Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A Portal Strategy isn’t ‘Free’

I’ve often been guilty of selling SharePoint around the fact that it can be ‘free’ in terms of licensing. Yes this can be a major selling point, but when you utter the word ‘free’ all kinds of thoughts and expectations can creep into a person’s thinking – some that could be detrimental to the investment needed to successfully put in place a successful portal and long term strategy.

A free portal infers to some that they don’t have to make any kind of investment to get something out of it. In terms of most portals or intranets, extranets or any other term you want to give it; they are not self servicing. You will only get out of it what you put into it.To put some context around this, I’m talking about SharePoint and its ‘free’ product called Windows SharePoint Services (WSS). WSS is a free install if you have Windows Server 2003 and is very appealing for business who want to get started on a portal (usually an intranet) and have already invested in Microsoft software like Office and even the business systems (Dynamics) like MS CRM, Axapta and Great Plains.

So back on the ‘free’ angle, well some business just don’t get past this and see SharePoint as easy to configure and don’t think they need much strategy to go with it. So out comes the cowboy hat thinking it will cost them nothing, but without the proper investment, the portal will die a slow death. Which begs a question “how many intranets have you heard of die, with outdated content that no one is owning?” – pretty common outcome in my book but also take into account the impact on time & culture. Now their staff have another system to deal with, and its one they don’t trust – how good has that initiative been for the company?

So what builds up to be a successful portal implementation? This can be different for all kinds of businesses but for those starting out and want to get something tangible to win over the business, there are many ‘quick wins’. Simple ideas like phone lists, announcements, industry news, weather, templates and a social calendar can help people want to use the portal. Migrating documents off the file system is also a common pain but this initiative should include a bit more analysis on content standards like metadata and end user training or else you’ll end up with a web based file share that adds little value. Reports & KPI’s are another common quick win depending on whether they’re already written.

Now perhaps you have some kind of portal requirements together that you want to implement and build some momentum, but what else’s is important in this process? I alluded to some of the points above but you really need to profile your business to know,
  • its people,
    Who are the champions, who will help drive content
  • Their skills,
    can people work with and navigate around an intranet, are they familiar with a web based system? Saving & retrieving a document in a webpage can be a paradigm shift.
  • Your core infrastructure
    Often overlooked, but can it scale to meet the needs of the business. A slow portal will only incur resentment. So don’t just dig up an old server as bandwidth is the killer application.
  • Culture.
    this is related to people and their skills but does the culture of the business accept change? If there is friction then it’s important to make sure the concerns are alleviated with them seeing the benefit. This is where your champions, training plans and help guides come in to ensure your people get over the hump.

Once you have a handle on this then your portal strategy is coming together, now for the most important aspect, buy in from the stakeholders. This could just be upper management but also other divisions you need to contribute content for the masses. So what is buy in really, it’s more than just a directive from above to spend some cash, it also has to be a buy in of peoples time as job descriptions may change to help own the portal. The buy in is the most important in my view, it suggests that the business understands the benefit of a portal strategy and sees it as an accepted practice in their business, without this, no one will own content and it will probably be left to the people who started it (usually IT) and that’s not their role.

Hopefully now you have a battle plan for a fully functioning portal, and as can happen, the requirements can start to snowball as people see the benefit. It’s important that you have an effective change management strategy in place that re-addresses the points above.


Mark Miller said...

Mate, don't ever forget when in the sales process to discuss value and not savings. Too many organisations especially mid-market still see IT as cost centre instead of stratic asset. Discuss with the the IT maturity model (e.g. Microsoft current marketing message) and then discuss the value that IT (e.g. SharePoint) provides and then talk about ROI to deliver that value. You're leaving costs out of the equation while keeping value and ROI in the conversation. A much more positive approach and one that people have a hard time not investing in. Hope it helps.

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Manish Sharma said...

Thanks for this Business Information.It's really informative about business portal.
I am glad that your service is strongly working to improve own services.