Web development Birmingham

How to Build an Online Portal to Boost Your Business (10 ways, with examples)

By Andrew Ward By Andrew Ward Feb 12, 2020

You run a business or a team in a company; some things are going well, some things could be improved. You know you want to change, you might want to grow, but how? How can you improve what you are doing without creating mounting operational costs? How can you reduce errors in the team? Reduce the amount of admin time?

You want to be better, more productive, more competitive.

Portals (including both Web Portals and Mobile App Portals) are tools of productivity leverage, and enable you to solve many of the questions raised above creatively. In our opinion, every business needs to build a portal, but there is often not a single one-size-fits-all approach, leaving many wondering where to start. The way you position your portal will be unique to you and your challenges, and there are lots of options.

To help guide your thinking, we've written this article to highlight the top 10 ways around how to build an online portal to boost your business. 

text, how to build an online portal to boost your business: 10 ways building an online portal can boost your business, on top of image of a star exploding

Contents

This is a long article, so please feel free to either read the whole thing (if so, keep scrolling) or dip into the section that most interests you.

Here is a list of the sections of this article, each with a handy anchor link:

Background (Today's Tech World - The Roaring 2020s)

Technology moves at lightspeed, literally. You only have to look at the development of phones over the past twenty years to see the impact of the tech sector on businesses in every category. We now have bricks of glass and metal, that can do anything you can imagine (or at least that is how it feels), and everything moved from manual to digital, and from digital to mobile. The world is an entirely different place to what it was just twenty years ago, thanks to the fast-paced evolution of tech.

In our day to day lives, these advancements have been undeniably useful, but in business, there are both risks and opportunities.

Technology and digital developments, such as your IT, Software as Service platforms, and online portals, quickly become critical assets that your company would struggle to survive without.

Conversely, these digital innovations can also be a drain on your funds, overcomplicating your systems and business processes if you don't carefully manage their implementation and maintenance. You need to take care and make sure you choose the right tech for your business goal, clients need, and staff workflow. All while enhancing your brand rather than hindering it, and maintaining a happy team!

Happy team presenting about performance

Developing a made-to-measure online portal is increasingly vital to businesses today, bringing significant opportunities to those who can take advantage of one.

These smart web apps allow your customers, suppliers, or employees to access a single location for all the information and business processes that they need — streamlining what you do in a portal makes everyone's lives whole lot simpler. It enables you to do things that would never be possible without one. You can collaborate, interact, and share data like never before - it's revolutionary in terms of B2B and B2C communication.

As promised, we've dug deep to get all the information on just what these portals can do. Take a look and find out why they're the next big thing. At the end of this article after the top 10 list, we will also run through a list of the common types of online portal, so you can see if your ideas fit in any one of these categories. Here is the list:

1) Differentiate Your Business From the Competition

offices with different lights on, representing standing out from the others

The world of business is highly competitive. If you have an idea, chances are there are already plenty of other companies out there offering just the same. While this might strike fear into the heart of many businessmen and women, competition is not something to run away from and is something you should embrace.

Competition shows there's a market for what you're offering and can help you to push yourself and deliver more value, more innovatively, than you may have in less competitive conditions. It's this that you should focus your attention on - how can you go above and beyond? What are you offering that others aren't?

How are you going to be bigger, better, and more bountiful?

By creating a bespoke hub of useful tools and information, you can provide your customers, staff, and suppliers with a unique process that adds value to your business. For example, you might tailor your site to deliver additional benefits to your audience, such as online live chat - which only 9% of companies are currently using - that will enhance their customer experience. Such innovations improve the customer experience and make your company more appealing.

Spire is a large gas utility company in the United States, with over 1.7 million customers across Alabama, Missouri, and Mississippi. With around 9,000 other independent oil and gas companies in their country, they knew that to keep up their success, they needed to stay ahead, they have to differentiate, modernising their processes to offer their clients something more.

As you can imagine, competing with major gas giants is challenging, so Spire had to bring out the big guns with an entirely new, completely bespoke online portal.

The portal first connected their separate account management sites into a single online platform, immediately improving their customer service as everything was now findable from one place. It integrates the ERP systems they already had in place, as well as two mobile management systems for their workforce, and two payment processing systems. Customers can also track their usage, pay bills online, and easily enrol in different payment arrangements, making their interactions with Spire far simpler.

