Real-time portals are designed to provide access to a collection of dynamic information that provides value to the client, such as current portfolio valuations, bank account balances, KPIs (key performance indicators) from the client’s accounting system, or industry-specific news and information. This type of portal is a little more sophisticated, primarily because it typically involves integrating with other applications to feed the information to the portal.
The evolution of real-time portals in accounting and tax firms is likely to be slower, if for no other reason than the fact that we are typically working with historical information. However, financial planners and investment advisors are more likely to deploy real-time portals due to the nature of the time-sensitive information with which they routinely deal.
ESTABLISHING YOUR PORTAL CONTENT STRATEGY
In the classic scenario of “the chicken or the egg,” your content is going to determine the form of your portal. Alternatively, the form of your portal will determine the nature of the content you can provide. The prudent approach is to decide what sorts of information you want to ex-change via the portal and let that decision determine the type of portal you will need. This decision-making process can be relatively simple.To help you through the process, I have provided a checklist of the typical types of information that you may want to consider providing on your portal.
As you plot your portal con-tent strategy, keep it simple and don’t try to do too much too quickly. Your portal model will evolve over time, and the technology solutions will evolve, as well. They will become more robust and easier to deploy, manage and use. I think it’s reasonable to expect that the portal you deploy today will look much different many years from now.
PICKING YOUR PORTAL TECHNOLOGY
Once you have established the form and content of your portal model, selecting the appropriate technology solution will be a more strategic process. You will know what you want and be better prepared to participate in vendor presentations of their solutions. Many different options are available for your portal technology.
You can deploy a “home grown” solution based on a portal development platform such as Microsoft SharePoint. Alternatively, you can utilize an accountant-centric portal designed specifically for tax and accounting professionals. Most of the accountant-centric portal solutions are delivered in an ASP (application server provider) model, which means that the vendor provides both the portal software and the hardware/infrastructure platform via remote access to a secure data center. For most small firms, this is my recommended strategy since you are unlikely to have the depth of IT infrastructure and personnel to develop, deploy and administer the portal in-house.
A vendor-managed portal provides for a much simpler deployment and will generally provide a more secure platform via the data center model, as well as a more cost-effective solution through a “shared services” model. On the other hand, if you are a larger organization with state-of-the-art infrastructure and a qualified IT services team, then developing your own in-house portal solution may be a viable alternative. The primary benefit of the “in-house” approach is that you can design the portal to your individual specifications.
The supply of vendor portal solutions is expanding with the market demand. I am a proponent of the accountant-centric portal solutions that are offered by vendors who provide accounting, tax, practice management and document management solutions designed for the unique needs of accounting and tax professionals. You should take a thorough look at three to five solutions to gain a better perspective on the range of functionality available. If you have deployed a DMS, your provider should be at the top of your list of potential portal solutions.
The integration between the DMS and the portal is key to controlling the efficiency of managing your published portal content. Also, integration with your tax and accounting software will allow you publish tax returns and financial statements directly to the portal. Regardless, you have to establish a structured process for posting information to your portal, along with the appropriate policies to control the quality and security of the information.