With the majority of our clients being in professional or financial services, I’m often asked for recommendations on a Client Portal. The question I ask in return, is do you really need one?

Determining if you need a Client Portal is a tricky conundrum when evaluating if the additional costs and functionality are worth it. Depending on the option you take, it could create inefficiencies and add complication to your data management.

From a business systems continuity point of view, it makes sense to have fewer work applications if you can achieve the desired functionality within the systems you’re already working from every day – such as Dropbox or your existing Document Management system.

First, let’s examine some of the functionality we might expect from a Client Portal:

  • Securely send documents and files to clients.
  • Securely receive documents and files from clients, in a method that is easy for the client to engage with and use.
  • Request Document review from a client.
  • Request Electronic Signatures from a client (e-Signing).
  • Minimize email noise and correspondence trails, while improving ease of workflow.
  • Ability to brand as your business (add your logo) and integrate with your website.
  • Integration with your Document Management system (such as SuiteFiles/SharePoint).
  • Cloud (or Browser) based, requiring no installation of software (even be it optional).

Now let’s explore just a few of the options…

Dropbox

Dropbox is popular application many people already use, are familiar with, and have an existing login. You’re probably already using it in your business today. If you’re seeking the simplest and most user-friendly option for your clients, Dropbox is just that.

While there is no native ability to brand Dropbox as your own business portal, it otherwise covers the basic functionality of sharing documents and files with your clients.

If using WordPress to power your website, it is possible with plugins such as Out-of-the-Box to stitch together a client portal within your own website with Dropbox powering the storage in the backend. Files can then be exchanged with your clients from your website or Dropbox directly.

If you’re already using an e-Signing solution such as Nitro or DocuSign, these do have native integrations with Dropbox you can take advantage of.

ShareFile by Citrix

ShareFile is a very security conscious solution, providing bank-level encryption for your data in transit and at rest. You can also brand the portal with your business logo, and provide a client portal link from your website.

ShareFile also has a clean and tidy user interface, unlike some of the options I’ve explored which look like they were designed back in the 90’s.

This particular solution seems to meet all criteria one could want, including e-Signing and email integration.

There are some native sync capabilities to push documents into other storage systems like Dropbox or OneDrive – however no SharePoint currently.

SuiteFiles (and SharePoint)

The obvious best fit solution would be one that integrated with your existing document management – for our clients, that’s often SuiteFiles. The team at SuiteFiles have had a Client Portal in the works for some time now, announced in their blog back in July, 2015.

As SuiteFiles is deployed within a SharePoint site, we’ve also explored its native functionality. SharePoint does have external sharing capabilities but requires your client to have a Microsoft login. If not managed correctly, the external sharing function of SharePoint can open up security vulnerabilities. For this reason, we traditionally disable external sharing on our client SharePoint sites.

Discussing progress with the SuiteFiles team, we’re informed they are having to overcome a few technical challenges before we’ll have our hands on their solution. There’s no timeframe on a SuiteFiles Client Portal just yet.

In conclusion, if having a portal on your website is not essential to you, Dropbox is the simplest and most cost effective solution. In this case, you don’t need that Client Portal after all.

If you do want that additional functionality of a branded portal on your website, ShareFile by Citrix is a great secure option. You could also explore Dropbox plugins for WordPress with your web developer.

We’re eager to see the SuiteFiles Client Portal released, and removing the need for any manual administration in moving files between systems.