Remember: Portal is a Noun, Collaborate is a Verb

By Christian Buckley posted 06-26-2013 11:03


In a prior life, while working for a major phone company that no longer exists, I was responsible for building out and maintaining our team portal and project portfolio site. The purpose was to provide a one-way communication vehicle for our leadership team, as well as our project managers who needed a way to broadcast project details and general updates to the entire organization. It was essentially a combination billboard and file share -- a repository of documents that nobody wanted to access if they didn't have to, and broadcast communications that were duplicated through email. Now that I think about it, that portal which I poured so many hours into was akin to the organizational newsletter: a lot of hype when it started, and more effort to produce that value created.


There are certain cultural patterns that appear within our technology decisions. For example, drivers who drift too far in one direction often over-correct and serve too far in the other direction. In politics, constituents get upset by one candidate in office, only to swing too far in the other direction. In both cases, something closer to the middle of the road would better serve our needs and interests. Can the same be said for your portal plans? Are you redirecting funds, shutting down "old technology" in your efforts to embrace the new social collaboration wave hitting the enterprise?


A company portal does not necessarily mean a static environment. As the article title suggest, you need to remember that your portal is more like a noun: it is a destination, a launching point into multiple enterprise systems and tools, a place where people can find information that does not quickly change (employee directory, HR policies and forms, shared calendar) and entries into focused collaboration (document sharing, social networking, threaded discussions). I just don't view it as an either/or decision. There is a place for static content, just as there are use cases for push communications -- traditionally via email and alerts.  Social collaboration should be a sub-set of your overall portal strategy, not necessarily a replacement.


There is a cultural revolution happening within the collaboration technology space, and while it is definitely exciting to be a part of it, I am wary of the sometimes blind frenzy surrounding social collaboration. When the connections to use cases and business value are sketchy, at best, you should definitely pause and reconsider your actions.  Clearly, many organizations fell asleep at the wheel and were drifting onto the shoulder with their internal portals. The question to ask yourself: is the sudden replacement of your structured collaboration model and portal with anything "social" akin to an over-correction, like jerking the wheel into oncoming traffic? Are you prepared for the impact of an entirely unstructured collaboration model?

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