As I look back on the year there are a number of trends I see. My view from the U.K. may not exactly mirror the U.S. experience, but I don't think that there is a vast difference between the two markets other than size. Of the many trends on which I could comment, there are three that stand out: the maturation of information architecture, the emergence of personas, and a renewed interest in content management.
This year, intranet managers started to really appreciate what information architecture (IA) is all about and, to a very significant extent, this has been due to the activities of the Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture, of which I am proud to be an advisor. Even without my bias, AIfIA has provided a place to find information on IA; its Web site (www.aifia.org) offers some very useful tools. I think that there is a danger in viewing IA in too narrow a context. One of the best books of the year has been Information First—Integrating Knowledge and Information Architecture for Business Advantage, authored by Roger and Elaine Evernden (Butterworth Heinemann) because the authors take a broad perspective on the subject. IA is not just about Web design but about enhancing the user experience in the process of locating and accessing information.
As I write this, AIfIA is thinking about changing the name of the organization, in particular the Asilomar prefix. I hope that this does in fact take place because I spend more time explaining why AIfIA has the name it has than explaining what it can do. Another feature of the AIfIA site is the multilingual aspect of the content. This quite remarkable achievement goes to illustrate the interest and commitment to good IA practice that exists around the world. As of 2004/2005, Peter Morville and Lou Rosenfeld are no longer on the board though they were among the founders and most active supporters of AIfIA, and the measure of the maturity of the organization will be the way in which it continues to develop without them being directly involved.
The second trend I've seen has been the concept of personas becoming much more widely accepted as a way of optimizing information architectures and providing the basis for usability and findability testing as sites are developed and modified. The problems I have encountered in this area have less to do with the development of the personas themselves but rather in blending the individual personas into a workable set of scenarios.
One of the useful outcomes of persona development can be in understanding the balance between task-based and content-based navigation on an intranet. Although I am a proponent of ensuring that essential information-rich tasks are supported in a site's IA, I also realize that there will still be a need for other ways of enabling effective information access (I refer to Peter Morville's excellent work developing the concept of findability at www.findability.org).
The third major trend has been an increasing level of interest in implementing CMS applications (if only this was matched by an equivalent level of understanding). Intranet and other site managers understand the benefits of distributed content contribution in enhancing the reliability and currency of content, but do not appreciate the implications on financial and personnel resources. As has often been pointed out by EContent contributing editor Tony Byrne (www.cmswatch.com) and others, if an organization does not have a content management system then a CMS product will not suffice.
Generally, an organization will lack internal expertise in CMS implementation, which by its very nature will impact every desktop, even if only a small number of content authors use the CMS. But there are some resources available. For a truly professional approach to intranets, KM, and CMS, take a look at the work that James Robertson continues to do at Step Two Designs in Sydney (www.steptwo.com.au). His Content Management Requirements Toolkit and Intranet Roadmap are among the best resources offered in 2004.
Finding an external consultant is not easy, especially as there are not yet many around. This situation could ease through the vision of Bob Doyle (and others) in developing the CMS Review site (www.cmsreview.com). During 2004, CM professionals have emerged as the basis of an international community of people with expertise and a new organization has just formed specifically for them (www.cmprofessionals.org). The genesis of the community and the Web site has not been easy, though the need for both is clear, and I hope that they will be a catalyst in the development of professional standards of practice in CM implementation in the U.S. and worldwide.