The last 15 years have been a stage of continuous development for portals. Following developments in web technology, from mere content display platforms with minimal personalization capabilities, portals have now become projects of large integration, web services and Web 2.0 technologies and approaches.

In this article we will see how enterprises can carry out an affordable and valuable portal project, rather than getting into an expensive and complicated venture. We will also explore how the new generation of portals are evolving and transforming the concept of the enterprise portal and its relationship with its customers.

1. Emerging User Experience Platforms

One of the main trends that can be observed among various portal vendors is the emergence of User Experience Platforms (UXP), evolving from the traditional portal software.

The UXP main value proposition is providing a portal that is easy to deploy out of the box and already pre-integrated with essential capabilities. Also, it puts emphasis on superb user experience (usability, customer journey) and use of lean web technologies (such as Widgets, Ajax/HTML5 and REST) that are known for their fast implementation time.

The different capabilities of a UXP depend on the niche it specializes in. While it seems that most UXPs will provide basic features like content management, according to analysts there are different types of “ethos” that characterize the main approach of the UXP: customer, employee, collaboration and business application.

For instance, while a customer portal will include targeting and analytics tools out of the box, an employee portal is more likely to include a document collaboration package. Understanding the ethos of your portal project and its key requirements is the first step in choosing the right user experience platform solution.

The emerging customer platform specifically puts major challenges to the old portals. Today’s web platforms are expected to be data-driven, personalized and customer-centric environments. Moreover, the customer experience shouldn’t fall short of other online services (such as Apple, Google and Amazon). As will be elaborated later, this trend, towards a customer-centric platform has much deeper implications for the purpose of the portal inside the enterprise.

2. Lean Portals

Another important trend in the portal market relates to the nature of the portal itself. A couple of years ago, Gartner introduced the concept of the “Portal-Less” portal and the “Lean Portal.” Lean Portals are an alternative to traditional portals, which became too complicated and too bloated with features. Traditional portals became notorious for exceeding budget and development deadlines and in the worst case not fulfilling requirements.

The Lean Portal is a lightweight and easy to deploy portal that is built on modern Web 2.0 technologies, such as AJAX, widgets, representation state transfer (REST) and WOA/SOA approaches. Lean Portals replace the classic container-oriented portal model but maintain the main purpose of a portal -- providing a personalized point of access for users of the enterprise to relevant information, business processes and people.

According to Gartner, organizations find that a Lean Portal delivers over 80 percent of the needed functionality within a couple of months -- without compromising security and advanced integration requirements.

More recently, we see some Lean Portal vendors expanding their lean portal offerings with high value business functionality. These offerings include content management, targeting and campaign management, and online channel optimization capabilities -- thus creating a Lean UXP solution.

3. Better Business -- IT collaboration

As discussed earlier, the enterprise-customer relationship is evolving as customers interact more and more via the online channels, instead of using the traditional channels (phone and physical branches). The portal, accordingly, becomes the main interaction channel with the customer and is one of the key areas where a brand can increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.

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Because of this strategic role of the Portal, business teams that are responsible for revenue and/or customer satisfaction need better tooling to edit and optimize the online channel. Business users want to be in control and find better ways to collaborate with their IT counterparts; if in the past any change in the portal required weeks or months of development and testing, business users now want to carry out their new strategies with no delay.

IT teams realize that they should invest in tools and processes that transform the portal from an IT integration platform into a business enablement platform that is more customer-centric and user experience oriented.

This trend is influencing the choice of the right portal solution as well, putting more emphasis on easy-to-use portal management screens that enable business users to quickly manage and optimize portal pages and widgets, without coding.

4. Digital Marketing

The growing momentum of online and mobile applications is transforming the Portal into a strategic customer experience platform. As a result, digital marketers are looking for ways to maximize online sales results, increase online lead generation and implement relationship marketing methods and best practices.

The portal, as it evolves, has great impact on the customer lifetime value and is definitely not intended only as an enterprise integration platform.

As a result, customer-facing Portals now have to include more and more digital marketing capabilities such as targeting, online channel optimization (A/B testing), advanced analytics and lead generation. In addition, modern customer portals need to have the ability to aggregate user behavior data, to analyze and utilize it, to provide the enterprise powerful tools to provide a personalized experience to the user, and implement smart cross and up-sell campaigns.

Take for example a bank, having the ability to display advertisement on saving plans according to the current account balance of the user, or telecom providers that can offer users a new monthly plan according to their usage of the data plan they currently hold. Governmental institutions, for instance, can provide a unique journey for each group based on different criteria, such as age and marital status. (Unemployment benefits and pension information, for example, should not appear on the same navigation).

5. Cross-Device Customer Journeys

The final big trend impacting the portal market is the smartphone and tablet revolution, introducing new usage patterns supporting customers any time, any place.

It is not enough that users can view their data on their mobile devices; they want to continue their interaction across multiple devices, as part of a unified customer journey. Users have become device agnostic and expect the enterprise portal to provide a smooth and consistent cross-channel experience.

This requirement for a seamless cross-channel experience, and especially the necessity to design and manage these new customer journeys, requires a shift in the development and deployment of portals.

Enterprises must now ask themselves: What services do my customers need most frequently? What do they wish to carry out when they use mobile devices? Can the enterprise leverage the geo location capabilities of mobile for its benefit (locating branches, service points, ATMs, etc.)? These questions indeed change the way enterprises approach customer service and customer loyalty when it comes to the portal.

Mobile applications, responsive design, HTML5 and other web technologies have to enter quickly into the jargon of both IT and business teams. One of the main obstacles of every large organization is to decide whether to create a unique application for each mobile OS or to create an optimized web page for mobile. Some organizations have chosen the hybrid approach -- optimized web pages for mobile wrapped in a mobile application for each OS.

Portals are entering a new era. An era where the online channel has become one of the main business channels and where companies use the portal to create business value, increase sales results and drive customer loyalty. Key selection criteria are: lean architecture to get fast implementation results, mobile delivery capabilities and the empowerment of non-technical digital marketing teams.