The Definitive Beginners Guide To Understanding Web Portals
Remaining competitive and scaling in the current globalized ecosystem requires enterprises to use a strategic combination of robust IT-based systems that help them reduce overhead, streamline operations, reduce churn rates, and increase operational efficiency. All of this effectively increases the company’s bottom line. While there have been a myriad of technologies that have evolved over the years, some of which have influenced and altered “business as usual” more than others, one advanced and continually evolving technology - Cloud Systems - continues to give companies an edge when it comes to personnel who work remotely, and with automation, collaboration, document management, communication, data management, and other critical business processes. Within the scope of public and private cloud systems is an online, web-based system that gives companies the ability to streamline and personalize their interactions with both businesses and customers - Web Portals. Web portals and platforms are web-based gateways that grant authenticated, and authorized persons access to a company’s central data repositories, for the sake of communication, management, collaboration, and feasible data sharing. There are several types of web portals that are often associated with different industries, but web portals can generally be broken down into three major types:
- Business to Business Portals (typically an Extranet)
- Business to Customer Portals (typically Client Portals)
- Internal Business Portals (Intranets)
The term “web portal” encompasses any type of access-gateway that allows individuals to login to a company’s back-end cloud system via a web-interface for the purpose of accessing sensitive data or services, which is usually in the form of customer data. Thus, “web portal” is often synonymous with B2C “client portals” - a website that gives customers the ability to login and access their critical and personal data, such as medical records, financial information, job data, etc.
When the term “web portal” is used in conjunction with B2B portals that give vendors, partners, and associates access to crucial internal company data, those portals usually refer to an extranet. When internal personnel are provided access to different central repositories via a web-based portal system, it is an intranet.
While web portals generally give individuals access to private data repositories via the cloud (that is, via website-based portal systems), one of the most critical and significant advantages of web portals isn’t just streamlined, feasible and optimal data access remotely via the Web for all pertinent individuals, but also the ability for companies to tailor and personalize access to different parties based on their needs. Implementing a robust access control mechanism with authentication and authorization functions gives web portals enhanced security (typically 256-bit TLS security) and custom access to all pertinent data that applies to different parties, business partners, associates, customers, vendors, and clients.
While web portals can be utilized for any industry or operation, web portals that serve clients (“client portals”) are often associated with financial systems. Financial legislation - such as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act - apply to such systems, while (depending on the region) other security legislations apply to protect customer PII (Personally Identifiable Information).
Utilizing web portals is a critical way to implement robust remote access functionalities in association with your company’s private cloud repositories for all relevant parties, which can significantly quicken operations, enhance collaboration and communication, and streamline processes and even automate workflows via the Web.
Types Of Web Portals
A myriad of different web portal categories can fit into different industrial uses, which are usually associated with B2B portals, B2C portals, and internal company portals. Regardless of the web portal type, web portals are always web applications that are embedded into websites that serve as a gateway to company repositories in the Cloud.
However, all web portals continue to evolve today into complex and robust web platforms that integrate with company marketing systems and other IT enterprise components, creating an entire corporate IT system that allows automated, integrated, consistent data syncing across a company’s entire back-end infrastructure, including customer data, customer interactions, marketing programs, critical documents, and more. It makes sense that web portals/platforms should be a core part of any company’s digital customer service strategy, whether it is a customer-facing portal or a vendor/partner-facing portal.
Client portals are web portals that are specifically B2C systems used to give customers and clients access to either their critical data associated with a company or service (e.g., banks, medical organizations, financial institutions) or other company data via a website login mechanism. Customers who access their bank balance via a website, or their medical records via a webpage, are using a client portal to access essential data stored in the cloud.
Staff Portals or Intranets
Organizations often use an internal network (LAN) that does not face or interact with the external Internet (WAN). This network system - a company’s intranet - often has built-in web portals that allow pertinent personnel and staff to access their personalized dashboards to obtain access to company repositories that hold project documents, financial spreadsheets, blueprints, meeting or collaborative documents, critical communications, and more. Typically, such internal intranet-based web portals are also used by management to manage and streamline workflows, projects, and team operations.
