end user believes that such an integration is worthwhile, as well as to launch the solution faster.

Next Steps

Finding the right web portal software for your organisation requires a well thought out planning process. Get insights on choosing the right solution for your needs in our web portal evaluation guide.

We share insider tips we've gained from years of working with 1000+ organisations including Volkswagen, Target and the Fair Work Ombudsman.

We take you through the entire process of successfully choosing and implementing a new portal solution that truly provides value for your audience.

Web Portal Software Guide - Features and Capbilities

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