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Friday, September 21, 2007

The Curse of Portal Software

6:52:00 AM Posted by Oscar Berg , No comments

A portal provides unified access to a collection of services and content resources. The main purpose of a portal is to simplify for users by making everything they need readily available at their fingertips.

Portal software vendors often emphasize the “everything” word in the sentence above. There's nothing strange with that. Software vendors have always had number of features as their main sales argument. But, as a software buyer you must see through this and realize that simplicity is the most important attribute of any software. Complexity typically increases with the number of features and the challenge is therefore to balance features and simplicity.

Involving users and eliciting requirements from the intended user population is a key success factor for a portal initiative. The portal must serve the needs of the users and what is better then than to ask the users which their needs are? Well, there is one thing to be cautious about when involving users – users always know what they want but not always what they need. Many users think they need a lot of features just because they want a lot of features.

The quest for simplicity requires someone to take the role as the devils advocate, to confront the “wants” (that everyone might agree on) to see if they are backed up by real “needs”. To prevent compulsive shopping of portal features, you should make everyone who wants a feature on the portal answer the following questions:

  • Will I use it?
  • Will it simplify my life?
  • Will I be happier with it?
  • Can I afford it?
  • Will it be worth the money?
  • Would I rather spend the money on this than on something else?

If the user can answer "Yes" to all of these question, you should continue to see if there is a business value to implement the portal feature.

But bear in mind that humans are like hamsters, always collecting everything. And the life of a hamster is not always simple.

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