Travis Weaver Mar 20, 2012

The Painful Price of Portal Proliferation

If you were appointed the bank’s Chief Waste Officer, where could you quickly make your mark in terms of wiping out serious wasted expense? We have a suggestion: Portals. If your bank is like many, your Website portals have been proliferating for years at considerable and often hidden expense, with many of them redundant or obsolete.

A new portal is often one of the steps of a new project, product, or partner. Mergers often produce a jungle of sites, current and defunct, used and unused, high-functioning and low. It is not unusual to find thousands of portals, internal and external, at large banks and hundreds at banks of middling size.

Portals are popular for good reason. Internal portals vastly improve employee productivity with a single, personalized point of access to key information, processes and people; no more tapping into disparate systems with too many logons and scattered. They make collaboration possible and productive, replacing meetings, phone calls, and spreadsheets. They help manage compliance.

External portals deliver crucial customer ease and satisfaction. They enable the bank to attract, engage, and serve customers while giving them a unified customer experience no matter how complex the bank’s business organization, the variety of applications and partners involved, or the variety of customer needs. They present crucial content that serves the customer well while protecting the bank’s brand. They ensure compliance.

And creating portals has become progressively easier, thanks to the ready availability of well-built Internet tools. Today not only IT professionals but business users with ordinary web savvy can make their own portals.

But the costs of having a portal can multiply rapidly. There’s the license expense for the Internet tool and then the ongoing external maintenance fees. There’s the internal maintenance cost from the data center or wherever the portal’s server is housed. Some portals can get by with sharing administrators, but larger and more complex portals can require a full-time team of administrators.

Storage expense can be high. After all, the portal’s purpose is to hold and present vast amounts of information. With 90% of the information available today generated in the past two years, according to IBM, most portals must constantly expand their storage in order to retain their relevance and utility.

Portals compete for the same IT resources. Estimates are that a simple internal portal can easily run $10,000 a year, while major external portals can easily run six figures. Tracking this expense is tricky, because portals often live wherever they were created, scattered across different geographies and different lines of business. This creates another worry for bank management – how to monitor and control all external communication as laws require. With portals so easy to create, many are either unauthorized or essentially unsupervised, creating significant exposure and no accountability.

The good news is that portal expense and risk can be addressed with multiple work efforts.

Today no bank can afford to be without a comprehensive portal governance strategy. IT management needs to craft such a plan, including criteria for new portals, as well as security, administration, onboarding, registration, devices, user interface, social media, storage/content management, collaboration, alerts, communications, user profiles, tool integration, cloud computing, and so on.

A parallel effort to eliminate portal waste starts with a simple portal inventory. The inventory makes a special effort to find portals that were quietly subsumed after a merger and those that still slake off license and maintenance expense even after they are forgotten or no longer used. Swiftly retiring these “orphaned” portals can save money with zero loss of value.

Only then can you make your portal value assessment. Once the portals are inventoried and the defunct ones marked for retirement, the remainder should be assessed to determine which are still valued and used by the business unit or other purpose for which they were originally created.

But even valuable portals might still be redundant with others across the enterprise. You can conduct a portal redundancy comparison to disclose where useful portals might perform similar functions or contain the same information as others, wasting resources to keep them all up-to-date and compliant.

Once vital, non-redundant portals have been identified, the question is whether they make efficient use of the bank’s standard architecture, or do they run up unnecessary expense by using other equipment? A portal architecture review will show that older portals typically entail heavy expenses. Until recently, if you wanted a portal with a document repository, message boards and blogging capability, you would have had to invest in three different software solutions, three different servers, and three different systems administrators. Today’s enterprise portal solutions offer multiple capabilities in one product for lower licensing, hardware and people expense and a virtually seamless experience for the end user.

A portal consolidation effort makes users grateful for the efficiency of one-stop shopping for time-tracking, business travel planning, company/organizational communications, expense reporting, and benefits. As for waste, the time employees save by not having to switch from portal to portal to do ordinary work can easily add up to millions of dollars for mid-sized to large banks.

As for external portals, if customers currently have to deal with separate portals for each product they use, consolidation can do a lot for customer satisfaction and potential cross-sell. Your insurance customer may be looking into investment services for their employees, loans and lines of credit for expansion, payroll services. Your investment services customer may be interested in company insurance and payroll services. Consolidated or “enterprise” portals offer customers and the bank the opportunity of deeper and broader relationships.

No portal effort is complete without a portal risk assessment. Are people who use the portals and place documents on them well-trained in employee and customer confidentiality laws? Are those confidentiality requirements scrupulously observed? What about security issues? After all, banks are a prime target for hackers and other malicious fraudsters and portals, unlike ordinary point-to-point communications, are point-to-the-world. Are untrained employees or customers able to innocently contravene security protocols? Is access properly restricted and enforced?

While portals are indispensably valuable, their expense and risk have crept up to significant levels at many banks. A concerted effort can deliver significant savings, free up trained resources for valuable work, and reduce risks of many kinds.

Mr. Weaver is senior consultant at Irving, Tex.-based ABeam Consulting USA. He can be reached at tweaver@abeam.com.

 

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