Editor's note: DM Review would like to welcome Shari back as a columnist. She'll present a consultant's view of BI, beginning with this look at the self-service aspect of customer portals.
Log onto Yahoo! and you're on a portal. That is why most people understand, at least instinctively, what a portal is. Simply defined, it is an aggregation point for content, functions and features, using Web-based technology and dynamic channels to access existing applications in order to create an interface with a unifying theme. It is the interface between any particular user and the information he or she needs or wants for the day ahead or the task at hand.
Portals are very much on the minds of business and government leaders. According to Gartner, many surveys conducted in 2005 show enterprise portals on CIOs' lists of top 10 technology focus areas. Forrester Research reports strong growth in portal development and usage, especially in financial services, retail and government. My own work confirms this trend: business and government requests for help with portals are increasing substantially year to year.
This growth can be attributed to the key benefit of portals: achieving excellence in employee communication and productivity as well as customer management and service. Ongoing research into the characteristics of high-performance businesses shows that the most successful organizations are those that can provide timely information to employees through technology so they can deliver an excellent, branded experience at every customer touchpoint. Organizations that recognize the power of portals are pursuing portal projects to accomplish three important goals:
1. Enable customer and employee self-service. According to The Yankee Group 2004 TCO Survey, 82 percent of respondents cited employee self-service as a primary business driver for portal-based initiatives; 80 percent cited improving customer and partner self-service. Greater employee self-service was key for a leading global financial services firm. Following a merger, the firm had a corporate intranet environment residing on a wide range of technology architectures, featuring vastly different user interfaces, resulting in high total cost of ownership and poor communication among employees. They developed a common technology infrastructure to support the disparate content management and portal services, and managed the migration effort to the new, shared environment. The result is the world's largest financial services portal of its kind, with more than 200,000 users processing as many as 750,000 transactions each day. The benefits include fast and easy access to information, unprecedented flexibility to update information and change functionality, and reduction of technology infrastructure and support costs.
2. Enhance business processes and services. Complex business processes, such as a highly integrated supply chain, require that many individuals, often across numerous organizational boundaries, coordinate their activities and respond appropriately to changing conditions, frequently in near real time. Portals are critical to providing up-to-the-minute data and instant response capabilities. The U.S. Department of Commerce National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides an example of an organization benefiting from enhanced processes and services as a result of innovating their portal infrastructure. NIST developed a portal that gives the nine Department of Commerce bureaus that NIST serves centralized real-time access to business systems, information, and reporting and analysis tools. With easier access to integrated, current data, users have more time for data analysis and informed decision-making. Now NIST is expanding the portal's functionality, rolling it out to additional Department of Commerce bureaus and extending the portal to serve as a gateway for public users.
3. Comply with legislation. Executives worldwide are concerned about complying with stringent new regulatory requirements, notably the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and Basel II. To be in compliance, companies must be able to integrate, access, analyze and store both the structured data (e.g., transactions) and the unstructured information (e.g., documents) that represent their operations. Sophisticated information technology is critical to supporting legislative compliance, and portals are a key part of the solution. A well-designed portal can ensure that the right information is captured, aggregated, presented to the appropriate user and available for the analytical processes needed for compliance and risk management. As corporate risk or compliance officers assume ultimate responsibility for the compliance of their corporations, they benefit from having critical metrics readily available via a dashboard.
A business case for portal platform and application rationalization enables an organization to retire redundant hardware, simplify the operating model and staff support, and thereby reduce costs. For example, I worked with a large financial services institution to document their potential benefits from portal rationalization. Hard savings included a reduction in IT infrastructure costs of 61 percent and in IT support costs of 46 percent. Also important, though harder to quantify, were the benefits of greater workforce access to knowledge, increased productivity and better decision-making. Portals can enhance an organization's performance by efficiently and cost-effectively providing the information that an organization needs when it is needed to perform critical operations, improve customer and employee self-service and fulfill its mission. Businesses and governments aspiring to high performance should take a fresh, hard look at improving their information delivery by improving their enterprise portals.
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