Next Generation Trade Intelligence Portal

Your online guide

Step 7: Operational plan

Learning points

  • Templates and standard operating procedures are essential. 
  • Decentralized content management is feasible through content management systems with a profile based workflow function.
  • Human resource development and knowledge management are key to develop and maintain capabilities in the organisation.
  • Performance contracts as a safeguarding mechanism to obtain content contributions. 
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?rel=0&v=d8h1sa_9yus)

“Our portal is not up to date. Our IT department is not uploading enough content”

Having your strategy, ideas for content, usability, social media integration and syndication options formulated, it is time to put things to practice. You will learn that a successful portal is managed by the entire organisation, and not one (IT) department only. The success is built on shared commitment and ownership, from top to bottom of the organization.

This Step entails the operational management of your Trade Intelligence Portal. It touches upon:

  • Content management
  • Social media management 
  • Quality management 
  • Human Resource management 
  • Technical management

Content management: standardised, consistent and procedure based

Systemizing content production is intertwined with the development of standardised information products, which can consistently be produced according to a set of, clearly laid out procedures. This lays the foundation for quality management, which is first and foremost about consistency and meeting the standards.

Clearly defined information products are tangible and quantifiable. Taking the time to carefully design each information product allows you thereafter to:

  • Plan the process of its production.
  • Define the time it takes to produce each information product.
  • Implement procedures for continuous improvement.

Standardized templates

A key aspect of the production process is designing templates that the content management team can use as a clear-cut guideline to produce the product in a consistent way. This template becomes the ‘blueprint’ of the information product and as such should be adequately detailed, covering aspects such as:

  • Length of articles
  • Length of paragraphs
  • Number of paragraphs
  • Topics per paragraph
  • Headings 
  • Style 
  • Editing guidelines
  • Formatting guidelines

As Trade Intelligence Portals move to more social media forms of content supply, the rigidity of templates becomes less applicable. Still, it is important to establish certain policies and guidelines. Please refer to Step 3 for more details on content and formats.

Social media management

As mentioned earlier in Step 5 on social media integration, specific rules of conduct apply to social media. The high frequency and intensive engagement nature of the social media bring their own set of guidelines, style, work processes and required skills. In many organisations, the team responsible for social media is usually located in the communication department.

Testimonial

Tim Parkman, Director Channels, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise“This year, our content team, which is extended over different departments in the organisation, will undergo blogging training because blogging requires a different style of writing.”

- Tim Parkman, Director Channels, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, on social media management skill training

The responsibilities, targets and procedures for the social media management have to be specified in the operational plan.

Quality management

For most people, quality management relates to ISO 9000 certification. Many trade promotion organizations have certified the quality of their organisation’s service delivery with ISO 9000. Often this also encompasses their Trade Intelligence Portal. The most important aspect of quality management of a Trade Intelligence Portal is working towards consistency. The earlier described method of establishing information products and following rigidly made templates take us in the same direction.

Other aspects of quality include:

  • Content relevance
  • Content accuracy
  • Content actuality (a good practice is an alerting option in the CMS such that the content team receives cues when certain content needs to be updated) 
  • Usability and conversion
  • Technical performance (up-time, speed)
  • Response time commitments to the client 

As part of quality management, work processes and procedures need to be spelled out, documented and linked to indicators. Also checks need to be put in place to ensure that the procedures and consistency rules are followed.

Testimonial

Cosima Steiner - Advantage Austria, on roles and responsibilities“Advantage Austria has structured its Trade Intelligence Portal in such a way that each country office has its own customized page. The team in that respective country is responsible for most of the content relevant to that country. Their country specific page is an extension of their visiting card and their image. They can therefore not afford to have out-dated content. The country pages are fully brought to the forefront by a functionality that determines the country of origin of the portal’s visitor. As such the content is not hidden deep in a sea of content, all the more extending the accountability of the country content team”.

