If you’ve been convinced by one of our previous articles here to implement a consumer portal, you might be wondering where to start. Portal implementations may vary drastically based on business requirements, but there is common ground for all portal implementations that this post will highlight.
Identify Publishing Rules
Publishing content and metadata to an external cache will help you begin the process of untangling yourself from your existing ECM. The nice thing about a straight-forward publishing mechanism is it is typically easy to setup, assuming you can identify what documents your external users need access to. Many ECM systems, especially legacy systems, require regular downtime and maintenance to continue to serve authoring and collaborating needs in an ever-shifting business environment. In a controlled environment, losing access to operation critical documents is unacceptable. The publishing job can be scheduled to run on intervals that the business feels comfortable with. We have seen these jobs setup to run as often as every 5 minutes. Less critical documents can be pushed 1 time daily. Some consumer portals will only publish out specific document states (such as Approved or Effective) – documents with states that need to be removed from the portal can be deleted (such as Obsolete or Retired). Typically clients just publish a PDF of the document since it is to only be used for read access. The metadata published is anything the business has identified as being necessary for users to find the appropriate document via a search interface. The publishing job might also push a light version of security in the form of metadata if required. This allows for the consumer interface to show specific content to the appropriate viewers based on role or even group.
By properly decoupling your portal architecture from the ECM system, the portal can provide the high-availability requirements essential to your business’s collateral consumers and give them an interface they enjoy using.
Identify the Interface
ECM systems are famous for including every feature that a user might ever need. Chances are your read-only users don’t need a large portion of features built into your ECM for collaboration needs. When building, or choosing, the user interface, take a hard look at what features to include – you’ll reduce support costs and dissatisfied users by stripping your application down to exactly what your target consumer audience needs. Focus on the what 90% of the users of your system do on a daily basis. A common use case is searching for the current approved version of a document and downloading it for viewing offline. If that is the most common scenario, do not spend effort implementing a complex interface to view older versions of those documents. Take the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) approach to application design, and identify what is most beneficial, day one. Many clients will have implemented consumer portals as a stopgap for large upgrades or migrations and are surprised when the users prefer using the ‘temporary’ solution.
We have found that the most successful interfaces are those that are very purposeful and focused in their approach. Simplicity is often overlooked for the due to the fact users have been trained over the years to work around a clunky legacy system. Introducing a consumer interface to users who have never been forced to work within these overloaded applications is often easier than trying to retrain existing users.
Consider the Cloud
Some businesses may never be capable of fully considering a move to the cloud due to security constraints, but the benefits are too large to dismiss. Common ECM implementations will live behind the firewall to help manage the complexity and security of the system. If your business does not have strict security requirements for published consumer collateral, a portal is an ideal candidate to move to the cloud. The advantages of the cloud have been documented elsewhere, but the simplicity of a portal solution makes it an easy first step into the cloud for your business. The risk of moving only Published and Approved documents to a cloud environment are typically low and are an easier pill to swallow for many companies.
Removing the ECM platform and its strict licensing restrictions could very well create an influx of users far greater than other existing platforms your IT group is used to managing. Pushing this burden into the cloud will further improve the chances for success. The flexibility of leveraging the cloud will allow you to quickly scale up infrastructure should the consumer interface grow in popularity. Additionally, the redundancy of having this fail safe system deployed in an environment separate from your existing applications will further increase the the value due to mission critical content they can hold.
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