The portal met its business objectives, creating a site that's easy for their customers to use, and that is responsive and accessible across devices. They also rolled out their portal to customer service staff, who now use the same site as customers to make helping them a lot easier and reduce costs from their call centre. Customers often leave positive feedback for the company about the platform, and with an easy to upgrade system, Spire is still adding new, useful features to enhance the user experience, such as service technician tracking.

56% of consumers look to buy from the brands that they consider to be the most innovative. They expect to see businesses introducing new services to fulfil customer needs, deliver better innovation, and improved user experience. Ignoring the opportunity to innovate and capture this audience could be a fatal mistake. Online portals offer your clients something new and show them you're creating tools to make their interactions with you better. 86% of customers are even willing to pay more for better user experience, and companies like Apple have grown to become the worlds first trillion-dollar companies by adopting philosophies that recognise this opportunity.

Even though going digital is growing in importance - particularly in the eyes of the consumer - almost half of the businesses surveyed self-report that they are moving too slowly, with 55% of businesses holding the belief that they have less than a year before competitive threats. They are worried about others in their industry, implementing better digital solutions more quickly than them, resulting in their company suffering financially or losing market share. If you want to avoid living in this category of the digitally left-behind, then an online portal will help you to double down on your strengths, and prevent that competition from becoming such a threat.

2) Stay Relevant (And Keep Up With the Times)

floppy disk, representing not sticking with the times

In a world that's demanding digital, if you don't keep up with the latest tech, then you're going to fall behind, and find the market you operate in shrinking. The modern consumer wants digital alternatives to manual processes, and what the consumer wants, the consumer gets - whether it's from your business, or from elsewhere.

How many people buy a cassette player these days, what about CD, mini-disk, or even MP3? People want the Spotify, the Apple music, the Google Play Musics's of this world. Don't be bet your future on being the walkman of the 2020s.

It's no surprise that brands are following this demand, and adjust to global tech trends. It was predicted by the end of 2019 (now gone) that two-thirds of Global 2,000 businesses CEO's would have switched their focus from offline to online and digital when it comes to customer experience (CX).

Just look at the 'real-world' examples of manual cash-exchange versus digital payment methods. From the arrival of the bank card, digital payment has evolved to meet customer demand, providing simple contactless payments and with brands such as Apple jumping on board with Apple Pay, as cash payments have been on the decline. eWallet payments are now set to make up almost half of all global payments by 2022, with 1 in 3 payments in the UK already made using contactless, digital payments.

But how does this relate to portals?

One of the reasons for this reported improvement in CX is that consumers prefer to manage their data online, with online portals from banks offering in-depth tracking of payments and data analysis to show spending habits. Digital has transformed the way we pay and deal with money, with online portals being heavily involved, and it goes to show the way the world is moving. Customers want digital in most aspects of their day to day lives; they expect digital processes to make tasks easier and want access to relevant content anytime and anywhere, delivered in a way that's compatible with the device they're using.

By offering digital, innovative solutions to your clients, you're meeting this demand. You're adding value to your business, and also making up for areas where value has reduced as customer demand shifts. If you don't evolve to the digital way of thinking, your business isn't just going to stagnate; it will fail.

There are plenty of examples of this happening to other brands. Still, perhaps one of the most well-known is Blockbuster - a sad tale of a once-popular business reduced to nothing because they didn't evolve with the times. Whilst streaming rose in popularity; Blockbuster couldn't keep up as they refused to go digital. Surprisingly, in 2000, the CEO of Blockbuster, John Antioco, sat down with Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, where they presented a partnership deal that would lead to Blockbuster's shift in their business model, launching subscription-based on-demand video online. Antioco couldn't see the value in innovating, sticking to the status quo, and turned down the deal. Ten years later, the company filed for bankruptcy. We don't really need to tell you how it turned out for Netflix.

As you can see, opening your business up to digital innovation is a must to keep your company afloat. By creating an online portal, you can immediately access a wealth of digital resources that you can then offer to your customers, helping reshape your brand image and propelling you into the modern age. Customers are demanding digital, and your online portal is the perfect way to deliver on those demands.

