Stage 4: Cloud Applications
This is essentially an extension of stage three. I suppose we could refer to this as the cloud computing stage. What I am referring to here is the ability to design your client portal as a pass through to online applications such as QuickBooks, Microsoft Exchange Server and Office, web conferencing software, document management, and the list goes on. Virtually any application your client requires to run their business has the potential to be accessible through your portal. Many of these examples offer the potential for revenue sharing, which can transform your portal into a substantial profit center that is based more on technology and less on labor. You just have to decide whether or not you want to go there strategically.
Developing Your Strategy
I have outlined a lot of potential for your client portal, and hopefully you can appreciate the importance of developing a comprehensive strategy that addresses your short-term and long-term portal model. It is important to realize that this strategy will evolve as new portal technologies and applications are introduced to the market, but the more strategic you are in your approach, the more successful your portal will be as you transition through the stages outlined above.
We don’t have the space here to get into the nitty-gritty details of all the recommended procedures for developing your strategy, but the graphic below illustrates the different aspects of your portal strategy that need to be addressed. Perhaps in a future article we can drill down into each of these in more detail to provide some further guidance.
Here are six key steps you should work through to develop your initial portal strategy:
- Determine your strategic objectives for the portal: workflow efficiency, revenue generation, client service, etc.
- Establish your content profile. What information and services do you want to provide through the portal and at what stage?
- Select your portal technology platform. Focus on the scope of features available and the depth of integration with your core software applications (tax, accounting and practice management).
- Define your policies and procedures. It’s not as simple as deploying the technology and flipping a switch. You are going to have to dedicate staff resources to this initiative and define how the portal gets integrated into your business processes. Keep in mind this is much different than most technology you deploy in your firm, for the simple reason that your clients will be interfacing with it directly and you won’t have the personal judgment buffer that you rely on when interacting with your clients face to face.
- Develop your marketing and communications plan. Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come. You have to have a specific plan of action to get the message out to your clients about the features and benefits of the client portal. This is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to improving the quality and efficiency of your client services.
- Deploy a pilot. Avoid the temptation to get your site set up and immediately deploy it to all of your clients. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Therefore, you should identify a small set of clients that you can work closely with to pilot the initial rollout, including publishing of content, administering client accounts and login credentials, managing security permissions, and providing client training and support. Your rollout will be a lot less stressful and embarrassing if you stumble in your deployment with this small group of clients instead of your entire client base.
I hope you find this information helpful in getting your firm started on the right track with client portals. The potential is virtually limitless, and you should approach your portal deployment as a journey, not a destination. Good luck!