Business Value

Business Value

Determining the exact business value of a portal can be devilishly hard. But don't let that stop you from trying.

Portals should make employees more effective while saving the company money. But because portal initiatives can span so many different purposes—from simple internal communications to complex integrated business processes—for such a large number of workers, it's often pretty tough to determine specific business goals.

That may make it seem like portals stand on shaky ground, ready to be shot down or scaled back the moment IT budgets come under fire. But analysts and users say it's precisely because portals can contribute to productivity that they are worth pushing forward.

For example, streamlining corporate communications alone can mean savings for companies dependent on paper processes. Eddie Bauer's retail planning and communications manager, James Greathouse, says the retailer had 17 different ways of getting corporate information to employees—e-mail, fax, voice mail, etc.—with each business unit using whatever route it wanted, whenever it wanted. Employees had to sift through all the options to find a specific message, such as instructions on how to keep inventories up to date. Bauer provided a very basic portal to retail store managers and got corporate departments to agree on what kinds of information should be funneled through which media. The result: significantly increased employee effectiveness and measurable improvements in key measures like "shrinkage"—the difference between corporate and store inventory statements.

IT execs need to encourage business units to define precisely the value they're striving for. "I've seen portals where the goal is to save everybody 30 minutes in a day," says Dr. William Ives, knowledge management practice leader at Accenture. "Well, that's pretty fuzzy. What are they going to do with that extra time, read magazines?"

It's essential to involve business users, frequently from every unit, in the decision-making process. Consider creating cross-disciplinary teams to establish goals for a new portal. Align and streamline, then set clear goals. But don't keep those goals to yourselves: Make sure users understand them so they can hold the company's feet to the fire if that value isn't delivered.

What kinds of goals? Author Collins separates portal objectives into three categories: performance-based objectives, or basic usage issues such as assessing the rate at which employees come to the portal; process management objectives, such as streamlining and integrating business processes like reducing the number of steps required to process a purchase order; and information management objectives, which involves the ability of employees to get the knowledge they need to be effective.

Ask Your Business Constituents:

Who needs to reach employees through the portal, and what do they want to accomplish?

Tell Your CFO:

We can justify components of our portal initiatives, but we may not be able to make all the numbers add up.

Tell Your IT Employees:

We can be the glue that holds these initiatives together, or we can be shut out if we're not helping everyone communicate better.

This article was originally published on 12-23-2002
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