Five Common Portal Problems and their Solutions

By Michael Marchionda - The benefits of an enterprise portal are well documented. If portals continually prove to increase employee and business productivity, as well as improve communications, collaboration, and knowledge management, then why do so many portal redevelopment projects fail?

Consider the following statistics from a recent Gartner study presented at the 2012 Portal, Content and Collaboration Summit:

  • 40% of portal initiatives fail to garner adequate adoption to achieve ROI.

  • 10% to 15% of portal initiatives are scrapped altogether.

Many projects (nearly half) are taking multiple years to complete or are running out of funding, and can even tarnish the reputation of the group running the portal effort. For these reasons and others, portal redevelopment success rates are staggeringly low. Here are five of the more common portal problems discussed at the Gartner Summit and their possible solutions:

Problem #5. Too many organizations ignore end-users.

Organizations often put business needs in front of end-user needs. As Jim Murphy of Gartner pointed out, end-users don’t see value in a portal that doesn’t directly help them do their job. It is not that there is an absence of benefits – to the contrary – but that many organizations fail to effectively communicate the benefits of the new portal. It’s important to make sure you know the capabilities and qualities that will make your users’ work-lives easier, and remember that users don’t have to necessarily use what you put in front of them.

Solution: Gathering business requirements from employees before any design or technology planning is critical to success. Usually this process involves the right mix of business requirement interviews, focus groups, and user surveys to engage employees and give them a voice. Users are more likely to adopt something they help create, so engaging them from the get-go is essential.

Problem #4. A new generation of employees is changing the way people work.

Gene Phifer of Gartner noted that organizations will be faced with several challenges in the next few years including:

  • Work, home and social activities are being blurred. New technologies (especially mobile) are making the distinction between work and home less clear than it was ten years ago.

  • “Digital natives” (tech-savvy people under 30) are entering the workforce, and baby-boomers are retiring. Effective knowledge transference is more important now than ever before.

  • There is increased peer-to-peer interaction and employees are becoming more empowered, as the command hierarchy within the enterprise flattens.

Solution: Digital natives expect to communicate at work the same way they communicate in their personal lives. This means they are demanding social media tools on the corporate intranet. For example, 41% of millennials believe social media and networks, online communities and other communications tools are important in the workplace (Insidedge Generational Communications Survey, 2011).

Creating an Intranet 2.0 Collaboration Plan can help outline how the collaborative components of the intranet will operate and will be governed, and ensure you are using these tools most effectively. When creating an accompanying social media policy for your intranet 2.0 tools, consider utilizing existing policies (like those for acceptable use, ethics, IP, professional conduct, confidentiality and privacy) to save time and money.

Problem #3. Organizations underestimate the cost and complexity of portal redevelopment projects.

In some organizations, the intranet collectively refers to separate Knowledge Management Systems (CRM, HRIS, and ERP systems, for example) and this can be a source of confusion when trying to narrow down the scope of a portal redevelopment project. This can lead to increased cost/complexity as the scope of the project grows and more components of the intranet are identified and added to the project.

Adding to this complexity is the fact that the information required to redevelop a corporate portal is not always in one place. It’s not uncommon for the intranet to be a shared responsibility between several groups or departments (normally HR, IT and Communications) which means that aggregating analytics and other data takes a significant amount of time and effort.

Solution: Overcome cost/complexity with a goal-oriented strategy. Set reasonable, demonstrable, short-term milestones on a path toward a comprehensive portal vision.

Problem #2. Intranets lack fresh, relevant content

Creating content for your intranet should be viewed as a lifecycle, not a one-time event. Many organizations report their intranets lack fresh, relevant content which often results in:

  • Employees using inaccurate/outdated information.
  • Employees losing faith in the information found on the intranet and relying on less efficient means of information retrieval (e.g. email).
  • The intranet becoming less “sticky”. Unless users see value in the intranet, they won’t return to it.

Creating content for the intranet is not a “set-it-forget-it” task, but instead requires continual monitoring and a plan for content renewal.

Solution: Identifying how content is created, stored, accessed and reused to accomplish corporate goals in a formal Content Management Plan can help you resolve the problem of stale, irrelevant content. Also, the severity of this problem can be lessened by avoiding the number one problem on this list, lack of a governance model.

Problem #1. Organizations have no governance model, or have one but don’t follow it.

Assigning ownership to the intranet can be one of the most important but challenging tasks during a portal redevelopment project, as corporate politics inevitably enter the discussion regarding who owns what. Complicating this process is the fact that some organizations will assign a portion of the intranet to various groups/departments (e.g. Corporate Communications owns the content, IT owns the technology) meaning that gray areas can arise when delegating responsibilities.

Solution: Organizations need to define who can make what decisions, who is accountable for which efforts, and how each of the players must work together to manage a portal effectively in a formal Governance Model. Assigning a Senior Executive to oversee Portal governance is also an essential part of the process.

Unfortunately for many organizations, the challenge of creating a governance model without the aid of a non-partisan third-party is insurmountable. For more information about overcoming this challenge, join us for the related webinar, Intranet and SharePoint Governance on Tuesday, April 24th, 2012.

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