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Organizational portals: the myths of the past and present

1 April 2010
A hand touching a touch screen

In March 2002, our magazine published an article titles "organizational portals: the myths". The article reviewed the eight popular myths of the time regarding organizational portals. Hereby are those myths:

  1. A portal is a technological project

  2. The project will take only three months

  3. We don't need to purchase software

  4. We don't need any assistance from consultants

  5. The more we enter into the portal the better

  6. If we build the portal, people will come

  7. The portal manages itself

  8. The portal will solve all of our problems

This article will review whether these myths are still valid eight years later, whether they have changed over the years and (if they have indeed changed) how.

The portal is a technological project

Unfortunately, this myth still partially exists. While the technological aspect is important, so are the other aspects which are equally important: content, culture and process. One of the reasons that some projects are labeled as technological projects is strongly linked to the KM unit's location in the organization; in approximately 30% of the organizations the KM unit is subject to the Information Systems unit (based on the 2009 Knowledge Management survey). Another reason could be that the technological side is more concrete; its process is clearer to people than other aspects. I've heard sentences like "why should we invest in content? We have it all written as procedures" more than once; an effective and correct content writing process is not trivial for many users.

The project will take only three months

I sense this myth is slowly fading away. This doesn’t mean that organization have suddenly become more patient or goal-oriented. I still occasionally hear questions such as "so why does this take so much time?" but all in all the complexity of such a project is understood. What are the roots of this change? In my opinion, this change stems from three different sources. One is the level of experience accumulated over time in the organization itself and in organizations in general. Nowadays, every self-respecting organization performs a 'benchmarking' activity at some organization. Another source is the increasing complexity of the demands from the portal; no more merely a tool to which we enter some documents and create a bunch of links to operational systems, rather an increasing integration of connection to work processes and systems. And the last is the understanding that such a project naturally requires substantial time to create quality content for the portal (filtering, writing and editing it).

We don't need to purchase software

This is a myth that I can positively say has almost completely vanished from organizational settings. A quick scan of the 2009 Knowledge Management survey shows that there is a distinct trend of more than 85% of organizations choosing to purchase one of the central platforms offered in the portal market, a trend that has been increasingly growing over the years. Technological developments have caused these tools to be perfected into tools that provide apt answers to most organizations' needs. Nowadays, any self-respecting platform includes easily used and operated document management, form management and content management components as well as collaboration components, work processes, search engines, usage statistics, etc. so that these organizations need to develop internal solutions is virtually nonexistent.

We don't need any assistance from consultants

This saying was once a myth, it is nowadays a reality. The field was once new and hadn't yet accumulated a substantial body of knowledge that can serve and direct organizations. However, nowadays more and more organizations don't turn to consultants as an exclusive source, either in favor of a combined model including both internal and external consultancy, and exclusively internal implementation. The myth ironically became a reality due to the consultants assimilating in the organization to which they consulted. Also, the organization have made quite as over the years they have purchased tools and skills that enable them to perform independently. Organizations still turn to consultants, but the nature of this consultancy is different. New organizations in the field will tend to turn to consultants regarding more initial dilemmas and experienced organizations will continue turning to them but for receiving an experienced perspective on more complex and advanced KM issues.

The more we insert into the portal, the better

This is one of the fields in which the myth is well alive. The premise is that "the more the merrier", the more items we insert the better. The portal is supposed to be a One Stop Shop, isn't it? A similar saying is "why can't we just put everything in the portal? There's a search engine! So let anyone just search for what they need…" I have encountered many cases in which the organization declares their intention to build an organizational portal yet in practice attempts to construct attempts to offer a single solution for too many needs of too many user groups without considering the strategic and tactic advantage of a portal. There are some technological innovations in the field and out ability to create content adapted to the user via personalization and customization tools is raised but this does not absolve us from the need to perform a preliminary filtering and consider each item we wish to insert into the portal and how it contributes to the workers' everyday routine.

If we build the portal, people will come

The myth mentioned in the original article dealt with the portal's goal is not to bring people to it but to make accessible the knowledge most urgent and critical to performing the users' job in the most comfortable and accessible manner. Nevertheless, I wish to refer to another aspect reflected from the myth's title, namely the need for correct marketing of the portal to the user audience. The premise currently popular (albeit decreasingly popular) is that the portal is meant to 'speak for itself'. It is therefore unclear whether a festive launch is needed or whether marketing the portal or its content is even required. Lest us forget that a portal is actually a product; like any other product it can only benefit from marketing activities. This activity can assist in promoting awareness to the existence of the portal as to effective content it contains to which users cannot be exposed initially. The nature and scope of activity should be adapted to the organization but such an activity is undoubtedly required.

The portal manages itself

I can gladly say that organization are becoming increasingly aware that setting up a portal isn't the last step but merely the first; it won't manage itself if we don't maintain it regularly. One positive example I encountered merely a week ago involved a unit in an organization that set up a portal. This unit inquired not only what it would be required to contribute during the portal's first year but also during its next few years.

The portal will solve all of our (knowledge) problems

This myth is virtually nonexistent. I have never encountered it dominantly. This might be due to the organization's maturity and their understanding that there are no "magic solutions" coupled with a better understanding of the portal's abilities and its limitations derived from their experience with the tool.

All the above adds up to a positive outcome: most myths are either gone or gradually vanishing. This does not mean that new myths haven't replaced them; but that's another issue, to be covered in another article.

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