CapTech was a sponsor at the Gartner Portal, Content, and Collaboration Summit in Orlando last week, and I was the guy running the booth. I'm sure the product vendors had their own perspectives on the event, but representing a professional services firm most of the questions I was fielding revolved around strategy and governance.

Many organizations have already implemented portal and are struggling with content management and search integration - a real challenge for most companies. They are also struggling with end-user adoption.

Following is a summary of the issues and concerns I was hearing:

  • We built the portal, but usage / adoption is low
  • Content migration is slow and cumbersome
  • We have more than one portal and cannot integrate them
  • The organization of the new portal is starting to get out of control and is difficult to navigate
  • Search is not as effective as it needs to be

While some of these issues (most notably content and search integration) may not seem like strategy or governance issues, I believe the root cause of these issues is directly related.

I believe most of the problems I encountered last week can tie back to the following:

  • Lack of a portal czar or advocate

Portal advocates need to be more than project managers. They need to have industry experience and insight, vision for where the organization needs to be, and an ability to lead others through many project iterations to attain this vision. Portal advocates should report back to portal committees comprised of leaders from the business units that will be served by the portal. This feedback loop not only keeps the portal engagement on track, but it enables a sense of involvement and ownership on the part of the business units. This helps with senior level adoption, and if they are communicating effectively to their own business units, it will foster end-user adoption as well.

  • Technology first mentality

Many of the companies I spoke to did a basic install of the portal, stood back, and waited for adoption. This was more typical with Sharepoint implementations (the assumption being that you get more out of the box). When implementing portal you need to identify the problems you are trying to solve, and the audience you are solving them for. Business needs should drive technology decisions.

  • Paradigm shift has not occurred

Similar to the "technology first mentality", many companies have adopted portal and collaboration technologies but have not made the mental paradigm shift. Unfortunately it is quite common to see an organization invest in software, hardware, and development time only to end up with a more expensive intranet. User centered design, work and life event based information architecture, and an understanding of more advanced concepts like inter-portlet communication (integration at the glass) are critical in creating an effective enterprise portal. IT resources need to extend their knowledge beyond the portlet API and understand how portlets (or web parts in Sharepoint) can be used more effectively. Typical end-users need to be willing to adjust (and improve) on their workflow and other related habits, and management needs to invest time in learning how to leverage these tools to provide access to new information, faster access to information, or new and compelling ways to present data.

  • Lack of an established governance model

A governance model sounds restricting. It also sounds like something you do early in the project and simply reference as you build. Neither is the case. The important word here is "model" - think of it as a framework that allows you to adjust and grow over time. There will be changes through the development process and even as you go live. Most important is the relationship between governance, content, and search. Who are the content authors? What types of templates will they use? What type of workflow approval is required for what types of content? How will we tag content? Who can tag content? etc. For search, governance drives what can be searched and what should be presented back to the user. This can become increasingly complex when you include searching outside of the portal framework.

Most of the causes I discussed can be mitigated with proper strategy and planning. I recommend keeping that initial phase quick and light. If you try to plan for every eventuality at the beginning of the project you will not only waste a lot of time, but you will also get a lot of things wrong. You simply do not have all the information you need to make the right decisions. Focus on a strong model that is receptive to change through multiple iterations, group and role based permissions, and a strong advocate that can communicate your direction.