In this economy, organizations are taking the opportunity to position or reposition their Web presence to a more customer-centric view. One approach is to envision the Web presence as an enterprise information portal. Enterprise information portals are frameworks to integrate staff, information, clients and processes across organizational boundaries. By selecting an ECM system with a “baked-in” public portal, organizations can offer a view in to their public-facing information and a way to integrate their Web content management (WCM) with their enterprise content management (ECM).

The Four Common Approaches to Portal Strategy

In the 1990s, corporate intranets began gaining popularity. Simultaneously, organizations began adapting their Web presence to better service their external clients. These two efforts quickly grew in complexity, and as a result, today’s portal was born. Exciting capabilities such as workflow, collaboration, dynamic information delivery and self-publishing were eventually adapted.

Ultimately, these capabilities and functionalities can be segmented into four approaches that organizations can take to their portal strategy:

  • Centralized: Literally a single Website, in a technical, business process and customer sense, supporting a single audience; in this case, ECM is adapted as one point of information control for the organization
  • Franchised: A branded portal supported by customer-focused sub-sites within the domain; the core and framework is managed centrally with content sub-sites run by departments -- here, ECM allows information security and control while giving the departments the flexibility to self-publish.
  • Facilitated: A collaborative environment that spans the organization, supported by common tools, frameworks and standards; content and services are managed by departments -- ECM serves as a sort of integrative middleware between systems and departments so that information is consistent, reliable and available
  • Federated: A distributed model with common presentation and navigation, and broad content management ideologies; content and services are managed by department business owners, which is the most complex to implement but the most exciting to experience -- ECM and the portal are assimilated to function as a sort of shared service platform for the organization.

Developing an Integrated Portal Approach

It’s one thing to have a portal strategy, but it’s another thing to have an integrated portal approach. Simplistically, an integrated portal approach should begin by addressing things such as governance and structure, customer focus and content management processes. Let’s take a look at each in more detail:

  • Governance: Information-driven portals should be managed as a subset of the organization’s governance framework. This allows the organization to be proactive, rather than reactive, in terms of risk management and security.
  • Customer focus: Dynamic personalization is the big sexy. Sites like Google and Amazon have raised our expectations in terms of information how -- and when -- we want it.
  • Content management processes: Tying together ECM and WCM can enable complex, cross-functional processes at the value chain level. This is a real game changer -- adapting core elements of ECM (search and retrieval, imaging, capture and records management) and repackaging them as information-driven workflows that power business activities via the Web. This is commonly packaged as a customer communication value chain. Depending on the organization and customer, these process chains can be as simple as a Web form to request sales and marketing materials or as complex as full-blown customer order management.

For the most effective results, organizations should seek to integrate their WCM with their ECM. Ideally, an ECM should offer a “baked-in” public portal that offers a view in to public information. This is more than simply making information stored in the ECM publicly available. A “baked-in” public portal should:

  • Provide simplified and customized searching of publicly available documents
  • Deliver read-only public document access, while protecting the core ECM repository
  • Offer a more easily configurable interface that doesn’t require extensive coding or programming

An ECM-enabled public portal should benefit all sides of the organization. Information should be easy to find for casual searchers. Departments should be able to easily make their own information public, reducing burden on IT staff. And, for IT staff, security should be easy to configure and manage, preventing users from altering, deleting or tampering with documents, while still offering the freedom to view public information.

The Integrated Portal Approach in Action: Oshkosh, WI

Oshkosh, WI, a city of just over 65,000 residents, has an impressive statistic to share: IT Director Tony Neumann and his staff of just seven have maintained the same budget over the last ten years, despite inflation and raises. In fact, the IT department’s operational expenses have actually dropped by 33% since 2000.

Not surprisingly, to realize this budgetary efficiency, Neumann and his team have initiated several infrastructural enhancements to the city’s technology wheelhouse -- most recently a redesign of the city’s Website. Completed in May 2010, the redesign is the culmination of an e-Government Web strategy used by virtually all of Oshkosh’s departments to provide automated information and services to citizens. Helping to drive these services, Neumann says, is Oshkosh’s use of a public portal integrated with their ECM suite -- which has sparked what he calls “an evolution” of Oshkosh’s e-government strategy.

This evolution has benefited the IT department as much as citizens. Procedurally, because departmental staff can now make public information available themselves, Neumann’s department is no longer inundated with requests to publish cumbersome PDFs or send out mass e-mails to citizens. “Wisconsin has a pretty comprehensive open records law, so pretty much everything had to be made available,” he explains. “After we implemented our public portal, customer satisfaction went through the roof -- we started getting complimentary phone calls instead of derogatory ones.”

Now, 12 departments push information out through seven municipal Websites:

  • Resolutions and ordinances dating back to 1990 are available online.
  • Agendas and minutes from board and commission meetings are also available.
  • Online inspection reports are used by both potential homebuyers and realtors, while contractors can see a virtual history of work done on a property.
  • Insurance companies and attorneys access accident reports online -- a process that accounts for 350 visits to Oshkosh’s Website each day.

In Neumann’s view, making information more available isn’t just about transparency, but also the government’s responsibility for the decisions it makes. “When we talk about our public portal, we’re really talking about transparency and accountability -- they go hand in hand.”