As people increasingly interact with businesses online and turn to self-service, important business relationships are being cultivated through portal interactions. Yet since portals have largely been deployed as point solutions for internal business silos, businesses are often slow to unify and upgrade the portal experience.  Each business area often defines a separate portal experience. Unfortunately, customer portals for sales, service, and support are often created on legacy platforms and communicate with back-office systems of record without much flexibility or agility. A customer who wants to check the status of an order and create a service request may need to interact with a different siloed portal for each activity, with neither system reflecting a 360-degree view of the customer relationship. Even worse, some portals are provided directly by the system containing the data.


The path forward can be confusing for large enterprises as they try to deploy disparate personalization tools to improve portal experiences. While marketers aspire to segment users, create look-a-like models and target specific messages to the right audience and precisely the right time, the reality is that many important customers still transact through a clunky, legacy portal.


To create a smooth, integrated portal experience for customers, businesses should treat improving their portal experience as an enterprise-wide transformation, not just a technology implementation.


Align resources and processes

Before selecting and deploying the technology, businesses must establish the correct processes and resources. They need to bridge internal organisational boundaries and open the way for owners of various customer touchpoints to collaborate in the construction of a holistic customer experience. The organisation may also require service design work to optimise the inside-out and outside-in customer and employee journeys. Once the organisation has aligned resources and processes in cross-functional teams focused on the customer instead of on their organisational mission, portal management can extend naturally toward the creation of a seamless portal experience and avoid becoming an internal ownership battle.


Manage identity and access

The next step in transforming the customer portal experience begins with user management, group permissions, and group enrollment. Users will need one indelible identity across all touchpoints and a rational process for onboarding and offboarding into proper group classifications. All systems of record should recognise the identity and honour global group enrollments while managing and maintaining group enrollments specific to the local system. Typically, identity and global groups are maintained in an enterprise identity and access management (IAM) system, while local systems use protocols like security assertion markup language (SAML) version 2.0 or OAuth2 to exchange identity attributes. An enterprise may use one or more directories as repositories for user-specific data. As enterprises contemplate this step of portal architecture, they should consider approvals, governance, group enrollment requests, and compliance – no platform or technology can replace the people and processes necessary for identity management.


Portal organisation

With IAM solidly in place, information consolidation can begin. The following are all valid approaches to portal organisation:


1) Landing dashboard

In this approach, a customer lands on a dashboard after logging into the enterprise portal. The landing dashboard provides a consolidated list of the systems to which the customer may need access and employs single sign-on (SSO) so that the customer can find navigation and access to each local system. Enterprises generally find this approach simple to employ, and it has the benefit of relying on out-of-the-box (OOTB) portals. Yet while this approach might be easy on the organisation, it creates a risk that a customer to get lost in subsystems, which may all have separate experiences and navigation.


2) Portlets

A portlet approach that has been popular for a number of years.  Portlets involve using standard Java containers usually available in popular software packages to embed subsystem data into a portal container platform. Liferay, one of the oldest and best-known portal technologies, provides a themed approach to a standard template with a proven methodology for deploying portlets that subscribe to the standard. This approach provides a common navigation and some theme management to create an end-to-end experience. Drawbacks to this approach include experience limitations to OOTB portlets, a tightly coupled front-end technology, and limitations to the styling and templating in the portal system.


3) Experience first

More recently, businesses are trying out technologies that provide an experience-first approach. Some enterprises are applying microservices to their backend systems of record. With this approach, a custom front-end can be employed through a technology like AngularJS or ReactJS. These techniques can create rapid and agile experiences for customers, but can also require a tremendous amount of custom code work.


4) Hybrid

With several clients, I am currently taking a hybrid approach that uses an experience platform like Adobe Experience Manager (AEM). For organisations that need a modern portal, but want to retain capabilities in their legacy Liferay implementation, AEM is a solution that provides both. By using a portlet component and wrapping portlet files in an AEM servlet, a portal page can get the benefits of OOTB portlets while on the same page creating rich content experiences with AEM authoring and personalization. AEM also facilitates single-page application (SPA) technologies. A well-executed hybrid approach combines the best elements of each of the other approaches.

Regardless of the final approach, enterprises must recognise that with 80% of business from 20% of customers, treating your most intimate customers well is the easiest way to build business. In a digital world, the portal experience is likely the main way that customers interact. Investing in a world-class portal is crucial to your success.

Richard Gatewood

Richard Gatewood

Technology Director, Digital Experience (DX)


As an engagement leader and consultant for major digital transformation projects, Richard focuses on helping customers realize business outcomes while delivering exceptional customer experiences. Previously, he worked as a Martech Development Manager for a Fortune 500 manufacturing and software company, as well as a business owner and entrepreneur.

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