Socialtext’s evolution towards the “intranet”?

After commenting on ThoughtFarmer’s post about being a hybrid wiki/intranet CMS, I started reading about Socialtext latest version 3 release. It has some interesting new hybrid features, which are demonstrated in this short video:

One of the new features is the “Customizable home pages that let each person decide where to focus their attention”. Is it me, while we know that the traditional portal and intranet CMS vendors have trying to become more like social media applications, but are the enterprise wikis now trying to become more like traditional information platforms? It worries me a little because there are so many other business applications offering portal like interfaces (but with varying degrees of success) and I just hope we don’t end up where we started!

UPDATE: Also worth reading is a more upbeat analysis from Susan.

The Enterprise RSS Value Chain (under construction)

I’m currently working on a new article for Image & Data Magazine about Enterprise RSS and I also have in mind, based on popular demand, the idea of running another short workshop at IPP Consulting on this topic.

One idea I have in my head at the moment is to describe a simple model for understanding how and where Enterprise RSS can add value… that is, the Enterprise RSS Value Chain.

At the moment, this value chain consists of four steps:

  1. Publish – Data source publish feed content;
  2. Process – Feed data is processed in some way;
  3. Republish – Processed and/or unprocessed feeds are republished (there are a number of different potential benefits); and
  4. Consume – Feed content is consumed by end-users.

Underpinning these process steps would ideally be an overarching management process. There are also some user and activity flows that are little hard to describe here in bullet point form that also affect the value chain.

Overall, I’m pretty confident I can map a range of usage scenarios and technologies to this model, and while doing this demonstrate in certain circumstances the value gap in those approaches.

For example, consider that in most organisations that are intentionally making use of feeds, their value chain probably only consists of a limited publish step (i.e. systems that natively generate feeds) and a rudimentary consume step (i.e. through one channel).

What do you think? And more importantly, would you like to attend a workshop on the Enterprise RSS Value Chain to explore how RSS can add value?

Anne Bartlett Bragg: State of the Australian social media/web 2.0 scene

Brian Bailey and I had coffee with Headshift’s Anne Bartlett Bragg a few weeks ago and we discussed a range of topics around social media and beyond. Actually, we had so much fun chatting with Anne that we completely forgot the time and cafe almost kicked us out for over staying our welcome 😉

Anyway, I noticed that TechNation Australia interviewed Anne recently and one of the questions asked and Anne’s reply was:

How does the social media/web 2.0 scene in Australia compare to that of the UK and Europe?

“Currently Australia is 2-3 years behind on a corporate basis, namely in implementation.  As I mentioned before, alot of companies are now talking about it, but few are actually ‘doing’ it.”

This matches my own assessment of the market in Australia (there is a familiar pattern at play) and while frustrating at times, on the upside if your organisation is only just starting to “get” social media then remember you are in good company!

Of course, what is significant to notice about Web 2.0 is the pace of change – and Anne and I are right, if you hope that social media or Web 2.0 might give your organisation some kind of advantage (in what ever form) then now is the time to do something about it.

New articles available for download: Web 2.0 and Information Management + Portal Success Factors

I have a couple of new articles available for download…

Patrolling the Web 2.0 borderline (PDF, 180KB)

So is the read/write web a friend or foe to information management? James Dellow looks at the implications for corporate IS.

Originally published in the July/August 2008 edition of Image & Data Manager (IDM) magazine.

Success Factors for Selecting and Implementing Enterprise Portals (PDF, 192KB)

Despite the potential benefits, many enterprise portal projects have been plagued by poor up take within the intended user group. These failures can be traced back to a variety of organisational and technical root causes. Some problems, such as usability, are common to many other enterprise applications and can be solved through well established methods. However, the lessons of experience point to three particular success factors that are critical when selecting and implementing enterprise portals.

A new IPP Consulting whitepaper by James Dellow and Brian Bailey.


To choose or not to choose? No, pay now or pay later

One more thought… if SharePoint looks like the easy option, but in reality it needs to be managed and configured well is it really such as easy option? Actually, maybe the question is who exactly is SharePoint the easy option for?

Holding that thought, lets also not forget that SharePoint isn’t the only portal platform out there (yes, its a portal – even if we try to  treat it purely as an intranet publishing, records management or collaboration platform [delete as appropriate]).

As a reminder of what that space looks like, Gartner have recently updated their horizontal portal research note (care of Vignette), which includes the following vendors in the leaders group:

  • IBM
  • Microsoft
  • Oracle
  • SAP
  • Sun Microsystems
  • Vignette

Gartner also think that by 2011, 10% of the major enterprises will be using open source portal systems (e.g. Red Hat JBoss and Liferay). Mashup-based (composite applications) and Rich Internet Application (RIA) approaches will also have an impact on how organisations go about building portals. I would also include the impact of enhanced enterprise wiki platforms in addition to the vendors Gartner considers in scope for this analysis.

