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of the American Society for Information Science and Technology       Vol. 31, No. 1    October/November 2004

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Portals in Libraries: Assessment and Outcomes
by Amos A. Lakos

Amos A. Lakos is librarian, Rosenfeld Management Library, Anderson School of Management, UCLA. He can be reached at aalakos@library.ucla.edu.

This paper highlights the importance of assessment in a portal framework and examines some of the outcomes and impacts of some existing portals.

Portals provide both a challenge and an opportunity for ongoing assessment. To ensure that a portal is successful we need to think about creating an assessment framework that will track system activities and the portal's impact on customers, stakeholders and staff.

The following are the key principles that should govern any portal rollout:

    • Simplicity users want a simple and clear Web environment.
    • Dependability the site and its content should be available always, and it should be predictable.
    • Quantifiable Value users should feel self-sufficient and realize added value from using the portal.
    • Personalization users should be able to change the site to their personal preferences.
    • Systematic management long-term success requires a systematic approach and long-term commitment.

Continuous assessment is needed in order to be well informed about customer expectations, to ensure that expected outcomes are delivered and to maintain a high degree of portal effectiveness.

An important part of assessment is continuous usability assessment with the goal of ensuring that the portal achieves and adheres to the principles mentioned. Timely adjustments based on usability information also ensure long-term customer retention. In general, usability needs to be understood as a strategic imperative, as a way to keep portal customers focused, and as a wise future and customer focused investment. Systematic usability studies and a continuous feedback loop should ensure that outcomes and impacts are achieved.

We need to understand the outcomes and impacts of a portal from an implementation as well as from a maintenance perspective. In an academic setting, the organization needs to identify the desired learning and research outcomes the need for organizing information resources into coherent channels in order to be better able to manage the information glut to the end-user. Another important and measurable outcome is time or rather efficiencies that save time. Allowing self-sufficiency by empowering users to personalize their portal to individual needs is a well-documented expectation. Administrative and financial efficiencies are also expected outcomes, both from an institutional and customer perspective. "One stop" solutions for activities and services that currently are delivered by different departments and processes is an organic result of a well planned portal. A timely and well-functioning feedback loop will also allow the institution to be better informed and the clients to be better served.

In the academic environment, student retention and retention of alumni loyalty are important strategic goals. In the public library environment, the ability to retain the community's support by demonstrating the value of the institution's services is of strategic importance in retaining financial and community support. Business portals are becoming essential for making enterprises more flexible and enabling e-business to succeed.

The following are some of the potential impacts of portals in higher education:

  • For registration and admission systems
      • Fewer errors in documentation, better and faster communication
      • Changes in staff skills and modification in training to support "one-stop" solutions
      • Possible changes in organization structure
  • For financial management
      • Faster, more reliable and timely processes that save money and time
  • For course management systems
      • Better informed student body
      • Faculty better informed about their students
      • Advisory system improvements
  • For services
      • Targeted services to special groups and needs such as to alumni, health patients and students with disabilities.

Examples of University Based Portals

University of Minnesota One Stop - http://onestop.umn.edu/ (Figure 1)

Over 25,000 students use the portal at the University of Minnesota. Training in the use of the portal is delivered through the portal itself, increasing the students' buy-in, which is especially important since one of the portal's goals is to foster a lifelong relationship with the university. The portal stays with the student after graduation. Advisors use a course management system to monitor the fluctuating levels of students' work and to advise and help in a timely fashion, which increases student learning and retention. University public services staff is cross-trained to answer questions on the "one stop" principle. Students can get all their service issues resolved in one place. The online admissions process saves over $300,000 a year, and the need for annual audit is decreasing.

University of Buffalo MyUB - http://www.buffalo.edu/aboutmyub/ (Figure 2)

This Web portal has been in development for a number of years as an integrated enterprise portal. Current awareness is highly impacted by a new "need to know" feature, which sends critical campus news feeds to each portal user. The course management system allows faculty and advisors to view students' academic activities and to advise them proactively. One of the outcomes is that faculty are better informed about student performance. Students use a course balance calculator, which allows them to be better informed about how they stand academically. Grades are available on line. Faculty has easy and accurate access to class lists, which was a major concern. Addresses can be changed on line and kept current. Paper use is down across the campus. Because of a better integrated Web-based campus financial system, the error rate in financial transactions and failed payments is decreasing, generating real savings.

University of Washington MyUW - http://myuw.washington.edu/servlet/myuw.mainpage.Mainpage?f=d&tab=frp (Figure 3)

This campus-wide decentralized portal works differently from other, more centralized portal frameworks. Portal services are based on roles and not single IDs. This role-based access means that each user can have a number of different portals or different views. All registrations and admissions are on line, and all information and documentation is available to registered students. Individual faculty controls the course management system, which includes scheduling classes and exams. The UW Medical Network is building a new portal framework that currently allows over 100 diabetes patients to track their condition in real time through the portal. They can access all their personal medical information electronically. The goal is to develop a patient-relationship portal for the whole university hospital. MyUW is currently developing an open source calendaring system.

University of California-San Diego Blink - http://blink.ucsd.edu/ (Figure 4).

Blink is a campus administrative portal that primarily covers admissions, human resources, purchasing, payroll and other administrative functions on campus. There are plans to extend it to the academic areas soon. It allows for easy feedback from members and records a high satisfaction rate. In admissions, for example, the number of phoned questions has decreased dramatically. In other areas, such as human resources, payroll and purchasing, the number of simple questions is down dramatically as well. Because of these and other impacts, work processes and staff responsibilities are changing. Staff training needs to change constantly. One possibly important outcome for UCSD is that they have not had to increase staff while the academic side has been expanding.

The number of academic and library portal projects is growing. Portal implementation issues continue to rank high on campus IT surveys. However, portals are still currently viewed as an expense and not as an investment. Analysis and awareness of their impacts and outcomes on an enterprise will change this perception, as the measurable value of the impact of enterprise portals is better understood. Together with their parent organizations, libraries have to continue measuring and demonstrating the impacts of Web portal services to their customers and stakeholders.


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