My days are spent helping some of the world’s largest companies navigate the challenge of User Experience (UX), specifically as it pertains to their employee portal websites. It’s pretty crazy to unearth the challenges that these companies face, but is also interesting how they struggle in similar ways.

Portals have one major distinction that is often underutilized, but is a massive distinction for development, design and UX and that is context. There are few sites that a person is going to visit where there is as much information already known about the user, without them giving you any information. As an employee they have given you more data than you probably know what to do with, and this is where things can really take off.

Where I see most companies struggle with portals is in purpose.

Why is the employee coming to this site? Are they coming because they want to see how pretty it is? No. Are they visiting because they are wanting to scroll through your amazing array of banners on the home page? Heck no. They are coming because they need to get something done and they need it done quickly. Your one goal is to get them to what they need quickly and efficiently. If that’s true, they will come back again and won’t pick up the phone to ask you for answers. Self-service for the win!

What does this have to do with context? Think about something as simple as an article about time off. Normally there would be some static content that would then require me to dig around to find more info that’s relevant like: How many vacation days do I have left this year? How about instead, because I’m logged in and you can build integrations with your SAP/tracking systems, you then serve up that same article but with some context? You can now include within the article something to the affect of “and you have XX days left of vacation for this year.”

This type of strategy needs to be at the core of all enterprise portals. It takes a more deliberate effort and definitely makes the production a bit more complicated, but the end result is worth it. At the moment most of the global companies I deal with are struggling with the “weeds” of internal portals. People can just spin up things like SharePoint sites or WordPress sites over and over to solve the one issue they’re trying to solve. What that does to the employee is frustrate and annoy. They come to work expecting stuff to “just work” like they’ve come to expect.

Contextual portals live within a paradigm of “build once, use many”.

It implies a notion of working together, breaking through the silos that traditionally live internally. It then puts the “ownership” back into the hands of the actual content owners and not bottle-necked at IT or some other parent department. Instead of multiple portals you have a single point of entry with the underlying interaction based on who I am and what I am entitled to. Totally different experience.

It is shocking to me how much work / effort / time / money / pain goes into portals that will be replaced year after year, thrown away because of dead content or shifts in priorities or leadership or even lack of use. It’s confusing and unnecessary to put your employees through that. We can do better.


With over a decade of experience, I have managed online marketing for a wide range of industries including biotech, high-tech, financial, higher education, non-profit, manufacturing, hardware providers, and startups. My specialty is helping business make the right turn with their online efforts focusing on lead generation and analytics.

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