Flipping a secure portal: Getting the most user experience for the buck

Envision that you and your team have been tasked with creating, upgrading or migrating a website where your customers can login with their credentials and have a world class user experience. You’re ready to go, but then in your first meeting everyone has a different opinion on what to do and how to get there. What should you do? Try and direct the conversation to core areas where you can get the most user experience return for your investment. If we were flipping houses I’d be pointing you to kitchens and bathrooms, but since it is a website that we’re flipping, I’ll point you towards the following ideas:

User-Specific-Everything
Menu items, tables of data, documents, pages, search results -in short all content is either pertinent and belongs to your user or it does not. Your goal should be to place only pertinent content in front of your users. This way, users will be able to easily find the content they are searching for while skipping over documents that do not pertain to them. If you know what your user has access to, display it when they view the UI and if you don’t know then you need to first focus on gathering that information.

Reduction-In-Clicks
Utilizing a ‘Mega Menu’ design or a menu that you can hover over and open up different levels of links is effective in reducing the number of clicks during a task. Optimize clicks by checking the number of clicks it currently takes and then reduce that number. If search is an oft-used feature of your website, try putting the search dialogue in your menu with all the bells and whistles so it is available from every page. No user, especially a site-frequenter, wants a 10-click navigation to do something, when they could just click once.

Branding
Cross browser and cross device compatibility should be considered up front. JQuery is often superior to javascript as it is cross browser compatible where javascript is not guaranteed to be. Google now hosts JQuery globally for free so if you have an international site, it would be smart to use Google’s copy to allow users to get better download speeds. Twitter’s bootstrap is also another set of free .css and .js that allows for easy to create responsive websites. Bootstrap allows you to code once and as you resize your browser or view the site on devices with different screen resolutions (computer, tablet, smartphone) content is automatically resized. Know your user base and research what are the most popular browsers and devices.

Governance
Locking windows and doors, setting alarms and installing security systems is a chore. Who wouldn’t rather just skip all that? In flipping your portal, we need to focus on keeping your content secure, but not at the expense of the user experience. One practical way to do this is to save your users from having to view the internal approval process on newly published content. For example, only users who need to enter certain metadata on a document before it can be approved should be offered a spot to do so. The lesser governance gets in the way while still securing your site the better.

Performance and High Availability
Google went dark for 2 minutes and killed 40% of the world net traffic. If your site is down or running slowly, it isn’t going to matter how nice the background looks if that is all your users get to see. It is a good idea to do benchmarking early on in the launch cycle, to determine acceptable page-loading times. Additionally, load testing is critical throughout development. For example, if your custom mega menu doesn’t work because you are not caching your data appropriately it is much better to find out sooner rather than later. Also, if you want to give data to users in the form of reports or data grids, see if using a materialized view or pre-scheduled reports is an option. Often, companies hit the live database repeatedly and regenerate the same data over and over, while sacrificing overall performance of the system.

Finally, make sure you pick a good platform, vendor, and appropriately staff, to ensure your Secure Portal Flip turns as many heads as you’d like.

Justin Kent

Senior Consultant - Enterprise Architecture, Virtusa. Justin is a professional with 7 years of SharePoint experience including two years driving the migration of a leading aerospace company’s Plumtree to SharePoint external customer portal. Justin has spent 5 years working in banking software, including various management roles, and the last 2 years working in software for the Aerospace industry. His skills include: gathering requirements, documenting, designing, coding, testing, supporting and deploying solutions. He is skilled in application development using ASP.NET, C#, VB.NET, Web Services, MS Business Intelligence Suite, SQL Server, Java, and Oracle. He is driven to provide innovative solutions to clients’ needs through researching, working with industry experts, and keeping current on emerging technologies. Justin is always looking for the next challenging project to see through.

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One Comments

  • Dad Kent October 31, 2013

    Impressive to say the least!

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