The term "Lean Portal" was first coined by Gartner in 2011. Since then it has quickly entered the vernacular of vendors everywhere but are they just talking the talk or can they really deliver -- and how can you tell the difference?

The buzz around lean portals is entirely justified; executed correctly a Lean Portal can cut months and, in some cases, years off the time it takes for an enterprise to get their portal to market. Add to that the fact that from the moment a Lean Portal is implemented it becomes a tool that can be used to raise customer engagement, increase retention and improve conversion and it’s easy to understand its popularity.

Currently the market for portals is fairly evenly split between new innovators offering truly lean portals and older, more complex suites. Obviously this has created some confusion for businesses who can be forgiven for wondering what the difference is and which is ideal for their needs. The best way for business owners to differentiate between the two is to compare the development processes and marketing practices.

Made-to-Measure Success

The greatest differences between lean and traditional portals are that a Lean Portal is smaller, simpler and tailored to suit each business’s needs perfectly. Lean Portals use the latest technologies to create fit-for-purpose suites, unlike the traditional one-size-fits-all approach. Also, a Lean Portal doesn't need to be
"finished" to be ready to roll.

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In fact, a Lean Portal may never be finished, concerned as it is with continuous innovation and refinement, which is, after all, the basis for lean methodology. It’s also what makes deploying a Lean Portal such a great learning experience for businesses and vendors alike. Whereas a bulky, suite type portal will chew up endless months migrating every bit and byte of data and integrating it into unneeded programs, a lean approach allows a business to stop and take stock.

Because a Lean Portal doesn't need everything and the kitchen sink installed before it’s up and running, businesses can deploy sooner by asking themselves what’s really essential for their customers; what will enable customers to go about their daily business with the least amount of disruption. Once that’s settled upon, the portal can be deployed.

The real beauty of this approach lies not just in its speed, but in the fact that it helps companies shift towards a "customer first" way of thinking. More and more we are seeing that enterprises who use their portals to find innovative ways to empower their customers are the ones who are succeeding.

The Customer is Always First

Just by making their online customers’ needs the number one priority, companies automatically adopt the type of thinking that will help them reap the benefits of a Lean Portal. By paring down offerings and features to the bare essentials and focusing on customer experience Gartner has noted that "organizations adopting Lean Portals employ 80% of the functionality they need within months."

New functionalities can be added and perfected through a series of iterations. With every iteration the business learns more about what its customers want in terms of service and experience. Constant testing ensures that the Lean Portal evolves alongside customers’ needs, adapting to their ever changing expectations of online experiences.

Web technologies today change rapidly; any business with an online presence cannot afford to be static. As Lean Portals are capable of rapidly rolling out and retracting tests and campaigns across various segments at any given time, they are able to keep abreast with any new advancement on the web regarding customer experience.

Another advantage that is immediately apparent when deploying a Lean Portal is the level of customization available to both the business owner and the individual customer. As Lean Portals don’t require total integration into backend systems, they are able to answer business owner and customer desires for innovative functionality by supporting widgets.

Aside from the flexibility of being able to test and refine the widgets according to customer wishes almost immediately, business owners can glean immeasurable amounts of behavioral data from how customers choose to customize their own dashboards inside the portal. Indeed, the business owner is completely in control of the online environment. Using a portal manager they are able to create campaigns, edit content and add new apps -- without draining valuable IT support resources.

When Less is More…

There is a misconception that the term "lean" implies that Lean Portals are somehow "less" than traditional portals. Nothing could be further from the truth. As has been shown, Lean Portals do not deliver less functionality; they deliver only the functionality that is required to meet the needs of the business and their customer. This saves the business owner time and money while delivering a dynamic and unbeatable customer experience environment that will continue to grow and change according to customer needs.

Image courtesy of Chaloemphan (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more from Jouk, check out Five Major Trends in Next Generation Portals