I had been to the Gartner Portals and Collaboration conference and listing some of points that struck me the most at the sessions I attended.
From an information perspective, The Gartner sessions gave a mix of new thoughts, validation on some of our understanding of what the industry is going towards and some insights as to what we should be looking at in this space.
The keynote session highlighted the core of what the rest of the days were going to focus on – a concept that Gartner called Nexus. This essentially was the mix of 4 elements – Social, Cloud, Information and Mobile. Social, Cloud and Mobile and pretty obvious, Information relates to Big Data and the usage of the same.
Although there is a lot of interest in people doing Facebook like implementations in their enterprise, most of it focus on enabling people get the business done. However another interesting concept is the ability of these tools to make employees happy, get engaged and make work more fun. According to some research, the brain is constantly looking for differences in Status, Autonomy and Connectedness, and these are the factors that determine the emotions of a person towards his work. Given a social tool, Status could be improved when a person knows that the content he entered is rated highly or viewed by multiple people, Autonomy is achieved since he is encouraged to type in content informally without the Boss’s interference and Connectedness of course by linking to colleagues not just in his locality but across geographies. Humanizing the workspace is important and also leveraging on the collective knowledge of people via crowdsourcing, giving a channel for people to help solving an issue they may not be related to.
Making people happy is the focus of organizations to enable better output and letting people use their tool and software of preference is one way of doing that. This is one of the reasons why companies are opening up their environment to mobile devices and the BYOD concept, rather than enforce them to use standard devices and software. My Job, My Tools, My Choice is the mantra. Consumer products will be much more popular since they are cooler, cheaper and more innovative. This is another reason why mobility is important for the enterprise. Cost and security are becoming old gen arguments against this.
Gamification or Game IT is another concept that was highlighted upon during the keynotes. The possibility of converting real problems into a format which appear as a game would appeal to much more people and encourage them to become more innovative and involved in their work.
The sessions I attended were mainly around Portals and Social. A lot of concepts presented in various sessions were common, hence I have taken the key take ways and summarized them.
According to Gartner the evolution of Portals can be split into 7 generations as depicted below
The focus for portals should now should be on Gen7 and creating a cohesive experience, which means the ability to move across devices while viewing content or carrying out a workflow without being mandated to stick with one device.
Some ways to improve the usage / adoption of portals
- Leveraging analytics and social data to bring about context aware computing. Making information personalized and relevant helps improve on the usage of the portal and hence its adoption which would circle back to users adding more content in.
- Use public APIs / widgets. Keeping all information in house is not feasible eg. Putting information regarding activities of customer in Linked or Facebook in CRM, hence leveraging them and other cloud services and having connectors into the portals / applications is the how they should be used.
- For global adoption of portals there should be focus on 3 form factors – Fullwidth, Tablet and mobile. The traditional way to do this was to develop different sites for each of these and render content in them, however leveraging the new CSS 3.0 features this can be achieved making use of just one site and using CSS to modify the rendering mode based on the device.
- Multivariate testing is a mechanism that could be adopted to optimize web portals. This is the process of rendering different aspects of the UI such as content / layouts / forms etc. differently for users in different proportions, analyzing the behaviors of users in different options and leveraging the results of these tests to determine the final layout.
- Use technology that complements each other. There was a point in time where people would prefer different technologies to satisfy similar requirements which may have different business purposes such as Enterprise Portals , Web Content Management, e-commerce etc. However a lot of instances there would be need for integration between these and in those scenarios, procuring different tools which were best of breed in each of their category may not be as beneficial as determining one, based on the primary enterprise goal and extending it to achieve other business purposes
Best practices for Portals
For people who are not up to date with the latest trends, consider the following features
- Analytics and optimization
- Advanced context awareness
General Best Practices
- Figure out a rewards mechanism – encouraging contribution / usage
- Mobile accessibility
- Hand over keys to different groups to manage their portion of the portal
- Get governance right – different types of sites requires different levels of governance.
- Do things that will help people get their work done easier (Find out what they hate doing and tackle that)
- Figure out what information people need and check for regularly (Cafeteria menu?)
- Prepare for demand (App stores)
- Citizen developers
- Ensure accurate content
- Do not start off a portal implementation with just a technical team. The portal development needs people with taxonomy / librarian skills and business skills as well
The Social Workspace
The Social is booming in the personal / non – enterprise related space and if the impacts of these are considered, then the benefits for an organization is obvious. Consider this
- The newer generation is using Facebook to keep up with each other rather than using email
- Facebook is not just fun, it is a channel for what people may otherwise do using other mediums. In an enterprise the work people do is similar to what they do with Facebook – share files, collaborate on them, provide feedback, update status of projects etc.
- If there is a need in the business for people to collaborate with each other to meet business objectives, that is a clear opportunity for social tools. Integrating with existing business application is a mechanism to ensure its success within an organization
Values of leveraging a social tool
- Communication broadcast – Point to Point (email) vs Hub Spoke model
- Persistence of data ie. It is re-discoverable; information being created now can be reused by someone else not related to the conversation at a later point in time without the original parties being involved
- Implicit metadata – based on the profile of people who shared the documents or downloaded (this gives insight as to what the document could be about), more recommendations means more relevancy
- More chances of reaching someone who need the data – With email if we know that some group of people may need information, we may either send to everyone in that group (spam) or choose to avoid sending it altogether.
However email is not going to go away, we may need both together perhaps merged eg. Facebook already has private message option which is almost the equivalent of email.
The main cause of failure with any application and even more with social is lack of user participation. Some of the ways to avoid this
- Start with a small group of people who know each other
- Let people inform others on its value
- Analyze how many steps are required to post (should be as easy as email to both send and view)
- Make it fit in the flow of work (they should not need to go to another app for this)
- For implementing social – be aware of issue that can come in. Start small with a few usecases to see how each of these can be handled
- Risks will increase – need to carry out e-discovery, retention
- Taxonomy structures get destroyed
- Wikis and blogs are people’s opinions – this may not be reliable
- People’s Profile is what they think of themselves, may not be accurate
- Information overload / activity stream may just bloat up
The same with portals in terms of interfaces. On building enterprise applications do not assume that they will be stand alone or not require integration. The ability to consume external services or expose services is slowly becoming the norm for every product.
Almost all enterprises have adopted SharePoint for various reasons and it is becoming standardized in the workspace. This is so wide spread that if you are developing an application for the enterprise, you need to make sure that it can integrate with SharePoint.
Using SharePoint out of the box reduces its impact and potential a great lot. Making tweaks / customizing SharePoint such that it is adapts the business needs in essential in order to obtain the maximum ROI.
People now prefer moving towards using some of the third party tools such as Newsgator/ Yammer etc. for making modifications rather than carrying out lots of customization in house. For a services company it is important to be knowledgeable about the ISPs to carter to these customers.
FAST is slowly gaining interest, although the growth is not as expected, however one interesting aspect is that although all the customers who implemented just SharePoint may not may not feel its usefulness, almost all customers who implemented SharePoint with FAST have said they have felt that the implementation was fully beneficial for the organization.