3) Reach a Global Market

flags flying from around the world

In this connected age, businesses have unprecedented access to global markets, with the ability to offer their products and services across the world. Finding new ways to leverage this wider reach can be critical for companies looking to expand.

But it isn't all about gross numbers, by carrying out such international expansion, you also open yourselves up to a more diverse audience, getting maximum leverage from targetting your niche, helping to drive sales and boost profits. Tapping into a global market can also help you innovate and evolve your company based on new demands you haven't faced before, helping your business grow in the modern world.

The number of SMEs going global is always on the rise, with the most up to date Government figures documenting a 6.6% increase in businesses exporting abroad (2017). This figure is expected to continue rising as our world population grows, becomes more connected, and by going digital, you can join the masses.

By building tools such as a Software as a Service product (SaaS) distributed online, you make once and have access to every internet user. And considering facebook alone has over 2.38 Billion monthly active users (2020), that is a vast audience. Imagine the difficulty in trying to access this size of an audience without creating a digital solution.

4) Easy Access to Real-Time Data

data metrics and graphs in a web dashboard

Real-time data is information that your company can automatically gather as it happens, such as a customers usage of a particular product, or events information from devices. A great example of real-time data collection are the smart meters rolled out across homes in the UK that can show the household how much electricity, water, or gas they've used up to that point, and how much it's cost the consumer.

For a smart meter, the user cares about having control of their energy consumption, what might the equivalent value be for your users? With online portals, it's the same principle - you deliver an improved customer experience to the end-user by collecting data, collating it, and giving it back to them in a way that they value. It's easy to see the popularity of this kind of tech when you look at the figures - over 15 million smart meters are installed in the UK already, with many more set to enter homes in the coming years.

By including real-time data in your online portal, you can also enable customers to take more control of the services you provide, allowing them to adjust behaviour, settings, or options based on insights. Data presented alongside such functionality is a great way to give potential clients peace of mind as they consider signing up to your company, showing them that they'll be in charge. If they were hesitant about using you, this could be a great extra to convince them that they're making the right choice, reducing negative post-purchase dissonance.

Data and insights can also enable you to demonstrate to your customers or stakeholders the value that your company is bringing to them. For clients, you can use data that relates to your function so they can see what they're getting. For stakeholders, you can show real-time performance metrics, such as their profits v.s. Operational cost to keep them informed, and allow them to adjust their actions based on the ever-changing business environment.

Clients will also be able to use this data on their online portal to make decisions that they may not have done before, allowing them to personalise your service themselves to make sure it suits their needs. Enabling customer decision making online or via an app reduces day-do-day admin time in your business, and also makes customers less likely to abandon your business if they're not entirely happy with something. You removed barriers in giving the customer direct-control to make changes themselves, for example, allowing them to adjust their subscription to make sure more of their money is going towards the services they need the most.

One of our own clients, Collect My Waste, shows how data can be used in online portals to enhance the customer experience. Once logged into their private portal, clients can view a range of analytics in an easy to read, a colour-coded graph which categorises different types of waste, giving them information on their waste collection services. They can view past waste collections and costs, allowing them to create more realistic budgets for their waste removal or adjust how much waste they're disposing of to suit their budget. It also shows data of how their waste is disposed of, re-inforcing the value to the customer of Collect My Waste's zero-landfill policy. A value-message that the business is very keen to demonstrate, and prove to customers to be true.

By adding real-time data to your online portal and performing as you should, your clients will be able to see that your service is benefiting them from the real-time data and they'll stick around for longer.

5) Provide Instant Access to Multiple Services

Happy person using a smartphone. Illustrating they are happy to have instant mobile access.

Consumers are increasingly impatient, expecting instant access to your products, services, and processes. Giving your customers this immediate experience that they desire is a great way to add value. Businesses recognise that delay means disappointment. Google has picked up on this, too, with searches for 'open now' on the up whilst 'store hours' has been decreasing, which shows us customers don't want to have to wait until it's convenient for you, they want you to cater to them.

By launching a web app, mobile app, or portal, you can make sure your services - or at least the majority of them - are available around the clock, whenever your clients need them, from wherever they are. You'll be able to address their needs quickly and without hassle, providing a great customer experience (CX).