Typically associated with B2B extranet/web portals are vertical portals that are associated with a single industry or domain, and provide tools, documents, files, data, articles, and project information associated with a specific sector.
Contrasting vertical portals, horizontal portals are web portals that are connected to a myriad of broad industries and focus on providing an entry point, along with tools and data, to a general audience.
Examples Of Portals
Whether one is speaking about B2B portals, B2C Client portals, or intranet web portals, there are a large variety of web portals in use across a myriad of industries that serve as poignant examples of how companies of all sizes can implement web portals.
A typical example of a robust web portal used by companies to streamline their sales pipeline is an internal sales portal. With a sales portal, all teams within a company can collaborate with sales personnel to ensure that what is offered to a client or customer during the marketing process is the deal that is closed by the sales teams. Sales teams can also collaborate with sales officers - via the sharing of critical documents and robust sales tools - to streamline the sales process.
Project Management Portal
Project management portals are internal portals that allow managers and executives to manage documents and strategic plans, along with managing key teams within the organization in order to ensure that projects are on time and on budget, eliminating the need for time-consuming meetings. Such portals can also be externally facing to allow the sharing of critical documents and data with shareholders.
Customer Portal Solution
One method of streamlining customer service interactions and processes is via a B2C customer portal, which allows clients and customers to access a personalized dashboard of data (including PII) for services or to make further purchases. Such a portal can increase customer retention rates.
A membership portal can be used for companies that offer specific services to subscribers and members, all via an authentication login system. After login, consumers can have premium access to a member area, where they are granted access to premium material, whether it be datasheets, entertainment medium, music, documents, training materials, and more.
Companies have the ability to utilize a CRM portal as an internal system for robust and comprehensive collaboration among marketing and sales teams for the management of customers via a central repository of critical customer data. Such a portal streamlines data analysis and customer retention strategies and syncs remote workers and internal personnel with real-time data for implementing marketing campaigns and customer retention strategies.
HR portals can be used as internal systems by companies who need a collaborative, streamlined, centralized method of managing all aspects of Human Resources for its personnel. An internal network of HR portals allows HR officers to collaborate with higher C-level executives, who may have personalized access to the portal and all data pertaining to all personnel within the company, along with pertinent HR info such as taxes, work schedules, worker’s compensation, and more.
Intranet portals are a type of enterprise-level application associated with web portals existing within a company’s intranet for the use of internal personnel to access company data and services via an intranet website, which makes use of a login mechanism.
An extranet portal is a type of web portal existing within an extranet space that is designed to allow external parties to access internal data and services via a website with a login authentication mechanism.
A corporate portal is a hybrid of a B2B and a B2C portal in that it allows access to internal company data/services to both customers and business associates.
Business Objectives Of Using Web Portals
It is clear now that web portals are critical web-based systems that can serve a variety of key purposes in all industries, and help to allow remote, secure authenticated access to essential data that both business associates and customers need to access to facilitate projects, business operations, and both short-term and long-term workflows. Such portals give companies a quick and easy way to provide essential information and data to its base without having to rely on physical mail, faxing, or even email, the latter of which usually has stringent attachment limits which do not apply to cloud-based web portals.
That said, web portals give companies three major internal benefits, along with three significant external advantages:
- Integration: The ability for companies to integrate and unite all customer and corporate data in the back-end of a single system can greatly ease data administration operations.
- Consistency: Uniting back-end data across platforms and remotely via the Web gives companies the ability to store and rely on consistent data that can be shared and collaborated upon.
- Personalization: Portals can be built to allow personalized access to specific users (including internal staff), giving companies the ability to contextualize the experiences of both internal staff and external customers/clients.
External advantages include:
- Access Control: Companies can control who can access their internal cloud repositories and can also control what said parties could access via secure authentication and authorization (web-based) mechanisms.
