Your corporate website provides public facing marketing information about your organization and the services/products your team provides to various targeted audiences. But what if you want to offer a more secure and personalized method for providing additional or exclusive resources to critical customers, partners, stakeholders and/or employees? That’s where portals come into play.

What is a Website Portal?

Portals are essentially microsites that house secured aggregated content, and can be used for internal purposes (intranets) or for external knowledge sharing (extranets). The goal of any microsite is to distinguish itself from the main corporate website, providing a separate and more focused web experience for visitors, and that’s exactly what portals accomplish. They can evoke a sense of community and help build a stronger bond between your company and the individuals that are granted access to them.

For example, many of our healthcare industry clients have expressed interest in building patient and practitioner/physician portals, often referred to as HCPs. By offering a simple and efficient way to access educational resources (in the form of videos, images, documents, etc.) through these channels, they can stand out as valued partners and thought leaders while improving their relationship with key individuals and teams.

There are many other examples of customer- and partner-focused portals that apply to distinct industries, but one type that is universal to all are internal, employee-based intranets. These platforms allow organizations to streamline their corporate communications (ie via announcements and event calendars), facilitate process workflows (ie expense reporting, PTO requests) and create a search-driven self service knowledge base environment for staff to access company resources while simultaneously connecting them via collaborative tools (ie forums and discussion boards) regardless of department or office location.

This is the first post in a series which will touch on the benefits, best practices and challenges to keep in mind when planning to implement a portal within your network. Below are some key factors to consider as you begin thinking about building one. We will dive further into some of these elements in future blog posts.

Getting Started With Portals

Purpose

  • As with any project, it’s important to begin with outlining the key objectives for building a portal.  Believe it or not, this will go a long way towards defining business and technology requirements.
  • For example, an Intranet portal may be leveraged as a knowledge management system to improve employee productivity as well as a streamlined company document repository and communication tool that reduces the amount of both physical and electronic paperwork constantly being shared via multiple channels throughout an organization.

Users

Identify the individuals that should have access to the portal and group them by the various levels of permissions they will be granted.  This will help define UX/UI elements as well as the management of content, documentation and media.

Content

  • Begin to gather all forms, documents, media files, etc. that will be included within the portal.
  • Is there information that lives within other systems/platforms which should be viewable within the portal?  If so, list them. Note that new types of Data Integrations may be introduced during implementation, such as a Cloud Storage solution for the management of large volumes of files.

Portal Infrastructure

Hosting

  • If your corporate website is built on the WordPress CMS platform, you may want to consider converting it into a Multisite (if it isn’t already) and housing your new portal as a “local” child within that WordPress instance/network.
  • If implementing an Intranet, will users be required to be on the network (ie via VPN connection) before they can log into the portal?

Security

  • Does your IT team currently manage a single or multiple set of Active Directories (ADs)?  This will help determine the best approach with regards to User Registration, Login, Authentication (ie SSO or single sign-on) and Authorization
  • Other key pieces that will be part of the Security planning will be the User Profile, User Groups and Resource Permissions.

Sample Login Screen for a Website Portal

Device Support

  • The portal should be Responsive, adjusting to various screen sizes and resolutions.
  • If you want (and if your security measures allow) to increase user engagement, consider including a mobile-friendly version of the portal.

Functionality, Look, and Feel

Search

This functionality should be positioned as a primary tool for discovering relevant information.

Business Requirements

  • After gathering assets that will be shared, consider which documents might work well as electronic forms so that data can be aggregated for reporting purposes, etc.
  • Also consider any Workflow and Automation processes that can be defined to relay and notify users when certain actions are performed.

Theme & Style

Will the portal follow the same style as your corporate site, or is it different enough to warrant it’s own look & feel?

Collaboration Features

Identify the types of tools you’d like to include and how you might like to present things such as:

  • Polls/Surveys
  • Discussion Boards
  • Forums
  • Notifications/Announcements
  • External social media

Latest Updates List for Website Portal

Sample Resource List Inside a Website Portal

Other Potential Features

  • Bring important messages to a user’s attention by including What’s New / Highlighted / Featured Items on the portal home page.
  • Multi-Language Support / Localization
  • This may apply if your organization and/or user base is global.

It’s always important to remember that your portal, just as any other sites you manage, will need to evolve due to both internal (ie new business needs) and external (ie online user expectations) factors in order to remain relevant as well as to maximize your initial investment.

In the next part of this blog series we’ll discuss some of the challenges of building a website portal and how you can set yourself up now to overcome them.