This instant access to multiple services, or functions within a single service, also helps reduce the length of your sales pipeline. Rather than leading potential customers on a breadcrumb journey until they make a sale, you can keep everything you need to convince them in one, single place, with an easy-to-follow, cohesive online onboarding process. You can even leverage analytics and real-time metrics to see how your clients engage with your platform so that you can adjust your approach to improve conversion rates. This makes it simpler for your audience to engage and buy, and also saves your company time and money by automates much of the sales process, nurturing your clients more intelligently than ever possible by leveraging telephone calls and direct mail.

Automation is another primary reason why businesses are investing in building bespoke online platforms. By automating repetitive, manual processes, such as client sign-ups, follow-ups, support, fulfilment and data delivery, the running of your business is made far more manageable. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of companies turning to automation for their mission-critical processes increased by 34%, meaning that half of the businesses now use it. It's no surprise when you also consider that 68% of workers were overloaded with work, having too much to do every day when their tasks were manual.

6) Connect Your Systems (using APIs)

Hand drawing lines between icons overlaying a globe. Illustrating connected systems.

As we mentioned above, as your business grows and evolves, having sleek, automated processes that work together is ever more vital.

Business process management can transform a company, as shown by Carlsberg - a leading manufacturer of beer around the world. By 2013, poor process management had led to the company being in bad shape; their inventory was a mess, their staff were frustrated, and their efficiency was suffering. Fortunately, by digitising their systems and connecting them via API's, they drastically cut their administrative times and improved their data management.

Connecting your business processes is increasingly important. It allows your business to remove manual, repetitive tasks, to free up your staff, and reduce operational costs.

Take a look at just a few of the ways you could connect different processes and why:

  • A sales CRM system to e-commerce database - By connecting these two vital aspects of business, you can collect better data on your customers and compile plenty of useful insights. Having this kind of data is essential to improving your business, as shown by the fact that 76% of people want companies to know their needs and expectations, which can only be done through careful insight collection.
  • Accounting system to your fulfilment processes (or ERP) - A great way to reduce wasted time spent on manual processes is by connecting your accounts to fulfilment. You can then automate invoices, filling standard information based on the data collected.
  • Spreadsheets - A lot of businesses use spreadsheets to keep stacks of data in one, easy to access place, and they have a ton of benefits. To make the most of the data in your sheets, automate the process, and reduce human error, you can connect your spreadsheets to a multitude of other software. For example, you can create automated online marketing campaigns, such as email marketing with MailChimp, that automatically takes the data from your spreadsheets and puts the figures into pre-designed campaigns for real-time data. All of this can be connected through the back-end of your web app.

7) Introduce New Revenue Models

Person paying for something on their laptop using their debit card

Going online, whether via an app or web app, enables you to introduce new revenue models to your business. By expanding the number of revenue models you leverage, you'll have a chance to increase your profits, reach a wider audience, and show the world that your brand is keeping up with modern consumer demands.

To give you some inspiration, here are a few different Revenue Model options you could look into:

  • Freemium apps (pay to unlock)- Provide access to a bespoke designed, free app to enhance your customers experience with your brand. You can also add subscription services and sign-up to existing services to encourage brand commitment, as well as providing plenty of valuable content to promote brand loyalty.

  • Monthly subscriptions - Build a Software as a Service product (SaaS) to your revenue stream arsenal, and introduce recurring monthly revenue, where your customers pay a license for access.

  • Marketplace business - By starting a marketplace business, you can create a reliable revenue stream for your brand. You connect buyers and sellers on your online platform, creating a secure system for both to communicate and exchange goods or software, while you make a margin in the middle. Example of existing business models using this system are Uber, Amazon, Deliveroo, JustEat, and eBay.

  • Online advertising & sponsorship - If you maintain a large audience online, you can generate revenue by letting other businesses market to your audience. There are several ways to leverage online advertising, including sponsor deals, paid adverts, commission per sale, or lead generated. If your audience agrees, you can also share data you collect from them to other businesses who need it.

  • Paid audience activity & cross-selling - If you build a platform that has an audience, then there are many ways that other businesses can get value from that audience. For example, companies conducting market research may want to ask your audience questions that help them improve the way they run their organisation. Facilitating this activity allows you to add value to the company conducting the research, for which you can charge. Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are other examples of how you can make money from paid audience activity.