- Customer Service/User Access: Enterprises can grant customers, and clients access to their PII in a feasible, remote (and secure) manner, streamlining customer access and customer-facing operations.
- Marketing Management: The ability to personalize web portal access based on customer behavior also allows marketing managers to automate marketing campaigns relating to customers, and managing them via the back-end system.
Combined, the advantages of web portals can greatly increase a company’s bottom line by reducing churn rates and overhead requirements.
Streamline Users Access to Resources and information
Giving users access to internal resources, PII, and critical information via a web portal helps to streamline operations, reduce customer churn rates, and save on overhead. Some examples include banks allowing customers to access and modify their financial account information via a web portal, as opposed to such customers needing to visit a physical bank to carry out such transactions.
Control What Can Be Accessed By Each User
Web portals can be engineered to be personalized according to each user, giving clients and/or partners a unique view into critical data and information that a company wants to make available to such pertinent parties.
Improve Customer Retention and MRR
Streamlining and optimizing customer-facing systems gives customers a reason to continue using your business services. Ease of use and convenience help to improve customer retention rates, reduce churn rates, and improve monthly recurring revenue (MRR) rates - all while reducing company overhead.
Reduce Other Forms Of Time Intense Communication
When customer and other web portals are used correctly, the load on customer service workflows and internal communication requirements are significantly decreased, and the costs associated with time-intensive communication activities are significantly reduced. This decrease in costs is due to customers having the ability to search for, obtain, and carry out all pertinent data and information-based activities without having to contact your company for basic operations that the web portal allows. Internal members can collaborate on projects and share critical data via the internal web portal without having to waste time on meetings and conferences.
Building A Web Portal
All Web Portals operate as robust web applications built into websites, allowing relevant persons to login to repositories of crucial data and services. So for internal staff or business associates, the web portal may offer increased visibility into inter-departmental operations and access to essential documents, blueprints, or strategic plans, along with project management apps and systems, allowing collaboration and remote work. Portals for clients give customers and consumers access to their critical PII and other services that can streamline customer interactions with your company.
But building a server-side web portal that feeds into the client-side (via a website) requires some deliberation and strategic planning, along with experienced full-stack engineers who are well-versed in building comprehensive web applications.
Decide If You Will Build In House Or With A trusted Partner
The first step in building a web portal is deciding on whether to build it via in-house engineers or trusted, outsourced partners. Utilizing the resources and expertise of trusted business partners may help your business save on time and costs in the short term, along with allowing a customized portal to be built by experts who (should) have the know-how and experience with meeting the needs of different organizations. Employing trusted partners also often means handing over maintenance responsibilities, which gives your internal staff more time to carry out other critical roles.
At the same time, building a proprietary web portal via in-house engineers gives your company the freedom to engineer a solution for your company’s “pain points,” with the latitude to alter the project timelines and features at will without having to consult a third party. And your in-house engineers can become familiar with how to maintain it in a more optimal fashion after tailoring a specific and unique solution for your company’s needs.
Ensure That Your Portal Will Be Secure
One of the most critical parts of building a web portal in this day and age is ensuring that the portal is secure. This includes utilizing robust security controls, using secure coding methodologies, having penetration testers attempt to hack the system (to ensure that the portal is secure), and having security administrators patch and upkeep the web portal continuously to avoid costly data breaches. Authentication and authorization mechanisms must also be designed and developed with security in mind.
As web portals operate like many other web applications, widespread web attacks against common web app vulnerabilities should be studied and mitigated, such as Cross-Site Scripting, Web Buffer Overflows, and SQL injection, among other things.
Decide Upon How The Portal Will Be Built
After deciding who will design and develop the web portal, the next step is deciding how the web portal is to be built. This includes choosing between off-the-shelf, “one-size-fits-all” options, or utilizing custom builds that result from engineers designing and developing the portals from the ground up. While off-the-shelf options may be less expensive, custom builds are often made to solve specific “pain points” that a company may have, and are designed as unique solutions that fit an enterprise’s actual needs.
