Blog post

Two More Nails in the Government Portal’s Coffin

By Andrea Di Maio | February 19, 2010 | 3 Comments


Being an analyst is often about seeing something that most clients (and vendors) do not see or would not admit, or do so earlier than they do, in order to advise them about how to prepare and deal with the consequences. Sometimes those predictions are controversial, sometimes they are not precise enough, sometimes the timing is not accurate. In other cases, they do generate a lot of internal debate in the analyst firm as well, since different analysts take a slightly different spin or viewpoint on a given topic.

One position that I have consistently pushed forward is that the future of generalist government portals the way we know them is doomed. I posted about this a few times (see here, here and here), and I wrote about this well before government 2.0 or even web 2.0 was in sight, in a research note about Why Today’s Government Portals Are Irrelevant (Garner login required).

In my last trip I met two large government organizations responsible for jurisdiction-wide portals. The topic of the conversation was social media strategy but, as it happens in these cases, it steered toward how social media influence the role of the government portal. I remember that I had met one of them at least twice in the last three years, and they had always been very skeptical with, if not openly annoyed by, my line about the bleak outlook for portals. But this time, they seemed more interested and ready to admit that their channel strategy may have to be reconsidered.

The second organization went even further, when one of the folks in the meeting posed a straight question: “Should we stop caring about the user interface, which has been sucking so much of our efforts, and rather focus on APIs and build widgets that would be used wherever clients want?”. Yes, of course. Go figure out for which information and service needs the portal will provide a better value proposition than a search engine, a social network, an agency or a third party web site, if any.

I know I will still get some comments – mostly private –.challenging my position and inviting me to weak a pair of pink glasses when I look at the future of portals. Some will point to or or others as very successful portals that pave the way for how things are going to be. But then, why do so many people nod when I tell them that uptake of government portals has been below (and sometimes way below) expectations? Why do they admit that they are successful only for a small subset of services,which could be equally effectively provided through an agency web site? Why do they struggle with questions like “how can we use web 2.0 to make our portal more compelling”?

The problem is that they can’t, and the earlier they look at this as an opportunity rather than as a risk or disappointment, the better they will be able to rebalance their efforts and focus on what does really make the difference.

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  • alex says:

    Agreed – in fact most people in the UK use ” ”

    It is built for $ 100 rather than $ 60 million for the government one

    It works because it probably uses google

    But most of us do not wish to use a portal because we are elsewhere on the web. Perhaps if I was looking for a new TV in Britain and an advert was at the side saying buy your TV licence, I might

    Or, if the government had an ounce of business brain, it would send me an e-mail before my passport expired. But, no that would be too much to ask of the bureacracy.

    They just do not use their brains in government because they do not have to. As a monopoly supplier, they get away with it. Or they did, as now there is no money, they will begin to cut people.

    In the future, it will be the individual or the business that will take control. Using VRM, the power will be back with the citizen, and we will tell government or any other vendor what we want.

  • Lou says:

    When you have skinny resources, it’s tempting to try to find a widget that can do everything for you. But portal technologies by definition don’t want you to put the data in a format that can be consumed by something else. Anyone who’s purchased portal technology has experienced this uncomfortable realization the first time they tried to work with the API.

    The portal-is-god mindset has been drilled for so many years by “enterprise” content management and “enterprise” document management companies that over-promise and under-deliver, locking governments and agencies into pricey maintenance contracts and strangling them with proprietary technology. The “one ring to rule them all”, solve all problems, do everything for (most) everyone is sooo easy to get hooked on, and sooo difficult to abandon once your organization is hooked. Who wants to be the one to tell the CEO “I was wrong”? Companies like Microsoft (Sharepoint) are still pushing portals. Remember when everyone in the corporate world was doing a portal? Let’s “standardize”; I still hear echoes of that chorus today.

    What do you say to an agency that has just spent $100k+ on a “portal” upgrade that can’t generate a simple RSS feed for its news or event calendars? You were duped? It looks pretty?

  • Megan says:

    There are opensource portals out there that would provide a good solution for the leaner and meaner Agency solutions.

    I agree with Andrea, we absolutely don’t need any more Gov’t-wide portals. But I do think that individual Agencies will need an open platform for apps/widgets that can be consolidated, categorized, and are searchable from within our own networks. Would be very nice to have my own user-configurable dashboard on my own .gov site at work too – and widgets for my day-to-day work.

    Liferay is a great opensource solution, easy to add new features too: