Usability drives Web portal

In developing a new Web portal, the Ontario Motor Coach Association (OMCA) wanted to be in the driver’s seat when it came to content management.

The OMCA is one of the largest travel and tourism-related associations in Canada. With more than 1,200 members, the Toronto-based association represents more than 75 bus operators, 100 tour operators and some 800 affiliated sellers (including tourist attraction representatives, hoteliers and retail outlets) to the group tour industry across North America.

The Web site is a major hub of information and the OMCA wanted the primary users of the portal — private sector bus, charter and coach tour companies in Ontario — to be able to quickly navigate the Web site for information. Previous versions of the OMCA Web site didn’t allow for information to be updated and refreshed quickly, said Ann Belmamoun, vice-president for OMCA. Staff would have to inform the external Webmaster about changes, which was time-consuming, not to mention frustrating, Belmamoun said. It was imperative to have a lot more control of updating information.

OMCA staff aren’t professionals at Web building, nor do they care to be, Belmamoun said. The measure of success is in the ability to get information onto the portal quickly, Belmamoun said. After looking at several options, OMCA turned to Toronto-based e-business applications development firm Bonasource Inc. The goal was to build a robust Web portal including a secure extranet with an emphasis on usability for OMCA members, said Dmitri Buterin, president of Bonasource.

“A Web site, first and foremost, is a business tool,” Buterin said. The user interface and workflow should be focused on supporting user goals and tasks. While it’s nice that a Web site be funky and visually stunning, the main purpose of a Web portal is to save time, he added. The recently completed portal was jointly developed in eight weeks by a team of designers, developers, testers, project managers and a usability expert, Buterin said.

Poor usability is one of the biggest reasons for the failure of the majority of e-business projects, Buterin said. Any Web portal, particularly a membership-based site that is difficult to navigate or contains outdated data, results in poor ROI. He said it’s important that the Web portal interface is well designed to help enable both technical and non-technical users to concentrate on the task at hand rather than on how to use the tool.

OMCA decided on the portal system as it was in a template format, which not only looks professional by keeping the content uniform but is also relatively easy to update and refresh, Belmamoun said. The Web portal uses PortalFS, a turnkey infrastructure that enables OMCA staff and administrator employees to have full control over Web site structure and content, without having HTML knowledge. The technology also allows for approval workflow and user access level.

The interactive Web site is also search engine friendly. OMCA staff can now update the portal themselves using the PortalFS content management system, Belmamoun said.

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