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Multi-Access Portals
Multi-Access Portals

In trying to define multiple portals, the question is: How "multi" is a multiplatform? Is it mobile information (WAP), Voice (IVR), WEB, SMS, and D-iTV? If so, then there are very few about. The areas of concentration today are the first few; the true multiplatform portal has yet to evolve.

The second question is: Do we need multiple portals? Is it best, perhaps, to have separate trusted portals, and to put up with the inconvenience of swapping between them, or remembering different navigation systems for the sake of quality content? The aim of the multiplatform portal is to ensure that consumers can access the "trusted" information they require at any time, on any device.

Personalization will go a long way to aggregate all the content that I require to one site. For example, if I'm driving in my car and the portal I'd like to access is the iTouch portal, for safety reasons I'd like to be able to access it by voice rather than have it be a solely visual portal - a handsfree portal so to speak.

The benefit of this, of course, is that each of the technologies offers a different user experience, but we've seen with WAP that we have to manage these technologies with care. WAP is very good at what it does, and what it does has never really changed. If we look at SMS, it's limited: 160 characters, no graphics, difficult input from a mobile device, and costly at (UK)10p per message, but it meets our needs and has been widely accepted. The consumer expectation of WAP was wildly exaggerated, but with the advent of color-screen handsets and GPRS and 3G, these expectations may yet become reality.

There are pros and cons of multiplatform access, and these again depend on the business plans for each company. The network operators have a duty to cover the breadth of their customer base, yet the smaller portals can cherry pick which verticals to target. How can content be structured across all platforms? Is the right route B2B, B2B2C, or just plain B2C?

The advantages of multi-access portals from a brand perspective is that you can provide stickiness - capture the customers and look after them for all their services, with the aim of reducing churn and, of course, to generate revenue.

Offering the breadth of content that appeals to all is a difficult task; portals risk being labeled "jack-of-all-trades and master of none." But with the chargeable services such as IVR offsetting the costs of the new services, and/or determining which sector needs which information on which devices in which format, a multi-access portal can still be potentially rewarding.

The other challenge facing businesses is that the technologies are at vastly different points in their life cycles and acceptance. WAP has come under scrutiny recently and has suffered from negative public perception, while SMS is the darling service of the day.

So can a brand be successfully associated with the "good" and the "bad?" I would say so. There are two common routes to market: the "innovator/leader" and "second entrant/me too." Both of course have their merits and the associated marketing costs of building a market for the brand to be known in. Those who have a strong brand can reach more customers, but the risk of the early market is, of course, damaging the brand by failure. The high-tech world is an exciting, innovative, and risky one. All our jobs are to maximize the potential and return, and minimize the risks.

The idea of accessing one source of information on any device is appealing, but we are not yet in a position to evaluate portals, particularly multiple portals, in terms of success or failure. They need to offer the content that the customer requires in the format they require on the device they're using at a given point in time. This is not an easy task to deliver, and returns us to the question first asked: Is this what's being offered today? The answer would therefore be that no one is currently offering a true multiplatform/access portal. But we are getting closer.

Whatever we do in this business, it's going to be a risk. Technology almost by definition is risky, but there's one - and only one - important factor in the equation, and that's the customer. Look to the customer and forget the technology, and look for the revenue stream associated with the services. This is key for any company. Let's learn from our successes (SMS) and from the less successful services, which may still be valuable, but their use to the customer needs to be reevaluated and tested.

About Alistair Harvey
Alistair Harvey is in charge of the creation, development,
and management of both the B2C and B2B portals at iTouch UK.

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