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When it comes to content management and back office applications for employees, partners and customers, what’s the difference between an intranet and a portal?
At its most basic level, your website is a place you and your visitors go to get to know each other. It is designed to attract the people you hope will become leads. You hope each lead will become a prospect, and so on, but at that place of meeting, the relationship is in its nascent stages.
But where do you go to meet those people with whom you have a more established relationship: your employees, your partners, and your valued customers? In the digital realm, you need a different place. You need a familiar place—somewhere you can go to address your common interests. Thus, were developed the more utilitarian spaces of intranets and portals.
There can be some confusion over the definition and uses of intranets and portals. Although there may be some shared functionality, they are not the same. I am writing this in hopes of clearing up some of that confusion.
First of all, neither functions like a normal website. As stated above, websites are designed to drive traffic for such purposes as marketing or commerce. Alternatively, intranets and portals are both intended to limit traffic to a specific group of individuals in your organization, association, or channel. Here, these individuals can access back office applications in a context that promotes productivity.
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According to Gartner.com: “An intranet is a network internal to an enterprise that uses the same methodology and techniques as the internet but is accessible only to employees. Common intranet services include websites supporting corporate communications, internal collaboration and knowledge management, centralized access to various business applications, and service/self-service for employee applications like HR, finance, and IT.”
Forrester’s glossary is more concise, yet broader, defining an intranet as a “trusted digital source of corporate communication and content designed to educate and empower employees and improve their workplace experiences.”
An intranet, generally, is designed for employees only. Also, since these systems date back a few years, the assumption was that the workforce was in-house, on a secure network, using corporate devices and had access to resources who were present to train on its use. Many were (and are) proprietary.
How do you feel about your company’s intranet? According to The Forrester Wave: Intranet Platforms, Q2 2020, only 66% of global information workers are satisfied with their intranet. Considering that 80% are happy with their calendaring, word processing, spreadsheet, and email tools, it becomes clear that expectations for intranets are pretty low.
And you probably know why. Aging, homegrown content management systems, unable to be adapted to mobile devices, cloud deployment or frequent organizational changes, simply can’t keep up with the needs of the modern worker—especially when that modern worker has to work from home and may not be coming back to the office soon—if ever. In today’s workplace, employee engagement and technology are aligned. You simply cannot have one without the other.
Referring again to the definitions of Gartner.com: “A portal is a high-traffic website with a wide range of content, services and vendor links. It acts as a value-added middleman by selecting the content sources and assembling them in a simple-to-navigate and customize interface for presentation to the end user. Portals typically offer such services as web searching, news, reference tools, access to online shopping venues, and communications capabilities including email and chat rooms.”
Forrester’s glossary only defines portal infrastructure: “These include application servers, enterprise applications, or integration servers, as well as remote access, single sign-on, search, classification, and business intelligence.” This implies more of a platform experience than an application, and that is a good way to think of the way the better portals are planned, constructed and integrated.
For employees, portals are really the next evolution of company intranets, focused on connecting back office applications and providing employees a way to interact with those applications through a web interface or a web app. Many of the human resource functions, finance needs and IT help can be facilitated by a well-designed portal. Security and privacy of your employees are easily facilitated at the same time.
Portals serve more than just employees, of course. With modern security, search options, mobile and internet of things (IoT) capabilities, and even artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities, portals can now provide service and self-service for industries as varied as manufacturing, insurance and healthcare.
Probably not, if you already have a modern content management system (CMS) or digital experience platform (DXP) with multi-site capability. The capabilities of a modern CMS are what is needed for the creation of dynamic portals that will be best received by your users. Features such as event tracking, behavioral analytics, and personalization may require more resources and considerations to integrate into your architecture correctly and securely, but the effort pays dividends in terms of acceptance and usability.
Now more than ever, employee engagement and customer satisfaction are aligned with technology. Better experiences are expected even as the experiences are increasingly digital. Most organizations will find that several well-designed, well-planned portals are the meeting places where you will meet with employees, partners and valued customers with all the connectivity, security, personalization and search abilities you expect from a modern CMS.
If your website is the space where you get to know your future customers, the portal experience is how you will nurture those relationships toward mutual success and satisfaction.
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J.D. Little is a Senior CMS Market Strategist, a creative communicator, an educator and an advocate for change. Beginning his career in traditional media technology, he has been helping business leaders navigate the waves of disruptive innovation for more than 25 years.
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