Donne and Lennon Said It So Well

I’ve just returned from representing EContent at the second Gartner Portals, Content & Collaboration Summit in London. This turned out to be an excellent conference in every respect. It was especially notable for the balance of strategic insight and tactical best practices in the areas of search, portals, collaboration, and content management. There were more than 330 senior IT managers from 29 countries present, and what was especially remarkable was that more than 200 of them squeezed into a room to hear a presentation on how social software tools could (and should) make an impact on intranets. Of the three preconference workshops, the collaboration workshop attracted the majority of attendees.

Collaboration was the dominant theme of the conference. One of the forecasts predicted that the extent to which two or more people would work together to make decisions would increase by 50% over the next few years. Driving this forecast are increasing business complexity and the need to solve problems and address new opportunities for which there are no easy solutions. Another factor in the rapid adoption of social network applications is that the current generation entering the work force for the first time uses these applications intensively outside the office and expects to be able to use them inside the office. Over the last decade many organizations have tried to set up discussion groups and failed, but now they need to bury that experience and start again with web-based tools and a commitment from the top to use these networks to take advantage of the expertise of the organization.

A case study from Vodafone made the point well: Of 66,000 employees, some 40,000 are using 7,000 collaboration "rooms" and more than 70 professional communities. There is also substantial use of these collaboration spaces by external partners. Looking at this situation from another perspective, social networking is really knowledge management in action. In another case study from Shell, using these spaces has resulted in a significant reduction in email traffic. "Send and store" is being replaced by "store and send" as documents or comments are added to a work space and an alert is sent out about the item.

One subtheme of the summit was governance. The push-back on social networking tools often comes from senior managers worried about what might be contributed to blogs and wikis. However, blogs are always named (or there is no point in writing one) and wikis have audit trails, so both are less risky than emails, which are invisible. Another dimension to governance came up in a session on portals in which Gartner analyst David Gootzit said that, in his experience, the reason for the failure of portal projects is poor governance from the outset.

To most IT managers at the conference, the only options to support collaboration were Microsoft SharePoint and Notes from IBM, but the point was made by several speakers that there is a wide range of startup companies offering social software. Of course, in time they may well get swallowed up by larger vendors, but in the meantime the cost of entry and experimentation by any organization is so low and potentially has so many rewards that without doubt the best thing to do is try it and see, not wait for the IT department to migrate all your SharePoint Server 03 files to MOSS07.

Overall, I walked out of the summit realizing that I had not been paying enough attention to the collaboration environment, and I suspect that is the case with many intranet managers. Now is the time to change because if the organization does not provide support, two things will certainly happen: The first is that consumer products will be used unofficially, and the second is that the chances of the organization not being able to make effective use of its staff’s skills will increase rapidly.

I’d certainly recommend attending the 2008 PCC Summits, which will take place in Las Vegas and London in September, to any intranet manager.

I cannot express it better than two famous Johns: Donne and Lennon. John Donne (1572–1631) wrote, "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…" Some 350 years later, John Lennon (along with Paul McCartney) wrote, "I get by with a little help from my friends."