July 27, 2020

Portals or Intranets, do you even need them?

Portals or Intranets, do you even need them?

Ryan and Heather discuss the history of portals, why they're helpful, and tips for making them better.


This episode is all about the enterprise portal.

We answer:

  • How is a portal different from an intranet? 
  • What are the ingredients of a good portal?/How do you make one? 
  • Which stakeholders should be involved in a portal project? 
  • How do you know if a portal is being used?

Click here for the transcript link
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Transcript

Ryan Purvis  0:00  
Hello, and welcome to the digital workspace works podcast. I'm Ryan Purvis, your host supported by producer Heather Bicknell. In this series, you'll hear stories and opinions from experts in the field story from the frontlines. The problems they face, how they solve them. The years they're focused on from technology, people and processes to the approaches they took, they'll help you to get to the scripts for the digital Express inner workings.

I had two topics I wanted to discuss with you today. One was was the importance of an intranet or a portal. And the other one is should I learn to code if you're not a technical person?

Heather Bicknell  0:42  
Huh? All right. I'm interested. Cool.

Um, yes, I know, you know, portals are something that we had talked about maybe discussing. So I think a good place, perhaps to start is sort of narrowing down those definitions between intranet and portal. Because I guess, you know, I there's something that I kind of mingled in my mind, but um, when I looked into it a bit, it seems that Internet's are sort of the umbrella term for for all of the internal network items and then portals are they help organize those. So you might have a portal that then, you know, points to your, your SharePoint or to your, you know, the other resources that you have.

Ryan Purvis  1:31  
Yeah, so, so maybe in my mind, it's about how specific it is. So, so portal is got a very specific function. Whereas an intranet is almost it's the company trying to bring their own version of the internet into the ecosystem. So you're, I think you're right there. So you might have an intranet that connects to many portals. And in some cases, you depend on the organization. They may have Have the portals hosted on top of the intranet. Said have a company landing page and the landing page, you have all the company bulletins and communications and that sort of thing. And then the navigation would take you out to the other portals like portal, HR, portal, finance, portal, whatever. In the context of this conversation, the portal would be something that helps the end user use technology more effectively. So that would be things like being able to reset their password, being able to see all their approval they need to do. Those sorts of sorts of things. I think we'll go through sort of a couple of examples. Typically, what I find with Internet is they are built at one point, and then for the next couple of years, they they iterate and they become a catch all for everything. Mm hmm more complicated to navigate. Time, whereas a portal should be kept pretty Clean or simple? Because it should always be based on that focused objective. So managing your technology, for example.

Heather Bicknell  3:10  
Yeah, I feel like when I was researching that, the two main things that kept coming up to sort of avoid were too much complexity, and then something that's just too difficult to maintain. So it gets out of date. And then both of those end up, you know, not being adopted by employees because they're, they're just not pleasant.

Ryan Purvis  3:31  
Yeah, and you do get Thea some examples. So what I was one of the banks and you'd have some some teams that would just go all out their their portal would be they'd have almost a wiki as opposed to a portal where it's like a WordPress site where the go absolutely mommy and then have, you know, all of the ways you can think of that have, you know, ways to request his services, get her help guide videos. Whatever. And then you'd have the converse with someone's just trying to get something going. And they've just created the site, but they haven't got the capacity or the inclination to fill out anything. So you might have a blank page with just an email address to contact this person. So you have this discrepancy in content and detail, which makes things look well looks unfinished, disjointed. So I think it's important to find a good balance between, as you say something that's manageable, but also relevant when you're looking at it.

Heather Bicknell  4:33  
So what are the sort of ingredients of a portal that that you've worked with before that you've constructed?