  • Revenue sharing or commission arrangements - If your platform delivers value to an audience that is easily accessible to another organisation, then there may be opportunities to align your platform with their business. You might earn commission customers you refer, or vice versa, enabling you to generate revenue indirectly.

  • App store purchases - If you develop your portal or tools like an app, then there may be substantial enough value in the solution to sell access to use on an app store. App stores include Apple App Store, Google Play Store, Amazon app store, and Samsung app store. These app stores make it easy for users to purchase your app with one click, but consumers often expect low price-points, so this strategy typically requires you to aim for high volumes of sale. App store purchases may also be of interest if you already have a sizable audience that you can reach easily at no cost, such as YouTube content creators with over a one hundred thousand subscribers.

  • Licencing deals - In building a portal, you create unique functions, data, and relationships. Each of these things is digital assets that can add value to other organisations who may want access to what you have collected or created (respecting your user's privacy, and within the remit of data protection laws). You may licence the use of your software, access to your API's, downloading of your content, processing of your portal data, a period for white labelling, and so on. 

  • Paid on results models - You often see a pay-on-results business model with consulting services, but it applies to portal and mobile app projects too. If your app solves a problem, then you can offer to bill customers a fee relative to how well you solve that problem. Users of your platform may gain access for 'free', and you then track the results you deliver and use those insights to drive how your invoice them.

  • Paid support models - If you provide a product or service, whether paid or free, then users who get value from using what you've built can become dependent on you, and require ongoing support. Companies like Rolls-Royce and Redhat have built major revenue streams based on providing long term commercial support arrangements to their customers. Rolls Royce for servicing their paid-for jet engines, and Red Hat for supporting their free Open-source Linux operating system, and other open-source tools.
  • Generate online sales - Enable direct online purchasing through your portal of products or services; which is the oldest and most trusted online business model in the book. By building a bespoke site, you can simplify complex configurations into a reliable pricing model that can be programmed to meet your needs.

8) Collect Data, Connect Data, and Drive New Insights

person making adjustments to project wireframes

In addition to delivering value to your customers by giving them control, you can also provide value to your own business by discovering relevant metrics and performance insights.

In developing your new platform, you can track and collect tons of data from your customers or staff, using it to create detailed insights and improve customer experience. From the data collected, such as what people are buying or how long they're spending on your site, you can personalise their experience to suit their wants and needs. This kind of personalisation is everywhere these days - Netflix, for example, recommends TV shows based on what you've watched, and banks will analyse your spending habits to suggest different accounts that might suit you better.

You can also use the data for personalised marketing campaigns, such as email marketing - for example, by connecting an online tool like MailChimp to your spreadsheet data. This simple integration might enable you to personalise your emails better, allowing you to see increases of almost 30% in your open rates and a 41% increase in click-through rates. In general, 85% of mobile marketers have given successful feedback about personalisation, with better engagement and higher conversions reported.

Collecting and analysing new business data allows you to review performance better, identify areas that might be underperforming, and make calculated, targetted adjustments. The success of data analytics at From the You Flowers company highlights just how beneficial this business tactic can be. The CEO, Michael Cahpin, was interviewed by inc.com, where he retold the story. After building a team to pore over ten years worth of historical data, they used it pinpoint areas they could optimise in their company to get the edge over their competitors. It wasn't a quick fix, but it worked. Their year-on-year growth increased steadily over the five years after the implementation of the changes, to a whopping 30% year on year growth - Fewer than 0.1% of companies grow by 20% or more each year, so these are very impressive figures.

There are plenty of ways From You Flowers used data to boost their business, and plenty more you could take on-board. Here are just a few of the ways you can use data to improve your effectiveness:

