Every company needs a company portal. There, we said it!
The traditional cluttered desktop brimming with various software launchers and databases not only hinders the user experience but also leads to inefficiency and potential manual errors.
Having a desktop chock full of company resources like software launchers, file systems, databases, etc. is not only a pain for your employees – no matter how comfortable they are with the process – it’s also just one of those systems that can lead to manual errors and wasting time, i.e. using the wrong resource, or spending valuable time trying to hunt down the right system to use.
Today we both introduce company portals and how to build them for your business.
What’s a company portal?
A company portal is your employees’ jump-off point for accessing restricted company content – be it documents, databases, software, or any other digital resources.
A portal is generally accessed through a webpage, which can be an on-site only system, or available for remote access through identification verification. If your company portal requires remote access there will be some security measures you’ll need to put in place to make sure all your company data and resources are kept safe and secure.
How is a company portal different from an intranet?
Your intranet is all those company digital resources, connected via an internal networking structure. The portal is just the entryway to access it. These days, an intranet is often not just an internal network on site, though, it can be a virtual intranet provided by the cloud, or a hybrid cloud/on-premise solution.
While the portal acts as the access point, the intranet embodies the network of company resources connected internally. The intranet, however, has evolved beyond an on-premise network to potentially being a cloud-based or hybrid solution, enhancing accessibility and flexibility for the workforce.
Conversely, you can also create customer portals too – for your clients to access restricted resources from your business relevant to their accounts. These customer portals will obviously always require remote access. Customers can then perform self-service tasks quickly and easily from anywhere, without having to go through traditional (slow) customer service channels such as call centres or shopfronts.
These customer portals can also be hosted on-premise, via the cloud, or as a hybrid solution.
Building a company portal
In the past, building company portals was a highly specialised technical area that required sophisticated software developers to build out the infrastructure.
In some cases, where the systems are highly complex, have unique requirements, or require extremely strict security regulations (perhaps governmental systems where Secret clearance is required), this may still be the case.
However, for the majority of small to medium businesses, there are software products that can help build company portals either completely DIY or with a little bit of professional help.
How does Microsoft SharePoint come into the picture?
Microsoft SharePoint is a product any company can purchase that can help them to build their very own company portal by connecting up their company’s digital infrastructure (intranet). It can also be used to help create customer portals, too.
The Microsoft platform has gone through an astronomical overhaul in the past few years, switching over to an online, cloud-service offering. This might sound scary to businesses who are used to an on-premise setup, however, we’re happy to tell you that it really is the opposite.
With a remarkable transition to a cloud-service model, SharePoint Online, part of the broader Microsoft 365 suite (previously O365), has undergone significant enhancements. It presents businesses with a robust platform that fosters deep integration between systems, breaking down silos and enabling more effective resource utilisation.
Integrated with familiar tools such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams, it ensures a seamless and consistent collaboration experience across the entire suite.
Using SharePoint as a company portal
Setting up SharePoint isn’t exactly a few clicks and you’re done the type of process. There’s a lot that goes into the process which will either need to be configured by your internal IT team, superusers, or an external provider – like us.
The key components that are involved in building out your SharePoint portal are:
1. Needs Assessment
What do you hope to achieve with the portal? Perhaps centralise company news, provide access to shared resources, or facilitate team collaboration. Gather requirements and talk to different departments. Understand their needs and how they might use the portal.
2. Information Architecture
Decide on site structure and determine how many sites/subsites you’ll need. For instance, you might want main sites for HR, IT, and Sales, with subsites for specific projects or teams. Create document libraries, lists, and other necessary components. Plan how documents and content will be categorised.
Ensure users can quickly find what they’re looking for. This could mean using dropdown menus, search bars, or breadcrumb trails.
4. Content aggregation and management
Use consistent naming conventions and tags to make search and categorisation easier. For critical content, you may set up content approval workflows.
Utilise web parts like calendars, task lists, or news feeds to enhance functionality. You may also need to integrate your portal with Microsoft tools like Microsoft Teams, Power BI, or Viva Engage for an integrated experience.
Customise the appearance to reflect your company’s brand. This includes logos, colors, and fonts. Use out-of-the-box SharePoint templates or design your own to maintain consistency.
Launch the portal to a small group first. Gather feedback and make necessary adjustments. Ensure there are no broken links, mislabeled content, or accessibility issues. You can also organise training sessions to familiarise users with the portal’s features. Periodically gather feedback to understand user needs and issues, and continuously improve the portal based on feedback.
Perhaps the most important three of these tasks will be your information architecture, navigation, and content aggregation. These will take some time to really nail down, and you may need a few iterations – or ongoing iterations – to get something that really works for your business.
Microsoft offers many out-of-the-box SharePoint configurations, although you might require something more customised after testing out their templates. Engaging with experts, like A1 Technologies, can be invaluable in navigating this process.
You can find Microsoft’s introduction to building SharePoint online portals via their best practices here. Here are some tips and best practices from our Microsoft experts:
Avoid Overcomplication: Don’t add unnecessary features or tools. Keep the portal straightforward and intuitive.
Regularly Update Content: A portal with outdated content loses its value. Designate personnel to regularly update news, resources, and documents.
Security: Regularly review and update security measures. Ensure sensitive data is protected and only accessible to authorised personnel.
User Adoption is Key: A portal is only as good as its adoption rate. Make sure it’s user-friendly, and employees understand its value.
Backup and Disaster Recovery: Always have a plan for data backup and recovery. Cloud solutions like SharePoint Online have some built-in backup features, but ensure you understand their limits and have additional measures if needed.
Seek Expertise When Needed: If there are areas you’re unsure about, consider consulting with SharePoint experts or hiring professionals to ensure your portal’s success.
Where to next?
If you already have Microsoft 365 setup within your business, you can get your superusers to start playing around with setting up a SharePoint portal. You can start exploring SharePoint for as little as $5/user/month – it’s not expensive to get started.
Once you’ve started exploring the capabilities of SharePoint, you’ll probably want to start getting serious about building out your company portal more comprehensively with high usability among your team.
If you don’t have people on your team with the skills to do this effectively, or even if they simply don’t have the time due to other project time restraints, that’s where we can come in to help out.
A1 Technologies can help design and build your ideal SharePoint company portal, ensuring high usability and intuitive setup. Involving your team along the way gives you insight into how to continue making changes to it yourself in the future should you wish – or we can continue along as your technology partner and change things up as your requirements change, infrastructure or team grows.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can get involved in helping create your company portal with SharePoint, make sure to get in touch.
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