Ryan Purvis  4:42  
So I've always been a fan of dynamic content. So it's a content that changes on it as it goes through various digital curation processes. So if you are and what do I mean by that? So if we talk about our technology portal So let's say we are trying to bring everyone to the technology marketplace for one of a better term. So when you come they're coming in to do something, well, you either going there to find out about announcements going there to reset your password or manage your passwords, because you probably have multiple depending on how complicated the organization is. You come in here to do your approval, as I mentioned, coming in to request something. So maybe you need a new headset, or a new device or something that effect or you just try to get some technology help, whatever it is, that I would see. In dynamic to the extent that when I go look at it, it's going to show me contextually relevant information. So let's say I'm in operations and want to see anything that's affecting operational stuff. So let's say my, my keys core services. So what's the state of email right now? It's operational in all areas. You know, if it's not, then it should be it should have been a green symbolische mid Mo, or if it's an outage, you see To read, if, when it comes to everyone's using either team's Zune or some sort of video conferencing technology, it should be some sort of metric that tells me the state of that. So when you look at this portal, you're getting an instant insight to what's going on. And then you can drill into where you need to drill in certain things would be good to know. It's like if this had two articles, and one of the most viewed tattoo articles, when was that article, last refresh, but you can see, again, what you've looked at versus whatever and also looking at potentially your problem that you've come at look for someone else has already tried to redress it, and they've already found the article and you don't have to go and dig around for that article. So so things like that, I think the good use a non overuse of video, to to share a message or to show someone how to do something as a good thing to have in a poll and go back to our say about sort of self curation. When you put something into the portal. It should be the level of awareness brutal scrutiny and it doesn't need to be bureaucratic to the point that doesn't get out there. But it's correctly tagged so that when it's when it's bubbled up, you know, if you're looking for how to how to use SharePoint for example, it's tagged as a SharePoint how to video. And that's not a complicated process, you know, upload the video tag is in. And the only reason I think it's unlimited curation is there might be 10 videos that show the same thing. And you know, unless you want to show 10 videos, you want to show the best one or the best to potentially if they slightly variants, maybe there's a different language or something is so so going back to self curation, and what do I see as a good poll? So I think the navigation needs to be simple. I think you could have a combination of a hard navigation and a virtual navigation. So what I mean by that so hard means we have prescribed the menu elements. So home, reset my past management, Boss foods, tickets, whatever, and then your virtual is made up Based on search, so wherever we've commonly searched or aggregated, so the GOP I normally go to and this one is if I'm looking for a policy document, and I'm in the technology space, that policy document might exist in the legal framework, it might exist in the HR framework, my system technology. So a good example of that is a laptop, laptop will have certain criteria that has to meet for each of those divisions. And there might be finance one for disposal as well. So if I go and search for policy, the first result I should get would be the technology policy on laptops. And I'm talking about a massively long document, it could be a couple couple bullet points, but then I should thr should see finance and I should see legal. And then depending what kind of industry you're in, you might have things like, if you're in Europe, you can take laptops across certain borders. So there'll be some sort of thing, but that should all be generated for you based on what's available in the content and and you're not worth the The person writing their policy, as long as they are tagging it correctly, it doesn't have to ness you worry about the other policies where they sit. But they'll they'll blend together as they pull back. So I like that as a way of pulling up all their I think it's about people using it if no one people don't find value looks too complicated, then you need to be able to simplify. And that's the technology being able to do it for decades. It's not like you have to build a whole new platform. And I think you need to have

almost audiences or personas again, that will seat certain information on the portal versus other people and this comes back to permissions and access to information and that sort of stuff. So good, call it the sort of technical terms or is your information architecture to not ever need to be able to edit the policy, but they should be able to read the policy. But if you are going to go into how to do contribute, then you should be able to contribute To write a blog about something and reference something, you should be able to do that, you know, those sorts of things create stickiness. And then the last piece is some sort of go and gamification. Because you want people coming back then and you need people to live on the portal and spend, you know, the whole day there. No, they don't need to be there for a couple minutes to find something and do something. But if they use it a lot, and they, they provide, they can provide input into it. So you know, five stars versus thumbs up thumbs down one of those sort of matrix that should be credited back to them because then they'll come back again to get another one. And they'll keep a curation going. That's kind of what I think a good one looks feels like. Yeah. aesthetically pleasing, of course, needs to it needs to look nice. I mean, I've seen some that are that are still based on 80s Designer they were originally conceived on but you know that that's the problem the internet's they tend to be tend to become a low priority after all. We're the portal, if that's owned by, you know, at a high enough level, and it needs to be sort of sponsored as well, then they keep the focus on to keep it fresh.

Heather Bicknell  11:10  
Yeah, I sort of I looked into the history of Internet's a little bit, though, it seems like the original ones were very much just like static pages that then sort of had limited utility and went out of date pretty quickly. But there was this breakthrough product in the mid 90s, called internet Genie, frontier technologies. That sort of it brought in like, content aspects and collaboration aspects. And it was kind of like the start of, you know, we can do more with with this kind of technology. But it was, of course, the UI was not very friendly, for the likes at that point. So but I guess at one point, it was pretty ubiquitous, although expensive, so it came out the same year as ASCII. And the Nintendo 64, which helped me place it in time. But I do want to dig into a couple things you're talking about there just I think it'd be interesting maybe to talk about sort of who all needs to be involved. Because I think when you're talking like, design and having, like, you know, HR and just different elements in there, like, how do you work together across departments to make this happen? And then also, when you're getting to sort of usage of the portal, like, how do you know if users are using the portal? And how do you track that?