  • Predict your ability to meet demand - Use data to take into account factors such as traffic patterns on delivery routes, average customer service chat length, to understand your companies capabilities. You don't want to overload your business, or so you can find areas holding you back and improve them. This will help you meet your customer demands rather than failing them, leading to better customer experience.
  • Identify opportunities by location - Every smartphone has the capability to record and report it's location. Building location services into your portal or app allow you to track where behaviours or actions happen. This data can be useful to help you identify previously untapped audiences in locations where demand is rising, or recognise geographic trends in events that happen in your business.
  • Keep an eye on suppliers - By analysing complaints from your customers and staff, as well as requests for refunds, you can check up on which suppliers might be letting you down and drop them, looking elsewhere to keep your customers happy.
  • Optimise your marketing - If you can use data to find which of your customers are more likely to return for repeat business, you can target them with your personalised, data-filled marketing, increasing your ROI. You can work on building better, longer-lasting relationships with these fewer clients, boosting their value to you.
  • Improve staffing management - In the modern world of business, a lot of companies look out-of-house for staff. By using data, you can get valuable insights into your peak periods, and when things are quieter across departments. These insights give you a better idea of how many staff members you'll need to complete the workload, so you don't overhire, helping your business save money.
  • Predict major events from data - Sometimes combinations of seemingly unconnected events highlight that something bad (or good) is about to happen. For example, the rail service recognised that a change in the speed of their doors closing could indicate that the carriage needed to be servicing, an action which prevents unexpected breakdowns and saves rail operators money each year. What data is in easy reach for you to collect that might give you similar insight?

The growth of machine learning and automation makes collecting valuable data for your business a major opportunity, precious data that could give you a significant competitive advantage in years to come. Tesla is an excellent example of how a company is years ahead of the competition with its driverless car tech due to its data strategy.

Tesla has, for years, used its fleet of cars to collect over a billion miles of data from its autopilot on-board computer. With this data, they've been slowly building up an incredibly in-depth record of events, from road obstacles to when autopilot is engaged to act, building a complete AI autopilot through data. This analysis has put them (excuse the pun) miles ahead of competitors who don't have this data, bringing them closer to creating a fully auto-piloted car than other brands.

Imagine if you wanted to launch an automated car without this data, you'd have a billion miles of driving data to collect just to catch up!

9) Provide a Self-Service Solution To Your Users

Man angry on the phone, dealing with traditional customer services rather than being able to solve it himself.

Customer service has always been a hot topic when it comes to business, and the rise of digital technologies will only amplify this importance. In 2017 Microsoft reported that over half of the people they surveyed said their expectations for customer service had gone up since 2016 - and going by that they'll be even higher now. Clients are expecting more and more from the brands they buy from, and you have to keep up if you want to stay ahead. But it's not just excellent service they want, it's also the option for self-service, with 67% of consumers saying they'd prefer to solve issues themselves than speak to company representatives.

Who'd have thought that removing admin overhead in your business could also be desirable for the end customer too!

Offering a variety of self-service options on your online portal allows your customers to choose the methods they'd prefer, handing the control over to them. Presenting these options adds value to your business, and some potential customers may even be swayed to choose you over the competition as a result too. It's no surprise; customer service is a crucial factor in how people choose their brands, with 96% finding it essential when it comes to who gets their loyalty. According to Microsoft, Zendesk reporting customer service as the number-one factor for how much they trust a company.

Aside from swaying potential customers to buy from you, the most obvious benefit of self-service is reducing the need for paid staff or putting those paid staff to better use elsewhere in the business. Once your self-service processes are up and running, you can sit back and let your systems do all - or most - of the work that previously would've required a whole team of employees. Though you can't ignore the cost of building and maintaining good software, in the long run, you'll save money training them and paying them to work, helping boost your profits. Or, you can keep the staff on but retrain them for different roles, such as finding new clients or taking care of more complicated customer service issues. Either way, you'll be working to boost your business instead of wasting staff time on problems the customers can and want, to solve themselves.

Self-service also reduces the chance of human error; by having automated processes for customers to resolve issues themselves, you make sure none of your staff is ill-advising them. Having self-service capabilities can also boost traffic to your online portal, increasing the chance of generating backlinks, which is a tried and tested way to improve SEO and bump your site up the ranks of search engines.

Online portals are the perfect place to start offering self-service options to your clients. You can bring all the information, documents, and tools they need into one place, making it easy for your users to find what they're looking for. Your industry will often influence what you should include on your portal. For example, if you're a healthcare provider, you may have a series of automated questions for regular problems to diagnose your clients and find solutions or direct them to appropriate products. If you're a tech company, you may have videos showing customers how to fix common issues and a diagnostics check if they're not sure exactly what's wrong.

Many online portals also have an option for live chat, where they can speak to staff quickly online to get immediate answers to their questions without having to call. With 30% of customers expecting live chat, and with the highest satisfaction level for any customer service system, it's a great addition to your portal if you have the resources to run one.

