Managing Portal Partnerships

A Web site permits you to extend the scope of your organization’s operations without increasing the scale of your resources. So do some partnerships; as when your company creates a partnership with a foreign-based company to manufacture and distribute your products in their country. Companies have always had to manage partnerships but there are a host of new challenges that arise when senior management starts thinking of linking up with one or more partners on a portal.

While the benefits of both the Web and partnerships can combine in a portal to provide enormous new business value, there are some issues you’ll want to explore before making that big investment. Let’s look at a couple.

The Business Value of the Web

Both Web sites and partnerships are business assets that need careful management. Sure, your company has negotiated its partnership arrangements and they probably know what each partnership contributes to the revenue stream. But what about the company’s Web site? Is it being managed like the business asset it is? The investment a company will be called upon to make in creating and managing a portal will be based in part upon the portal being able to add value in ways that the company’s existing Web site cannot. So the starting point in moving into portal partnerships is to know very clearly what management expects your Web site to deliver by way of business value.

What role have you identified for your Web and a portal in your business strategy?

Being able to draw a clear distinction between the business value of your Web site and a proposed portal is crucial for at least two reasons. First, your executive committee has to be convinced of the business value the new investment in a portal will deliver. For example, if they believe that the portal is going to reach the same markets currently being reached by your Web site, you are dead in the ditch before your start. Second, unless management is very clear about the specific advantages the portal will deliver, they are simply not in a position to negotiate with prospective portal partners or to respond knowledgeably to a request from potential partners to join an existing portal. What management will be looking for is a very clear articulation of the respective and complementary roles your Web and the proposed portal will play in the company’s business strategy.

Will your portal partners protect your brand?

On your Web site, you control your brand. In a portal, things can get complicated, even when everyone has good intentions. If the partnership agreement you’re looking at doesn’t give you a right of veto on any and all new partners, how are you going to feel when a company with (for your customers) an unsavory set of products or services shows up? And what about the portal’s links policy? Your brand isn’t going to be well promoted if a partner’s site provides links to places your customers wouldn’t be caught in, even on a Saturday night.

What is the management framework for the portal?

Since your Web site and your portal participation will have different business objectives, it may be that the framework that your company uses to govern its Web site will not necessarily be ap-propriate for your portal. Very often, a company will have integrated the management of its Web site into its general system of governance where, for example, regional business units will be expected to play an active part in the creation and organization of Web content. With a portal, very different interests may be at stake and this could require a different set of managers.

Portals present new challenges for senior management, but like all technology-driven challenges, the place for management to come to grips with them is in their business context. Skills gained through the development and management of traditional sorts of partnerships give management a leg up where portal partnerships are concerned and provide a good starting place to begin your introduction of the management team to the opportunities of this technology.

Chuck Belford is president of Management Smarts Inc., a Nepean, Ont.-based management consulting and training company.