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Just as Dorothy and friends followed the yellow brick road to enlightenment, a portal can offer similar benefits to its users. A portal is a gateway or a robust single sign-on access point that leads to a variety of content and core services. It is designed to give users a managed online experience, and is particularly useful to Web users as a start and return point for venturing online — especially for a niche topic or area of interest.
Portal content is dynamically managed through databases, application windows, and sometimes cookies. It often includes: calendars, reminder lists, discussion groups, searches, email and address books, access to news, maps, announcements and reports. The portal has been described as “more than a sum of its parts,” because the modular components of the portal can significantly add value to other components.
Recently, there has been a buzz around portals as being a key means for creating a knowledge economy. And no one has been more interested than the higher education industry. In fact, many universities, colleges, and technical schools are making one of their key initiatives to strengthen the relationships between businesses and higher education via open communication and partnerships. And they are seeing economic development portals as the first step in creating these relationships.
In fact, portals encompass a number of key advantages:
No one was paying more attention to the preceding advantages than Julie Brandt, the deputy director of Economic Development for the city of San Francisco. Of all the cities shaken up by the economic downturn followed by the dot-com bust, San Francisco felt it more than most. In fact, in 2003, the city found itself needing to find ways of attracting new businesses and retaining existing ones. Knowing that they had to make it easier to do business in San Francisco, Brandt immediately recognized that an economic development tool would be an invaluable tool — and as a result, implementation began almost immediately.
Here's how it works… To begin, a business owner wanting a San Francisco location enters search criteria — such as desired facility size, tax incentives, or location. This initial search returns a list of candidate sites which can be viewed according to detailed information, such as nearby parking, schools, public transit lines, and area traffic counts. The site report (which can be printed or exported to pdf format) offers a basic profile of the property, real estate broker contact information, and typically, a street-level photo of the building. From that point, the user can select the demographics tab to obtain extensive information on the age, income, skills, and spending habits of the population within a prescribed area. If those results match the target clientele or workforce, the user can then determine whether existing businesses in the area would offer synergy or competition.
The “Businesses” tab presents the user with the number and names of nearby businesses in varying categories. In the past, gathering such information manually might have taken days. Using an economic development portal, it can be done in minutes and free of charge to both the businesses performing the search, and the real estate brokers that provide the property data.
As you can guess, this is a win-win for everyone. The real estate brokers get valuable referrals. Businesses can be assured that they are finding the most ideal locations. When businesses decide to locate in our cities, it creates new jobs and markets for city residents. And of course, new businesses mean new sources of long-term tax revenue for the city.
Taking the San Francisco model a step further, industry-academic partnerships are using portals to change the way higher education works with companies to convert advanced intellectual property into profits. Not only is the higher education industry doing more than ever to supply both the “intellectual capital” and “human capital” that businesses need, they are also using portals as a “dating service” to initiate these important relationships. And as with San Francisco, it continues to be a win-win for all parties involved — resulting in enhanced research, an influx of contracts and enterprise, and quality job growth.
It is no secret that the business world of the 21st century is driven by knowledge. Therefore, remaining competitive in today's changing business environment means delivering robust and flexible knowledge solutions. Portals offer the most effective means to deliver the information necessary to manage online interactions amongst user groups — to include: the Department of Commerce, economic development organizations, industry, entrepreneurs, and state/local government and communities. Portals also empower users to make better decisions, and provide the infrastructure to connect applications directly to each other — helping users stay ahead of the competition.