Off The Shelf Options
Off-the-shelf web portal options are often integrated with Content Management System (CMS) software that is used to design and develop websites before it is hosted on a web server. Such solutions offer pre-made web portal
web apps that can be integrated into your company website to aid in sales, customer management, client PII access, and more, and are often made to scale in a general manner while offering a broad number of functions and mechanisms of action. That said, such options generally may not include the specific functions that your company may need to solve its unique “pain points.”
Custom web portal builds are more time-consuming to build, more expensive, and more complicated, but also more valuable in providing specific solutions to your company’s “pain points,” due to being designed, developed, and tailored to meet your enterprise’s specific and unique needs. Building a custom web portal from the ground up requires three factors:
- Language: custom web portals require a scalable, powerful language that is not prone to too many security vulnerabilities.
- Database: custom web portals usually use a robust Relational Database Management System (RDBMS).
- Front-End: the front-end is the client-side interface that will be interacted with by your associates and/or clients and customers.
The first factor, programming language, is a given, and thus the more critical decisions to make are what database and which front-end to use for your custom web portal.
Choose A Database
There is a myriad of server-side, back-end database systems that enterprises can choose when building a web portal that connects to said database. When it comes to web portals and other web applications, RDBMSs are the most common option. When choosing a robust RDBMS for your web portal custom build, it is crucial to select a scalable, enterprise-level (or tried-and-true open source) system, such as Microsoft SQL Server or PostgreSQL. Some other options include MySQL, Oracle, and IBM DB2, among others, along with cloud-based DBaaS (database as a service) options.
Choose A Front End
- And more…
The three most common and popular options are React, Vue.js, and Angular, all of which positively affect productivity and performance when implementing robust client-side (Front-end) web applications, such as web portals, due to their comprehensive, dynamic, powerful libraries and stable, scalable technologies.
A Combination Of Both
An additional option that may serve your company well is utilizing a “hybrid” approach of building parts (e.g., front-end systems) of the web portal via off-the-shelf builds, and other parts (e.g., back-end database systems) via custom builds. This allows businesses - especially SMEs - to save on money when building commonly used systems associated with web portals - and, thus, not needing to spend money on custom builds - while using custom builds to engineer the parts of the web portal that need to accurately solve your company’s “pain points.”
Using A Platform That Allows for Detailed Customization
Some proprietary frameworks and platforms - such as specific Content Management Systems - allow one to build custom, highly customizable web portals within a website-developing suite that also offers off-the-shelf options for speedy and inexpensive website/web portal development. Such platforms allow for seamless development experience and a cheaper option for implementing the hybrid approach spoken about above.
Using Open Source Systems
Some CMSs and “hybrid” web portal development platforms - such as WordPress - offer a cheap option for developing web portals within a website, while also having the flexibility to use both off-the-shelf parts and custom builds.
Ensure Your Portal Is Compliant With Data Laws
When engineering a robust and need-based Web Portal - one that deals with the “pain points” of your enterprise and helps to better the bottom line, remember to use best practices to ensure the privacy of your customers, clients, and associates. This requires hardening your systems and ensuring complete data security while making sure that all of your customer and client PII is encrypted and inaccessible to hackers and malicious users.
Ensuring complete compliance with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation (a comprehensive EU privacy law that dictates how companies utilize and secure customer data) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) law (a California-based law that stipulates how customer data is to be used) is critical. When doing business in either country or region, complying with said legislation is a requirement, which entails keeping your client data safe, not utilizing customer data unlawfully without their consent, and ensuring complete data security to avoid expensive data breaches and costly fines from the government.
Lastly, when dealing with financial data, all web portals must be compliant with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, to ensure that all customer data and information is shared only with their consent.
In the end, complying with data and privacy legislation ensures that you are able to protect your customers and your company from malicious users, which results in a better bottom - and top - line.