There are a couple of comments in the report about other vendors that are worth mentioning because they also reflect my own experience:

  • WebSphere has strengths in “complex deployment scenarios, including high-scalability environments” (I know of one organisation that uses SharePoint, but only trusts WebSphere for mission critical applications) – the downside is that its more expensive.
  • SAP Portal, like SharePoint, is popular where SAP is already deployed – unfortunately, the portal  “[user interface] rigidity has constrained use cases” (I think we know what Gartner are politely trying to say here…).
  • Vignette is hanging in there as a leading platform, however right now I don’t think their Web 2.0 capabilities live up to the hype.

But even if there are plenty of vendor choices out there, pragmatically is that really an argument for putting the necessary effort into selecting a product rather than simply sticking with that easy option (be that SharePoint, SAP Portal or otherwise)?

Since every portal has its pros or cons, if we follow the 80-20 rule the real choice is about deciding if you want to pick the 20% gap you will accept or accepting that you are going to have to learn about the 20% gap that you don’t know about when you pick that easy option.

In other words, you can pay now or pay later.

Mike Gardner from EDS on how to keep the MOSS beast under control

Having dropped off it entirely at one stage, these days I’m only an occasional lurker on the ACT-KM mailing list. Probably because I have SharePoint on the mind right now, this gem of a reply from Mike Gardner, who is part of the CIO Knowledge Management team at EDS, caught me attention – here is the core of what he said:

SharePoint can be used as an information management repository for the corporation and then this can be supported by using it as a collaboration environment as well (which is what we have done).

However, this needs to be properly structured so that the "best" content can more easily be identified and found by search tools (be they out of the box SharePoint search or other search tools). It also needs some careful consideration of metadata management (column management, something SharePoint is currently very weak in).

By building (or buying) additional tools you can maintain consistent metadata across thousands of sites enabling very effective metadata search capabilities across millions of documents. You then have an information management repository solution that can be fairly simple for the users to use.

However, the tool needs to be supported by the right business processes to encourage folk to store and share their content (as well as to look to reuse content where it is already available). This may also mean looking at reward cultures and thinking about these (do you reward subject matter experts? if so, are you encouraging them to hoard their knowledge and not share it?) If people are not sharing, think about why not? Look for ways to encourage them. These may even be short term to get them in to the habit of sharing.

I contacted Mike by email, to see if I could quote him here on the ChiefTech blog, and I commented that there appears to be a gathering body of evidence that SharePoint can work, but it needs to be managed and configured well. Mike replied:

I agree with you. SharePoint is a simple solution to a complex problem, but it’s very simplicity works for many users. However, if you let it run free you find you end up in a bigger mess than you started with. We started off thinking of SharePoint as an Information Management solution and not a Collaboration solution which meant we placed controls around it to start with. This has proved to be the right decision as we kept control of the site structures and were able to expand to collaboration easily. The opposite would probably be more difficult to achieve.

There are some valuable lessons here.

Aligning business needs to SharePoint capabilities

Michael Sampson has been reporting from KMWorld 2008 this week, however Eric Mack recorded Michael’s conclusions from his own presentation about Microsoft SharePoint as a collaboration tool:

1. SharePoint is not a mature collaboration platform
2. Mitigations (technology and human factors) will be required to achieve the full promise of SharePoint
3. Be careful what you use it for, and how you use it.
4. Collaboration is only one of the six pieces of SharePoint 2007.
5. Your driving reason for SharePoint may be one of the other five.

I’ve been following Michael’s blog for while and have also read his 7 pillars analysis, so I’m quite confident about the validity of his assessment. However, reading Eric Mack’s post today a thought occurred to me that one point to bear in mind about these conclusions is that Michael’s 7 pillars framework assumes that the level of the organisation’s collaborative maturity is the same. What this means is that SharePoint will work for some organisations BUT only in short term if their collaborative maturity is very low (i.e. basic document sharing).

However, when that collaborative maturity improves you will run into problems – particularly if your IT department has mandated a “vanilla” out of the box deplolyment (which is their attempt to keep SharePoint manageable over the long term – that’s the “it can’t break if we don’t change anything, ever” method).

Of course the issue of mismatching current and future business requirements to technology capabilities applies as much to SharePoint as it does to any other kind of collaboration or portal technology. Its also likely that any information management or collaboration technology will require some kind of mitigation to make it truly fit for purpose in practice (in part that’s about implementation, not installation).

So, are you implementing SharePoint with your eyes open? Do you understand the collaborative maturity of your organisation and how it maps to SharePoint’s capabilities? Or maybe you are looking at other collaborative or social computing technologies with the hope that if its not SharePoint, then you won’t need to worry about planning for a good fit with business needs?