Ryan Purvis  12:38  
Yeah, so so any, any CMS a decent one, now, we'll be tracking it for you already. They'll have something you know if it's either as rudimentary as page counts, when they're kicked on. But if you don't have them yet, you need to you need to put something in much the same way with a website and put something like Google Analytics. It doesn't have to be too sophisticated to begin with, I just need to tell you that people are coming in and they spending time on these pages and then they they leave it. I think there's a question around who used to be involved in it depends on who the portals going to be for. So typically, you'd want some sort of executive sponsor, you've got the vision. So I've been fortunate that I've had, you know, a very strong, visionary sort of leadership, and they've learned exactly what they wanted. And all they want to do is execute. And it's been very specific. So in the technology space, it's very specific, you're a go to place for us on a marketplace for technology, because the experience within the organization was pretty to pardon my French but there were so many different request systems, there were so many different tools you had to use. Unless you knew everything, you could never get anything done and spend more time trying to find the tool to do the request, then you did actually do the request sometimes. So by providing this model to place your abstract or they're complex, and you make it very simple. So having that sort of leadership, very important. And then then you need a small team. So, you know, think about how we did it, we get a couple developers, we had sort of an architect, which is pretty much the role that I played to an extent, slash product, the product lead whatever it is just to just to deliver on the execution. And then you really are balancing out the need versus what you can do. So we picked for example, using a product with a portal component initially to build the portal because by doing that, we had all the data that we needed, because a lot of this is about the data. And then we would go out to different teams that own different components. So for example, you know, password management or approvals. Go talk to the different requesting systems or the different guys who own passwords and try and get what we needed in order to make it simple in the in the portal. And that means in some cases getting API fault that didn't exist. But but that's how we did it. So we didn't try and boil the ocean. And we go and pick like positive management. And we're going to work with those guys and get that started going in a second, we need a way to API. So then we'll go back and we'll look at request systems. And, you know, one of the request systems was it was the portable we using. So we had that. But then we needed to other systems to constantly sort of going in these loops, so loop out to get something and come back, loop back and come back. And then as you build, you've identify new things. So things like in this organization I'm thinking of, we had VDI platform, which you could request through another platform. So what we did is we absorbed that platform into the portal or the functionality. So we didn't have to have another tool. We had one tool. And that was a decision taken it sort of in a ministy Echo, which was really the sort of executive sponsor myself And my boss and one other person because they made the decisions every week on what two weeks we will go next. And how to prioritize. So very tight, very lean. You find I find it works better with a smaller footprint like that. Then trying to sort of pitch to me really what happens is once you build momentum, people start going here. But listen, I've got this thing, can I come? Can we bring it in? Like, yeah, we can, but you know, priorities. And you sort of play the scarcity game a bit. There's no vote, you know, and then they'll push you more and then that gets you the momentum, as opposed to around you trying to get everyone to sort of join you, you your adventure. And you're sort of playing politics as opposed to doing the job. So by doing the German thing, so so that's how we've done it and that's worked really well that way.

Heather Bicknell  16:50  
How long did it take you from the idea to to launching that portal,

Ryan Purvis  16:55  
version one was about three months, maybe four. It's a bit cuz it was quite an quite a pressure time. I didn't thankfully do all the coding out of mana taking longer. But the guys that work to work really quickly and we had a lot of support. So So cleared a lot of a lot of bureaucracy out the way. So if I ran into a problem in a meeting, I could say, Look, guys, we have to solve a problem if you don't like an escalator, but I can tell you that's coming right back at you. So it was it was fortunate in that sense that we didn't get caught at the minutiae of, of political lines and that kind of stuff. We pretty much barreled through it. You know, it's something that we were actually bought twice in six months, because the first version was built inside this product. And we found the performance too slow. So the solution was to build it outside of that product. But that gave us more flexibility on certain other things. So yeah, three to four months is a good good starting point. We actually bought some Had the end user version. And then we had another version, which was for the operational teams. Because with all with all this, and this, again comes back to having focused areas for, for the end user do what they need to do. There was an operational piece behind that where, in order to support the idea that we had the same problem, we had all these tools with all these different their own portals, like many of you to provide functionality, but then if you needed to find them, you need to know all the URLs because of the different servers and there would be DNS names that says things. So we bought two portals one Fox one for the end user. So it came down to point that you could say a search for us and you can find all the information that you needed as a support person. So you can dive in to the tool you need it. So if it was austrack, or was a director or netscaler. You didn't have to go and figure out which admin portal go to you just click on the link and it took you in, in some cases log you in because you would single sign on and it was the same simplicity for the for the end user.

