What Drives the Cost of Self-Service Portal Implementation?


This step-by-step guide will take you through all the stages of designing, developing, and implementing a self-service portal: from conception to launch to post-launch care. Reading it will help you prepare your company for the implementation, understand the scale of the project, and estimate the costs of each stage.

Implementing a self-service portal is a unique operation that largely depends on your existing sales processes. This is especially true in the services industry, where the information required from the customer and underlying business operations are distinct - sometimes even within a company. Depending on these factors, some custom software solutions and integrations might be required.

With all this in mind, what should you consider when estimating the cost of such a project?

1. Pre-implementation Analysis

Performing a pre-implementation analysis will help you assess the time and cost of the implementation. This way, you can turn general expectations regarding the future system into descriptions of specific requirements and functions, and estimate their cost. These can be used to implement the project and verify its assumptions. Conclusions from a pre-implementation analysis have a direct impact on the final outcome: your self-service portal.

As early as during this stage, you should create a working group that includes shareholders involved in the current processes and the future system. Gather all the existing knowledge about the customers and business processes, including the results of already performed research and data.

Based on all this information, the analysis results should include, among other things, an initial schedule of implementation and a list of required functionalities.

A successful project requires correctly established goals, for example, using the SMART method. It lets you clarify your ideas, focus your efforts, and use your time and resources productively. SMART goals are:

 Specific : unambiguous and equally understandable to all project participants

 Measurable: formulated in a way that enables accurate assessment of whether and to what extent they have been achieved

 Achievable: realistic and attainable

 Relevant: representing real value for your customers, company, and shareholders

 Time-bound: with a clearly defined timeframe, including deadlines for completing various stages

Having the right objectives will allow you to select key goals that will be used to evaluate the implementation. When creating a self-service portal, you might want to consider the following example KPIs:

2. UX Research and User Journey Mapping

When you already know what you want to achieve, it’s time to decide how to do it. During this stage, together with designated UX analysts, you’re required to go through a UX research phase, which involves mapping out the entire user journey of your current clients. You will find out how the current – both online and offline – processes work and how customers interact with your company. Doing this will allow you to identify touchpoints, interactions, and potential bottlenecks. Subsequently, this will help you discover the practices, needs, and motivations of your clients and some less obvious routes they take.

Your aim should be to confirm that the portal you’re developing actually meets the needs of your users. You might be tempted to start user research later in the development process, but without performing the analysis at this stage, you will rely only on your beliefs about the system and users. These might be wrong, and your customers might want something very different. It could result in building a portal or functionality that will not be useful for the end users.

Five stages of user research:

1. Preparation for the study: define the study's objectives and areas and select appropriate research methods.

2. Development of a scenario: write a detailed description of the study and a list of tasks for participants.

3. Recruitment of respondents: find users who will best reflect the target group of the designed portal.

4. Conducting the survey: record the interaction path, sound, and the respondent's face.

5. Analysis of the results: create a report summarizing all errors of the tested interface and recommendations for further action.

Once the work is completed, you’ll get unique insights the project team can start working on: fine-tuning your pre-existing ideas. Reworking the very basic scaffolding of your system at a later stage, when development is already underway, will significantly increase the costs and postpone the implementation.

3. Process Design

Now you know which processes you want to digitalize and what your users and stakeholders expect from the system. What do your clients have to do and provide so you can perform your business process? How to enable them to do that using an online system so they can finalize their tasks on their own?

Sometimes, especially in the case of complex, multi-step processes, this is the moment to audit them and rebuild them from the ground up. Check if your existing pipelines can be simplified and streamlined using an online self-service portal. Automation will reduce the workload and the amount of simple, repetitive tasks. It will improve your employees’ morale as it allows them to concentrate their efforts on more complex, and stimulating, duties that require their attention. It’s one of the crucial elements of the self-service portal, that – once the project is finalized – it will reduce the costs of customer service and improve efficiency.

4. Design and Development

This is considered the main stage of the process. Based on your requirements and user research, your technology partner will create a software design document (SDD) that includes the portal design and programming language. This is also where you can outline the internal logic of the system, user interfaces, and how your portal will respond to user actions.

