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A term that rose to prominence during the Internet boom and then faded is again getting some attention.

With most credit unions now operating websites that offer at least basic information to their members, one technology industry expert says it is time for CUs to turn static sites into "portals"-a framework that provides integrated access to people, applications and processes for management, staff and visitors.

Christopher Crummey, a business unit executive with the IBM Software Group, told attendees of the WesCorp Future Forum conference here a portal is analogous to a shopping mall. It is a central place to go, which makes it valuable to end-users. Each store in a mall gains value by sharing the cost of a building, air conditioning and parking, he said. The owner of the mall needs anchor tenants, which on the web translates to "killer apps," or applications that drive the most traffic.

"The key is the user experience," he said. "It is dynamic. Users can personalize their experience. Different people have different views or access. Some have 'read only' access, while others can rewrite documents. From a business value perspective, a portal increases productivity by end users by increasing the adoption rate of software and applications."

For example, Miami-Dade County in Florida "collapsed" 45 different websites into one portal, Crummey explained. The public page is outside the firewall, and offers people the ability to accomplish a variety of local government-related tasks from purchasing bus passes to paying taxes or parking tickets. One of the most popular applications is researching real estate prices and crime statistics by neighborhood.

IBM also takes advantage of portal technology, he continued. Nearly 40% of IBM employees do not have an office-they work from home and often have more than one boss. A portal allows these remote workers to send millions of instant messages daily without international long distance phone calls. And, they can search for fellow employees with expertise on a particular topic.

"Using the collaboration woven in to the portal is very powerful," Crummey said. "It is different from a website because the security is personalized to the end user. The portal even detects the language the person uses. This will keep members coming back: when the credit union can speak their language. Credit unions can tailor the look of the portal for branding purposes, because the portal automatically delivers content geared towards a specific user."

At IBM, the portal allows users single sign-on access to all 5,600 of the companies domain names across all divisions and applications. "It hides the complexity of the environment," he said. The four major benefits are: cost savings, business innovation, operational effectiveness and aligning IT investments.

"We saved money by reducing headcount, hardware and administration costs," said Crummey. "There also is cost avoidance: we reduced paper and visits to HR and the help desk."

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