We expect the use of self-service portals will continue to increase. By building your online tools now, you can get ahead of the trend and cash-in on the benefits before others catch on.

10) Create a Modern digitally-enabled Workplace

Happy team of people collaborating and laughing whilst on their computers

Portals and apps deliver many advantages to your staff too. The employees of your business are vital to keeping your business functioning well; whether they're part of your software development team or dealing with customer complaints, so creating a workplace, they can thrive in should be a crucial part of your plans.

By creating an online portal, you're crafting a workplace that's modern and with global capabilities. Your staff can access a whole range of tools and data that they wouldn't be able to otherwise, better enabling them to do their job well, and boosting job satisfaction as a result.

For example, some businesses have set up a pay-tracker for ad-hoc staff, so they can see how much they're being paid each month based on the hours of work they've done, motivating them towards performance objectives. This functionality is particularly useful for employees who aren't paid the same amount each month, helping them to organise their life and notify managers if they'd like to do overtime to boost their monthly wage. It is also possible to set up sections where they can manage tax and pension payments, as well as including useful tips and videos to teach them more about managing their money, improving financial wellness. When you see that 57% of UK employees in a survey said that they thought employers should offer more financial support, including advice, this could be a great way to keep your staff happier and boost morale.

There are also plenty of ways that an online portal can make your staff work more effectively, helping increase the value-per-hour of your staff to your business. The ability to engage with functions of the business or your customers over the portal, for example, saves them from constantly checking emails and makes messaging much simpler, encouraging collaboration between employees. There are also opportunities for them to gain access to shared resources, tools, and software in one place. Having a single source makes finding what they need easier, ensuring all of your staff have all the programmes they need, even when they're working remotely.

Training staff through an online portal is something that everyone can benefit. Compared to regular training, online training is 15% quicker than instructor-lead alternatives, saving your employees plenty of time so they can get on with their work. It can also cut your costs by 18% and collects data so you can track your employees learning objectives, seeing who may need a little extra help and where staff are excelling the most.

Online portals can also contain tools to improve work productivity. You can give staff overviews on how much time they're working on different projects, because you have the data, and even break down these projects to give task-specific insights. This information can help your employees better distribute their time and spot areas where they're spending too long on specific tasks.

Other advantages of implementing an internal portal might have for your staff includes:

  • Online rota scheduling, allowing employees easy, mobile access to their rota, with the ability to request shift swaps online.
  • Display all your employee benefits in one place with information for each and easy opt-in for your staff.
  • Collaborate on projects with others remotely, removing the need for face-to-face communication which can cut down on travel time and make collaboration far easier.
  • Transparency - 87% of people want to work for a transparent company, and you can increase your own by sharing projects, information, and allowing collaboration from all with your online portal.
  • Automate boring manual activities so that employees can focus on more meaningful work.

Common types of online portal

In practice, rarely do online portal projects sit neatly into any single category. The functionality of each tends to be adjusted to meet the business objectives, involving a diverse range of capabilities coming together to deliver value. To give you a feel, here are some common examples of portal types that we have built for our clients over the years:

  1. Software as a Service (SaaS) portals
    SaaS platforms are where you create a set of online tools, packaged as a service, and sell access to those tools, transacting online or with an app. It's common to bill for such services monthly, or based on usage. Image Approvals and Astrid are examples of SaaS platforms that Scorchsoft has built for its clients.

  2. Customer portals
    Customer portals provide your clients with a way to access information about your organisation, create complex product configurations to get a quote and buy online. These platforms host information about your client and give them a profile which they can update themselves. You might also want to provide tools to aid Customer Services, such as help sections, live chat, and help libraries. 

  3. Dashboards & hubs of data (single source of truth)
    This type of portal involves creating a good-looking front end for customers or staff to use. The data is pulled from one or many locations (usually via various application interfaces, better known as "APIs"), and is standardised into a single common format within a database. This functionality allows business-critical information to be found at-a-glance, so decisions can be made more easily, and more frequently.

  4. Procurement and tender portals
    Procurement and tender portals provide a bridge between customers and suppliers. Customers post their requirements online, and suppliers can see the detail of the request for proposal, submit their interest, and interact with the end customer. These web apps tend to have methods for uploading files and reporting the status of each bid. An example of such a project built by Scorchsoft is Tender Rocket, a platform that guides, provides tools and training to help businesses on how to find and apply for tenders.

