By Chaitanya Prasad
A well-designed portal is the ultimate self-service tool. It provides on-demand access to your business, 24/7. No waiting on hold. No explaining what you need. Just access and answers.
The right self-service portal can make your business stand out from the competition. Customers may choose you first because of the ability to self-schedule appointments or get fast answers to their questions. The same goes for business partners who will appreciate how easy it is to do business with you.
Now, new tools from Microsoft allow organizations to create “low code” portals that interact with your business data. That means it’s easier than ever to enable self-service tools for customers, vendors and partners.
But first, what is a portal?
When we’re talking about a portal, we typically mean an external-facing website that enables users outside the organization to access information from your business systems.
For example, most utility companies today have a portal that allows customers to log in, pay bills, and check account status, energy usage, etc. Healthcare organizations have similar self-service tools.
But portals aren’t just for big organizations. Businesses of all sizes can benefit from portal functions like these:
- Customer portals: Enable online ordering, visibility into inventory, return and shipping data and production updates from the shop floor.
- Vendor portals: Provide on-demand access to your requirements, PO releases, and payment info, as well as visibility into pipeline forecasts.
- Employee portals: Provide self-service for time tracking, benefits, vacation scheduling, onboarding, recruitment and more, without paper forms or waiting for HR support.
- Event portals: Allow attendees to register for an event and choose sessions. Automatically block registrations for full sessions, and update attendees as the event draws near.
- Volunteer portals: Empower volunteers to choose opportunities, self-schedule and track hours. Keep them up to date on assignments and your needs.
Portals create dynamic new ways to collaborate and communicate with your customers, business partners and employees.
How is Microsoft making portals easier?
In fall 2019, Microsoft launched Power Apps Portals, a solution that helps customers publish responsive web portals. Touted as a low-code solution, the tool is meant to make portals easier to create and more widely available.
To get you started, Microsoft has created prebuilt templates for a variety of self-service, event-management, partner-management and community self-service scenarios.
Figure 1: Portal templates available with Microsoft Power Apps
Power Apps Portals are the next evolution of Dynamics 365 Portals. And while they are designed for low-code functionality, they can be extended and improved with professional developers (like our development team at Wipfli) for customers with more robust needs.
Here are some of the top-level of the capabilities of Power Apps Portals:
- Enable login authentication via Facebook, Google, Microsoft or LinkedIn accounts
- Expose forms, views, and Microsoft Power BI dashboards and charts to a wider audience
- Customize the look and branding of your portal
- Ensure mobile responsiveness (i.e., works well on phone, tablet or desktop)
Why use a web portal?
Portals offer a reliable way for users to self-serve. As such, they improve satisfaction, enhance your brand image and generally save you time and money by reducing internal workload. Some quick benefits:
- Improve customer satisfaction: Users can access information 24/7, on their own time, with transparency and convenience.
- Better use of resources: Employees spend less time responding to routine requests. That means they can take on other tasks or spend more time on callers with complex needs.
- Secure channel: Encryption features mean users can safely access information or upload forms with sensitive information.
- Streamline business processes: Portal technology facilitates the exchange of information without paper forms or human intervention. This reduces workload, security risks and data entry errors.
What kinds of integration capabilities does Microsoft Power Apps Portals have?
At Wipfli, we have implemented portals for enterprise-level customers to enable a high volume of users (e.g., over 100,000 users) to manage their day-to-day activities. Developing and integrating out-of-the-box features and third-party apps can be part of this process. Power Apps Portals can integrate with:
- Azure AD B2C service (for identity management and seamless SSO integration with an external SaaS application)
- SharePoint integration (for document management)
- Power BI (for displaying a holistic view of business data and allowing portal users to work with contextual data)
- Microsoft and custom vision framework (for OCR integration)
- API integration with DocuSign from Portal (to achieve complete automation on approval process)
- Payment gateway integration (for managing customer payments using third party service providers)
- GDPR compliance (to obtain consent for personally identifiable information)
- Microsoft virtual agent
Get started with Wipfli
When selecting and planning a customer portal, consider how you want your data to be accessible.
It starts with your why: What problem are you trying to solve? Or what process do you want to make better? Next, think about how you want users to see that data, how much you want to expose and who should be able to view it.
As we understand your goals, we can help lead you to the right portal. For some clients, Microsoft’s out-of-the-box portals will provide a quick, turnkey way to offer a valuable new customer tool. But businesses with complex or unique ideas can consider extending portal functions with extra development.
Either way, Wipfli’s development team can help. Give your users access and self-service options. Contact us to find out how portals can enhance your customer experience and improve business processes.