How to Develop a Next-Generation HR Portal

In organizations around the globe, the fossilized remains of a once-painstaking effort by human resources to improve service delivery by creating a single online destination — an intranet, where all employees could have their needs met — litter corporate Web servers.

The problem wasn’t that creating one place for users to find everything HR-related was a bad idea; it was that HR didn’t understand how to create a valuable user experience. In the early days of corporate intranets, the goal was to make things easier for the content provider — in this case HR — not the consumer.

The objective was to centrally manage information and content with the hope that users visited and consumed it. What resulted was outdated information, stale links and redundant or confusing processes.

Some intranet users say they continue down that path because it’s the only way they know how to access certain talent management functions such as opening a job requisition or accessing the performance review system. Others abandon the intranet altogether in favor of direct contact with the HR department. This perpetuates HR’s role in administration, however, and limits opportunities to offer more strategic value.

HR portals offer a way to expand on the idea of delivering HR information to employees with a set of tools designed to deliver services more successfully and keep employees engaged. When used well, HR portals enable the function to be more strategic, improve productivity and increase employee satisfaction.

With the dozens of disparate talent management applications, vendors and processes used, creating an effective HR portal that meets the needs of a global, mobile and social workforce is not a step organizations should take without a solid strategy and plan in place.

The strategy should clearly identify both business and HR objectives. It should develop content management standards and blend each component to create a compelling user experience. An effective user experience draws users back to the portal because it offers refreshed content, experiences, talent management modules and business-level metrics that matter.

Portal technologies also should be “smart” so they can be tailored to deliver relevant content to specific users and user types. When users enter the portal, smart features should read who they are, their role, location and job to customize their experience.

Next-generation portal technologies also support integrated search functionality to give users instant access to relevant transactional data from across all HR applications, with security and user roles managed through a single sign-on. This allows HR portals to provide the type of consumer-grade online experience most employees are accustomed to, such as a bank’s retirement planning website or insurance provider’s policy management page.

For HR, this translates into fewer phone calls and emails from employees, quicker answers to frequently asked questions and the ability to manage the level, frequency and relevance of information consumed. This reduces the cost of HR service delivery while improving the service level.

HR portals also ease the burden of content management by enabling HR to publish its own content with easy-to-use publishing tools that don’t rely on IT or outside vendors. Both can slow the frequency of updates and delay access to new functions, modules and linked content.

HR portals are more than efficient repositories of policies and procedures. They are designed as the nerve center of HR service delivery — the jumping off point for everything from requesting personal time off to starting a performance review.

Many of the transactional capabilities are not native to the portal itself, however. Rather, they are accessed through the portal by way of a single sign-on. This allows users to create a personalized user experience, similar to what they are accustomed to on the Web as consumers. The analytic dashboards pull data from both core HR and talent management applications across the HR technology ecosystem.

With the likelihood of organizations having multiple, desperate HR technology providers, an HR portal acts as a unifying force. Rather than dealing with multiple websites, interfaces and passwords, HR portals allow transactions to be streamlined, improving the user experience and reducing the training burden on HR.

Developing an HR Portal Strategy
An HR portal strategy must start with the end user in mind. What are employees at various levels in the organization really trying to accomplish? Whom does it benefit? If the first thought is, “make it easier for HR to inform the workforce of policies and procedures” or “reduce cost of HR service delivery,” think bigger and more employee-centric.

An HR portal initiative’s prime objective is to better meet employees’ needs, followed by meeting a set of defined business needs. Meeting HR’s needs — such as reducing service delivery cost or easing the burden of content management — is a product of a well-executed deployment, not a prime strategic objective.

If meeting employee needs is at the top of the strategic pyramid, HR must have a reliable way to uncover them and ensure the portal can meet those needs, while keeping in mind the differences across business units, global geographies and employee populations.

It’s also important to understand the reach of the HR portal beyond current full-time employees. HR must think about how the portal can serve employees’ spouses or dependents, or retirees and other groups outside of the organization. Access, content and data filtering and delivery decisions must be made for each of these groups to ensure high value and a consumer-grade user experience for all.

To create such a useful and compelling environment, HR must determine what content, applications and dashboard metrics will be included, as well as how those elements will be filtered and targeted. Further, it must determine who will be responsible for updating and refreshing content and ensuring it remains relevant and useful.

These are the types of questions HR needs to answer as a part of a strategic effort. Talent leaders should have answers long before looking for the right technology provider. Once the internal strategy and governance components have been established, then it’s important to think about the technology requirements at a practical level before discussing platform, integrations and technical specifications.

Establish technology parameters. For instance, the technology should satisfy the following:

• Able to personalize with links, tools, content and HR services based on employee role.
• Flawless search capabilities that make things easy to find.
• Robust content management tools.
• Consumer-grade interface — modern and engaging.
• Collaborative capability to connect similar users.
• Bug-free, technically reliable.
• Usable with limited training or assistance.

Delivering a sound HR portal, however, doesn’t mean employees will show up. HR has to market and communicate the benefits. Too often, a communication campaign begins and ends with the initial launch or rollout. HR must plan on a consistent, long-term marketing plan to address new employees, constantly re-engaging them with compelling reasons to make visiting the portal part of their routine.

HR departments are continuing to look for ways to improve efficiency while managing an increasing amount of content and access to talent management productivity. Also, addressing a new generation of mobile, global and social employees with real-time demands requires a new way of delivering HR services.

HR portals offer an engaging, consumer-grade experience not only to access up-to-date HR content but also to unify a variety of HR-related functions — transactional, educational and social functions — in a way that makes it easy for the workforce to interact with HR and other sources of domain expertise across the company.

With cloud-based technology gathering steam, organizations have these capabilities within reach. Most, however, never realize the full value of out-of-the-box services because they fail to establish an HR portal strategy and plan that puts the end user at the center of it all.

As HR continues to build credibility as a strategic business partner, an HR portal delivers high value back to the business in the form of quality data and metrics that help drive business decisions.

Neil Jensen is a managing consultant at Knowledge Infusion, an HR technology consulting firm. He can be reached at