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Replacing or Redesigning your Portal? Consider a Student Community

By October 22, 2014

By: James Davidson, Vice President Digital & Community Strategy, 7Summits

James DavidsonIn my role as a Senior Strategist at 7Summits, I have the benefit of meeting with a lot of schools during their project discovery to discuss strategy, solution architecture and implementation roadmaps. One of the growing trends that I see in many academic institutions of all sizes is the need to redesign, upgrade or replace a generation 1.0 student and/or faculty portal, while also investing in adding a social community to augment the collaboration gaps of their portal solution. As we delve a little deeper into the student portal vs. online community discussion, the requirements typically fall into two buckets:

  • Portal Solution: Personalization, Workflow, Access/Permissions, Document Management, Dashboards, Account Management, Reporting, Quicklinks to applications
  • Community Solution: Streamlined Communications, User Profiles and People Search, Topical Groups and Communities, Activity Streams, Discussions, Notifications, Content Management

Typically these projects are viewed as related, but separate. And sometimes they are being driven by different internal stakeholders with a different vision or charter in silos. According to industry research many portals fail as they often don’t meet customer needs and are difficult to measure results.

This aligns with what we are seeing at 7Summits as we evaluate the merits of a portal project redesign or upgrade to a social community. Often the original project sponsor and/or the technology platform are blamed. As we talk to project stakeholders we hear things like:

  • “We had no strategy”
  • “This was an IT-lead project”
  • “We focused too much on the technology, and not enough on the user”
  • “We bought the wrong portal package”
  • “Our developers love to build everything”
  • “We over customized the solution and never upgraded”
  • “We ran out of budget and never delivered on our vision”
  • …and the list goes on.

Sometimes there is primary research in the form of an end student survey or interviews. As we review the feedback and comments, it generally falls into these areas:

  • Content is static and hard to find
  • User interface is old and hard to navigate
  • Doesn’t work on mobile/tablet
  • Lackluster adoption – no one visits the portal
  • People work around the portal
  • Functionality is too hard to use
  • No guidance or help
  • Limited to no social engagement features and capabilities
  • Search results can be overwhelming
  • No personalization – one size fits all approach

Given this reality, how can we take the best ingredients of what portals do well and extend their value into our current hyper-connected social and mobile world? I would like to propose another way, or at least point of view for you to consider.

Killing two birds with one stone = Enter the Community Portal

Changing the generation 1.0 student portal with a newer 2.0 solution will not address some of the critical gaps that still exist with a static content and push communication centric environment. Work and getting work done, be it with students, partners, faculty or staff is inherently collaborative and relationship based with people at the center, not content. The features of a Portal and Community can be combined to create a Community Portal that bridges the gaps of traditional portal solutions (mobile access, personalization, easy configuration) while adding the benefits of social technologies and online community. The differences between a Community and Portal can be characterized in the following diagrams:


Traditional Websites and Portals vs. Community Portals

Traditional Portal
Community Portal
Content People
Disparate Experiences Clear Roles
A Gateway A System Of Engagement
Staff Supported Self-Service and User Generation
Desktop Centric Device Agnostic
Work Alone Collaborate with Peers
Institution Focused User Centric

Part 2: Building the Business Case for Convergence

In my next blog I will cover the business value, use cases and measures of success for building a Community Portal, including how to get started.

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