Portals. No one knows what they are, but everyone knows they need one. At very high level a portal is simply a web site that brings information together from diverse sources in a uniform way. In a corporate setting this gets modified to a web site that brings together all the information you need to do your job. This has been the goal since the early 90s, but only recently has the technology caught up.
In the beginning
At first the technology generally only allowed us to push information down. It was entirely corporate driven information: Corporate events, phone book, announcements, weather, etc. The thought of personalized content was generally limited to important links. This was acceptable because we were still living in a world where communication in general was top down. Social Networking wasn’t a thing yet. Facebook didn’t launch until 2004 and was only available to certain universities until 2006.
The value of the portal was to move the corporate wide communication out of e-mail. To help showcase culture and give people the basics to navigate their corporate environment.
While this was a great first step. It did not meet the goal of bringing together all the information you needed to do your job. This led to adoption issues. Much of the content was very static. Turns out there wasn’t a corporate announcement or event to promote every day. People would go there occasionally, but not regularly. The information wasn’t very useful in their day to day life. It didn’t help them get their job done.
From 2008 – 2010 Facebook grew from about 100 million users to about 500 million users. Their growth and popularity pushed social networking into the mainstream. It led to questions within companies around how we can leverage this new tool to increase collaboration and productivity. During this same time, the problems and inefficiencies of siloed work in a digital environment became very apparent.
The appeal of social networking was the ability to pull content rather than hoping it would be pushed to you. You can personalize who and what you were following. You can tailor your news feed to what you want to see. Both Sitrion (Newsgator at the time) and Yammer saw this opportunity and went about creating a corporate version of Facebook. Even Microsoft jumped on this bandwagon, significantly improving the User Profiles in SharePoint 2007 and again in SharePoint 2010. Adding in a newsfeed, tagging, skill/people searches to name a few. The value proposition of the corporate social network was to breakdown silos. You no longer had to be a part of an email thread to contribute to the conversation. Your questions would have a larger audience. You could jump in and answer questions you weren’t directly asked. There is greater chance you will find someone who has solved this problem before. Or if no one had solved it before, you had a larger group, of engaged people, to work with you to solve it.
This new technology allowed us to carve off a piece of the portal for more personalized, dynamic, relevant content. The page was still largely top down, corporate content. But it now included your activity feed. An area of content that you curated within the home page. This small addition to home page drove more traffic to the page and led to greater adoption. But it didn’t come without its own set of challenges.
With greater adoption, came more data to filter through. You remember seeing a question someone else posted a couple months back. But now that post is buried under all the other activity. Who asked that question? Did they get an answer? How do I connect with them? Was this data lost?
Today: Cognitive Collaboration
Moving into 2014. Facebook is now over 1 billion users. Social Networking has become a part of everyday life. Data is being generated at a breakneck pace. The challenge of allowing people to effectively leverage the relevant knowledge within a sea of data has become critical. Enter Cognitive Collaboration. Within Microsoft this became the Office Graph within Office 365.
The goal of Office Graph is to identify your personal network. Identify connections between yourself, your content and with others in your organization. Office Graph monitors your activity in Office 365 and brings back content that it feels is most relevant to you. It’s like having your own personal digital assistant.
This technology is allowing us to further personalize the portal. The Office Graph knows which documents you were last working on. It knows which people in the organization you work most closely with. It knows what sites you visit the most.
We can leverage this power to replace quick links with a list of sites you frequent. One that self-updates based on your usage. We can replace the phone book page with a web part that highlights the people you most commonly work with, along with leveraging Delve for people/expertise searches. We can add a web part to the page that shows the last ten documents you’ve been working on. We could add another web part that shows the last ten documents being worked on by people in your network. This new portal page contains a balance of corporate and personalized information, along with your conversations. It is more dynamic, more contextualized and contains more of the data required to do your day to day work. Under the covers, tying this all together, is a layer of cognitive collaboration. Office Graph. That will further bring down the silo walls.
To me all this brings us closer to the original vision for the portal. The technology is now catching up to the vision of bringing together all the data you need in a single personalized view. Allowing you to spend less time searching and more time collaborating.