- Cosima Steiner - Advantage Austria, on roles and responsibilities

Human resource management

In relation to the work processes and procedures, it is essential to define who is involved in the information processes, what are the respective roles and responsibilities, to organize workflow and workload, and to manage required knowledge and skills. Performance contracts can be a solution to safeguard commitment.

Workflow and workload

In many cases, it is one single department within a trade promotion organization that manages the Trade Intelligence Portal. In the ideal scenario, there should be multiple departments involved, ranging from market intel, to training, trade fairs and events, marketing and communication. Also overseas foreign trade representatives should contribute by sharing the latest trends from their markets. Sometimes other stakeholders contribute, through a syndication or collaboration agreement (also see Step 6). This makes the processes challenging.

The workflow needs to be well defined and managed. Who will do what in which phase of the process? This will be specified in the operational plan. There can be for instance:

  • Editors and contributors
  • Social media moderators
  • Bloggers
  • Chief editors, with different authorities to create, edit, moderate and publish information.

There can also be teams working together on specific information product, with a specific division of tasks. For example in the case of Foreign Trade Representatives co-creating information products with trade information specialists (by means of field research on-site in target markets) this needs to be specified in a workflow. On the other hand, the workload needs to be defined and managed: How much time will be allocated to the different functions and information products and activities? Again, this should be specified in an operational plan. 

Performance contracts

When inputs for the Trade Intelligence Portal come from other divisions and Foreign Trade Representatives, the process becomes more challenging to manage. As was highlighted in Step 2 on the strategy, this is particularly an area where trade promotion organizations struggle. There will always be competition with other duties and tasks that need to be completed. For example, when staff from the promotion department is requested to contribute to Trade Intelligence Portal content. Since that is not the core function of the promotion staff, this may become a challenge. Managing this challenge requires clear communication, guidance and commitment from top management, as well as performance contracts that include tangible indicators related to the portal’s responsibilities. These indicators should be included in an operational plan.

Knowledge management and skill training

Content management, usability, online interaction and social media management are areas of expertise that require specific skills. As such, human resource development in these areas with specific attention on knowledge and skill training is relevant for those involved.

knowledge management and skill trainingMoreover, procedures need to be put in place to manage knowledge in such a way that it does not disappear when a staff member leaves. Efforts need to be made to manage, document and share knowledge. An important part of this is simply through proper standardisation of procedures and good documentation. Development of user manuals and video screen recordings to run new staff members through the steps of the procedures takes them a long way. Working in teams and regular knowledge sharing sessions are instrumental.

Affiliation and syndication management

In case of syndication or affiliation with other parties (see Step 6), it is advised to enter into a kind of formal agreement by means of a contract or Memorandum of Understanding. In case of an intensive collaboration with other agencies a steering committee with representatives of the other institutions is recommended. The steering committee should agree on the fundamental principles of content production and sharing mechanisms but also formalize the commitment and the roles and responsibilities. In an operational plan, the coordination meetings or steering committee meetings, with the agreed procedures can be included.

This may sound like a simple matter of agreeing to a system of collaboration between the agencies. However, in many countries, this free flow of information may be constrained by bureaucratic impediments. There may actually be laws that prevent exchange of information between agencies.

Technical Management

When it comes to technical management, several issues need to be taken into consideration in relation to the infrastructure, the hardware and the software.

Hosting and performance

For operational management, it is very relevant to decide on the hosting arrangement. You can opt for in-house hosting, but also for outsourced hosting. The advantage of in-house hosting is that you are in complete control of the infrastructure and service of the portal. However, there are considerable requirements that come with it:

  • Hardware for the hosting server and routers and the necessary telecommunications bandwidth will have to be purchased or leased.
  • Adequate and secure premises must be provided.
  • Operational availability of the portal has to be guaranteed.
  • Security precautions (e.g. firewalls) have to be put in place and kept up-to-date, to protect it from unauthorized access. 
  • Back-up procedures and sufficient redundancy (e.g. standby servers) to provide for disaster recovery.