The design phase will conclude with a prototype model. A mock-up version of your portal will allow you to visualize your portal, interact with it, and make changes without having to edit the underlying code.

The development stage is the part where developers divide the project into modules and start building the application. Their work is based on the earlier design documents, requirements, and specifications. This phase is probably the most time and money-consuming of the process, it’s essential to set a timeline and milestones so you can monitor the progress.

5. Privacy and Security Measures

Your client-facing portal will manage a lot of your users’ data, so your organization must also implement stringent safeguards to protect user data and minimize the risk of data breaches. With your technology partner, discuss and implement security measures within the portal and your business, such as end-to-end encryption, authentication protocols, and regular security audits. If your company is part of a heavily regulated sector, such as banking or insurance, additional measures might be required depending on local regulations.

If you plan to conduct your business within the European Union, your company must also address the GDPR data privacy and EU data storage requirements. A key concern of GDPR is user consent and data transparency. You must prepare and provide clear privacy policies and obtain explicit user consent before collecting and processing their data. GDPR also restricts transferring personal data outside the EU. You must ensure that your data storage and processing processes comply with these regulations, which might incur additional costs.

6. Quality Assurance and Testing

The last task before finalizing the portal is to perform the UAT (user acceptance tests). It’s the final confirmation that the system correctly responds to any actions performed by the end users. To make sure that your portal meets all the requirements of stakeholders and customers, try to involve all the teams that will be using the system. In the case of a self-service portal, these will usually be – among others – the customer service, sales, and marketing teams.

The result of successful testing will be a portal that can be launched in the production environment. Before the portal is made available to the customers, you need to prepare the infrastructure where it will be hosted. You can decide to keep the system on your servers (on-premise) to maintain a high level of control over the data and software. You can also select a cloud solution, hosting your portal on your technology partner infrastructure or with a specialized cloud storage provider in the private or public cloud model.

7. Employee Training and Client Onboarding

Now, it’s time to present your finalized portal to the broader audience. Launching a portal is a crucial moment when your customers – and most of your employees – discover its capabilities and functionalities. This is a critical step, as even the best portal will not serve its function if your employees and customers don’t know about it or don’t want to use it.

Consider preparing a long-term marketing plan to spread the word about your new self-service portal to current and potential customers. Prepare an information campaign and offer incentives (e.g. promotions available only in the self-service channel) to use your new system. The possibility of managing their tasks online, without the need to contact customer service, could draw in new clients. The way they are facing your portal for the first time will determine whether they will return and move to a self-service model.

Your employees also have an essential role: redirecting traffic from old systems to the new portal. They should, therefore, be prepared to present its benefits and guide your clients.

8. Performance Optimization and Analytics

No amount of testing will detect all the errors that might occur after the portal goes live. Even a service that works well for most people may have problems displaying more unusual devices and configurations. Usually, the solution to such issues is simple and quick, but the number of possible configurations makes it difficult to detect all of them during the pre-launch testing stage.

Launching the self-service portal will allow you to collect the most valuable data: the behavior of real users working on a live system. Analyzing how customers act while visiting your new site enables you to check the effectiveness of your initial design. Using traffic analytics tools like Google Analytics or Adobe Marketing Cloud, You can check the results of your portal in different demographics and device groups. These insights will facilitate optimization and further development of your system to make it even more relevant to users' needs.

9. Maintenance and Further Development

No matter how good your portal is, it will need constant attention – from both you and your technology partner. Lack of monitoring and the ever-present drive to add new functionalities, analytics, and content lead to page bloat and, consequently, growing website loading times. Identifying and removing issues slowing down your customers' interactions with the portal must be performed regularly. User expectations and habits change over time. Using continuously gathered analytics data, you can quickly determine what is working as expected and what requires further improvements.

Use a self-service portal to build unique value

Launching a self-service portal is only possible with a deep dive into the specificities of your business, unique selling points, and processes. They are complex systems that are unavailable in an off-the-shelf format. Considering the number of factors that might influence its price, it’s crucial to establish the goals and business requirements early to create a realistic budget. That’s why it's essential to enlist the support of an experienced technology partner to guide you through the process of building a portal that will be useful for your customers and improve your business offering.