  5. Education portals
    This category of the portal is often focussed around presenting training resources to staff or customers. This is in the format of eLearning, resources, or sometimes niche process flows and interactive tools. 

  6. File portals and internal intranets
    This nature of web app is most commonly used for businesses who want to coordinate processes, resources and information with their team or customers. They can involve varying degrees of access right per user role, category of organisation, or hierarchy of departments. They will often contain ways for key stakeholders to keep users informed, generating notifications via email or browser push notification.

  7. B2B partner portals & sales portals
    Often large companies sell through partner organisations, or through an extended sales team. Engaging in distributed sales activity through a large number of people raises a lot of technical and business challenges. For example, how should you best enable your sales team? And, how do you make sure your partners are motivated to sell your product? And where do you start in looking to track all of that stuff? Partner and sales portals aim to solve this problem, to provide tools, such as ROI calculators, that streamline the sales process, and automatically synchronising important information with your Customer Relationship Management system (CRM)

  8. Business process automation apps (BPA)
    We find that as businesses grow, they form processes for everything. Some of these processes are simple, but some can be extremely complex. As complexity grows, so does the administration time involved, and risk of human error. It's common to see companies embroiled in a raft of spreadsheets and how-to documents on how to use them. We find there becomes a point where these processes start to fail or hold the business back from growing further - and this is where business process automation portals come in. These platforms, whether delivered online or via an app, codify and streamline complex processes. Well designed user interfaces sit on the front end for customers or staff to use, and automated integrations and processes live on the back-end to automate tasks and communicate data between different systems.

  9. App portals
    App portals can often do everything that a web portal can, but have access to hardware and tools that are only available on modern mobile devices. For example, App portals can access a user's GPS (location) to drive functions, you can create scanning functions using NFC, connect to remote hardware using Bluetooth, or scan barcodes using the camera. Delivering your project as an app can also enable you to deliver functions that work when the user is offline, which may be useful when implementing business processes or features where a mobile signal may not be reliable.

Summary (A Bespoke Online Portal for Your Brand)

online portal user interface, on a browser window, on a laptop

By creating an online portal, you can benefit from new opportunities, and become a part of the modern, digital world of business that we're all accustomed. Don't be tricked in seeking comfort in the status quo - no one wants to end up like Blockbuster. You can enhance your customer's experience, add value to your brand, and provide a self-service solution that your consumers are looking for, quickly meeting their demands in a straightforward to use, customer-experience-optimised, online platform. From reviewing the services you've provided and tracking data to including instructional videos to bypass direct employee-to-customer service, you hand control to your clients (which is what they want), while proving the value your business brings and improving your brand image.

By making the most of these tools, you'll be in a better position to start building a workplace that's centred around your staff, helping them work better, faster, and more collaboratively. Not only does this help advance your business and increase profits with a team of hardworking staff, but it will also help you hire new employees. Those with the most ability and advanced skill set will have their pick of where to work, so you need to win them over.

A well-aimed online portal project shows that your company thinks about your employees and you want to improve their work experience, providing them with a range of tools to make the processes they have to carry out far more manageable.

The benefits of implementing a portal within your business are undeniable, and as technology advances the possibilities available to your brand will only grow. Whilst you may start off with a simple platform, over time the tools available can help you shape and innovate both your portal and the way you conduct business, helping you flourish and thrive in a digital world.

Get Started! (Work With Scorchsoft)

Cartoon images of most of the Scorchsoft team as of Feb 2020

If you think it's about time you go-digital, or you want to upgrade your existing online presence, our team at Scorchsoft are here to help develop an online portal that works for you. We have a talented team of developers, project managers and tech experts who are ready to talk to you about the future of your business. We'd love to hear more and help you cater to the needs of your customers, staff, and suppliers, as well as helping you innovate services to increase profits.

If you choose to work with us, we'll get to know more about your brand, business objective, your aims, and your audience, before we start. Then, we'll work closely alongside you to create a unique portal that ticks all of your boxes and goes above and beyond your expectations.

Ready to jump into the future? Get in touch with our team today and let's start working together.

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