What is a Web Portal?

portal is a web-based platform that collects information from different sources into a single user interface and presents users with the most relevant information for their context. Over time, simple web portals have evolved into portal platforms that support digital customer experience initiatives.

Web Portals Are About Personalized Access

The problem portals tried to solve in the early days of the internet was content discovery. In the face of the vast amount of information available online, the easiest way for the average user to discover information was through a human-curated content hub, known as a portal. Portals could display selected content in order to provide a custom experience for users. 

Examples of portals, particularly those that use a login experience, abound in most industries:
  • Patient Portals
  • Government Portals
  • Intranets/Extranets/Workplace Portals
  • Knowledge Management Portals
  • Student Portals
  • Vendor Portals
The basic, uniting concept for each type of portal is personalized access, based on an assigned or assumed user role. For example, workplaces typically have multiple applications that their employees need to access, such as an application for recording time sheets, another for scheduling time off and a third for sending internal communications. Employees are frustrated when they have too many touchpoints that they need to jump between as part of their daily routine. A new employee portal brings together these common services and applications into one place for your team to access, and can further customize the page based on department or role. This personalization can also extend to anonymous users. Clothing retail sites, for instance, can begin personalizing which products are displayed based on stored information from past visits, even if the user hasn’t created an account.
The three distinguishing strengths of portals — integration, consistency and personalization — are essential components of an increasingly important part of business today: digital customer experience.

From Web Portals to Portal Platforms

Today, the average user can address the problem of content discovery with search engines, which have become more adept at serving relevant results. This, plus the information sharing capabilities offered by social media, means that human-curated lists of information are not a necessary starting place for most users. However, the three distinguishing strengths of portals — integration, consistency and personalization — are essential components of an increasingly important part of business today: digital customer experience.

These three strengths support digital customer experience in the following ways:
  1. Integration capabilities allow organizations to unite systems and customer data on the back end.
  2. An emphasis on consistency across digital touchpoints gives these united systems a shared look and feel on the front end.
  3. Personalization through a combination of biographical data (who they are) and behavioral data (what they did on the site) gives enterprises the ability to contextualize experiences, usually facilitated by a login process
Modern portal platforms can play an important role in customer engagement, especially when they have been extended with new features such as content management systems or marketing automation. In order to realize the competitive advantages of portal platforms, companies are rethinking the value of these three strengths in today’s multi-touchpoint context of digital customer experience.
Leveraging [digital experience portals] within the broader digital experience platform architecture is strategic for the future... They own much of the reusable code for the authenticated web experience, stitch backend data together, and allow the customer to self-serve.

Web Portals Are Transforming Into Digital Experience Platforms

Portals represent an early paradigm shift for enterprises online, which was to build websites that were customer-centric, rather than business-centric. Ideally, a portal enables an enterprise to design sites and navigations that are based on the user’s needs, rather than an organizational structure that only makes sense internally.

As the market for portals has matured, leading portal vendors have added broad feature sets that help enterprises create these user-centric digital experiences for web, mobile, social and connected devices. These features include content management, marketing, workflow, targeting and mobile support. Because of this, some portal platforms are transforming into digital experience platforms that use their strengths in integration and personalization to drive change throughout the organization.

According to Forrester, the number one technical challenge for digital customer experience initiatives is inadequate integration of back-end systems. Portal-heritage DXPs have a strong story around integration and provide the focus on personalization necessary to deliver consistent, connected experiences that are tailored to each user’s context.

There are other flavors of digital experience platforms, including those that have grown out of commerce servers and web content management systems. Even if you choose not to use a portal-heritage DXP, you will likely need to incorporate portal technology into your strategy in order to meet the integration needs of digital experiences across different touchpoints.

When to Use a Portal Platform

Aside from broad digital transformation applications, portal platforms are still uniquely useful for several business scenarios, such as:
  • Customer self service. Portals are well-suited to gathering information relevant to customers in the post-purchase phase, allowing companies to nurture long-term loyalty while decreasing the burden to customer service call centers.
  • Business agility. Portal platforms that support mobile experiences and use modular architecture are now well-equipped to quickly roll out new digital touchpoints, while still carrying the user authentication and integrated back-end data necessary to connect experiences.
According to Gartner, “organizations have typically looked toward these software categories — horizontal portal platforms or WCM systems — as the primary software foundations for their websites.” Modern portals continue to be useful platforms for organizations that rely on extensive integration and personalized interfaces for their digital business strategies.

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