You should therefore consider whether the present level of ICT competency and staff availability is such that the above requirements can be satisfactorily accommodated or whether additional competent staff needs to be recruited.

The cost implications of this option should also be carefully considered not only in terms of the initial capital investment but also in terms of the on-going operational costs, maintenance and support costs and likelihood of expansion. The Total Cost of Ownership is likely to be substantially higher when compared to outsourced hosting.

In case of outsourced hosting, a service level agreement will specify the infrastructure, server specifications, and performance in terms of stability, security and speed. All taken care of by the hosting provider. In terms of operational management, the outsourced option has many advantages. A perceived disadvantage is the issue of confidentially, with data outside the immediate control. However, in-house hosting often provides a false sense of security. Where professional hosting providers generally provide state-of-the art security, in many trade promotion organizations it is a challenge to keep the servers protected from unauthorized access.

Either way, procedures to safeguard and monitor the performance should be specified in an operational plan.

Content management and system integration

It is important to acknowledge that for the management of a Trade Intelligence Portal, one should not rely on the webmaster or IT department for uploading of content. Those days have gone by. Nowadays the approach to content management should be decentralized, whereby members of the team (authors or editors), regardless of whether they are working in the head office or in branches or overseas offices, are able to create and edit content in the system. One or more managers (chief editors) in the head office will have publication rights.

CMS solutions

These Content Management Systems (CMS) are user-friendly and do not require a technical background with html or programming skills from the editors or chief editors. Moreover, they include workflow management based on profile based authorisation levels, alerting functions (when content is due for review, approval, update), and schedulers (for publication at specific times).

So content management in particular and portal management in general should be placed with one of the executive departments like trade information or market intelligence, while technical management (safeguarding performance, integration of systems and maintenance of the infrastructure) can be put under the IT department.

There are several solutions when it comes to content management systems. A valid option is to use an open source CMS. There are various products available with rich libraries of plugins and ready-made functions that allow relatively easy assembly and customization of a Trade Intelligence Portal. Popular open source CMS are WordPress, Joomla and Drupal.

Another option is to use a combination of off-the-shelf software components and custom code to build a bespoke system. The major software platform vendors, such as Microsoft or Oracle, provide a variety of products that can be used to build web applications. However, these involve purchasing a license and paying an on-going license fee.

The choice of technology approach should be determined by a combination of factors, including:

  • The level of complexity in the portal’s functionality, determined by the content and database integration features.
  • Existing infrastructure and software applications running in the organization.
  • The degree of familiarity of the developers and of the personnel assigned to future maintenance with specific tools available in the market.
  • Total Cost of Ownership and budgetary constraints.

System integration

Consider that the design –and maintenance- of the database and the functionalities built around it will require specialist information systems design and engineering skills. Such as integration with statistical databases, company directories or CRM systems. CMS management, maintenance services, software updates and monitoring of system integration need to be specified in an operational plan.

 

Highlights Step 7 - Operational Management

  • Develop clear guidelines, templates, standard operating procedures and documented work processes as the foundation for content management, social media management and quality management.
  • Define the workflow and the workload among the content management functions, including overseas officers.
  • Invest in human resource development and knowledge management to develop and maintain capabilities in the organisation.
  • Consider performance contracts and adjustments of job descriptions to obtain contributions from staff that has no portal related work as part of their core function.
  • Formalize agreements with syndication partners through Memorandums of Understanding or contracts.
  • Implement decentralized content management through  content management systems with a workflow function, profile based authorisation levels, alerting functions and schedulers.
  • Consider Total Cost of Ownership when deciding for hosting and Content Management System solutions. 
  • Include specifications of roles, responsibilities and procedures of the above in an operational plan.

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Want to know more about this step or how ITC can support you with your trade intelligence portal?

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