Heather Bicknell  18:59  
Now When I was researching this, sort of a, I feel like there's been a few phases of portals maybe we've had like portal 1.0. It's like the internet Genie and the very simplistic sort of design, then portal 2.0, which is a bit more sophisticated, and we bring in those sort of customized aspects to different groups and have different features in there. And then sort of a portal 3.0 vision, if you will, is to incorporate more employee involvement in terms of like so on sort of social media component, I don't know if you've ever seen like a Facebook workplace or can't remember just some sort of like enterprise social network or if that's anything you ever considered.

Ryan Purvis  19:50  
Yeah. So so funny enough. There was a focus on that. I think the challenge with those sorts of things is you creating work for people The best intention so you know, it would be ideal if everyone kept a profile like to think about your LinkedIn profile you know typically if you want to know about me appointment LinkedIn because I know that's the one place that I keep up today. But if you work in a an organization, we know you have to do another profile to keep that up to date and then are in sync. You double up work already. So I've always hesitated to pull up all the new one what I prefer to say well let's let's provide a mechanism where we can we can link the LinkedIn profile or even ingest it now you can't do that anymore used to be used to be able to ingest a LinkedIn profile. Now that's been so locked down and sort of vetted It was a nice way to because what you're really looking for a corporate as is or large organization is who knows about this stuff that I can talk to to help me and where are they so I don't find them at three o'clock in the morning. Hmm. So so that's a definitely see a need for it and Your most most portals intranet have that capability built in now, you know, sort of my profile. I mean, same as your office 365 accounts, you know, that's, that's, that's, it's got similar functionality and, and a lot of the tools, a lot of few of them now are starting to build a profile for you. So you don't have to go and do it. But I, yeah, and again, it comes back to, you know, how much work do you want to put into it? Because you have people that will let you blog once a day on something in that intranet. But that never gets to the light of day. And it's actually really good content, unless someone who will blog externally, and they will put it internally because they feel like they're restricted or they don't want to duplicate the work. So it's, it's, it's a tough, tough one to solve.

Heather Bicknell  21:52  
Yeah, and I know we're sort of running a little short on time. So maybe this could be sort of a final question, but Guess if there's any one piece of advice that you could give to someone who's either doing a huge portal refresh or maybe even starting one from scratch? Is there like a key nugget of wisdom that you would want to share with that person?

Ryan Purvis  22:15  
Oh, no. mistake. Oh, that one let me mean I got a bit longer if we need to. Okay. Well, then a few minutes ago. I guess the I mean, if you don't have the data, so if you don't know what people are spending the time on, spent in some time asking them what they do. And it may be a survey, it might be phone calls, it might be face to face as coffee corners, whatever it is, whatever we can do nowadays. To hear what they what they want, what they get frustrated by mostly most most complaints lead to to good ideas and solutions. There's no point investing in a re rebranding or redo of a portal if you didn't ask anybody who has to use it. What they want, once you've got that in place, or Lisa idea, I don't say take it with a pinch of salt. But just just rethink it to see if what they're actually asking for was actually what they need. Because you can end up with a whole lot of good ideas, but not all of them are worthwhile. And that is there is a trick. I don't know that seeing him it's difficult to say what's the right path. But if we look at what drove us, our portal at the last company I worked with, well, this one was a survey that the company that the employees fold in saying they're unhappy with the technology and the way we communicated with them. It was very difficult to get thing. The other thing was they did, they didn't trust that they the information that we're getting was was up to date and real. And the third thing is, as part of that complicate the complexity. You know, trying to fill in a form to get a piece of software deployed to the laptop There's like a 27 field form, which required a you know, a maths degree to understand to make that sort of stuff simple. So simplicity is key, but you got to understand a few things first. Thank you for listening today's episode. Hey, the big news producer, editor. Thank you, Heather. for your hard work on this episode. Please subscribe to the series and rate us on iTunes or the Google Play Store. Follow us on Twitter at WWE podcast. The show notes and transcripts will be available on the website www digital workspace works. Please also visit our website www dot digital workspace works and subscribe to newsletter. And lastly, if you found this episode useful, please share with your friends or colleagues.

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