Magazine article Journal of Banking and Financial Services

Only Fools Rush In: Five Steps to Success in IT Portals: With Many Financial Services Institutions Committing a Substantial Part of Their IT Budgets to Portal Technology, as an Information Management 'Silver Bullet', It Is Important Not to Ignore the Basics

Magazine article Journal of Banking and Financial Services

Only Fools Rush In: Five Steps to Success in IT Portals: With Many Financial Services Institutions Committing a Substantial Part of Their IT Budgets to Portal Technology, as an Information Management 'Silver Bullet', It Is Important Not to Ignore the Basics

Article excerpt

Banks and financial institutions that are implementing a portal project must approach it realistically; portals can transform knowledge management, but a portal project requires significant effort and budget commitment.

The term 'portal' is often misused. Websites acting as gateways are commonly referred to as portals, yet websites provide content and do not always involve application integration.

A portal aggregates information from several sources onto the one screen. It is essentially a framework that pulls content from different sources so users can access these sources through one entry point. Information articles, news services, real-time business information and financial or human resources applications can all be accessed through a portal.

A major strength of the framework is that it allows users to access functions or sub-components of applications without being trained in that application. For example, staff can view financial information without expertise in Oracle finance, which would take months to learn. Given that customer credit card, loans and account information are all on different applications it becomes an important part of internal customer management--a portal enables bank staff to access all of a customer's real-time information on the one screen.

The larger banks and institutions have been outstanding in 'handcrafting' portals from the ground up. But handcrafted systems eventually hit a wall as development and maintenance costs skyrocket, because they have been designed to solve specific problems and won't integrate with other systems.

Another key issue is that portals must be useable across different platforms; otherwise they create the silos they intended to break down. Portals are based around interoperable standards and middleware that enable disparate systems to communicate. The framework is the key, not the platform.

The framework is the core around which the unique portal infrastructure can be built and it must be platform neutral. To achieve this, many financial institutions are now finding that they need an external, commercial framework that is standards based for long-term viability. But this can involve a considerable investment. So what steps can you take to ensure success?

Step one: define your requirements

Every decision hinges on this stage: researching your business requirements, identifying the benefits and defining your goals. Do you need the portal? Sometimes a good content management system will suffice. Without knowing your requirements it's impossible to measure the portal's value later on.

Management has to work together and understand how the organisation communicates, internally and externally. Portals are not just an 'IT project'; they are a 'whole business project' and need the support of all senior staff.

Step two: do your research

The next step is to research the users. Learn from employees what tasks are inefficient and identify ways to make their job easier. See where information clusters around roles, and place all related information on a function-based portal page. Possible segments include: Human Resources, Sales, Accounting, Financial Planning, Legal, IT, Project Management, and R&D.

Research should include an inventory of current and proposed applications. Future-proof your technology by selecting a portal framework that supports standards, such as JSP 168 or Web Parts, which allows different proprietary systems to talk to each other.

It is very important to find out what information the organisation requires, where it is stored and its format. Both structured and unstructured data can hinder the success of projects if the true business value of the data is not recognised and delivered in an appropriate business context. This information should be identified, prioritised and collated according to their use within the business. Organisations need to aim for a single source for all information, eliminating duplication. …

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