Shared Insights PCC: Conference Wrap-Up

Colin White continued on after his RSS presentation to give a wrap-up of the entire conference. Considering that he’s the only thing standing between people and their flights (or the pool, in my case), it’s pretty sparsely attended. I’m staying in the room to avoid the Häagen-Dazs that’s on the coffee break table outside; after 4 conferences in 7 weeks, I have “conference bulge” and need to get back to brown rice and broccoli for a while.

He makes the point, as he did yesterday, that the audience has changed dramatically from previous PCC conferences, both in terms of their technical focus and the external-facing nature of the portals that they’re building. Uh-oh, he just said “Portals 2.0”, a sure sign that he’s trying to Web 2.0-ify the somewhat less glamorous field of portals.

He points out the problem today of multiple portal environments: every big vendor has a portal platform, and they all want you to use theirs if you use any of their other products. At some point, you need to reduce the number of portal environments or find some way to federate them.

There was a lengthy discussion about the vendor presence here. There were a few major portal vendors who were not in the showcase; I suspect that this is a fairly small conference for many of the vendors and it’s just not worth their marketing budget. White said that they’re revisiting the idea of allowing vendors to present, possibly either in short demo sessions or other forums that are not marketing in nature.

At the end of it all, I’m left wondering why I’m here as a speaker. BPM is pretty peripheral to the topic of PCC (although my session was well-attended), and I was slotted in on the morning of the last day, when likely most of the other speakers have already bailed out. Since Shared Insights is only covering two nights of hotel in my travel expenses, I wasn’t here to attend and blog about the entire conference, but was here only for yesterday afternoon and this morning. I wasn’t invited to participate in the speaker one-on-one sessions (where most of the speakers made themselves available to attendees for 30-minute sessions on a sign-up schedule), so feel a bit like a second stringer on the speaker roster. I think that the original interest was around a blog post that I did some time ago about Web 2.0 and BPM, which leads me back to my earlier comment about how they’re trying to Web 2.0-ify this conference; possibly I was part of that effort. In any case, my area of expertise is much more suited to the Shared Insights BPM conference series, so maybe I’ll end up speaking at one of those some day soon.

In the mean time, it’s off to the pool.

Shared Insights PCC: RSS in the Enterprise

My session on the changing face of BPM went pretty well, except for one guy who said that I was wrong about pretty much everything 🙂

Today finishes early, so I’m at the last breakout session, Colin White discussing using RSS in the enterprise, and the broader subject of using web syndication to deliver content to users. It’s a bit distracting because he has exactly the same English accent as someone on my wine club board; I keep looking up and expecting to see my friend Bernard (who doesn’t even know how to spell RSS) at the front of the room.

White is looking at this from an architectural rather than implementation viewpoint, and focussing on enterprise rather than internet data sources: a standardized and lightweight XML-based integration protocol. He spent an undue amount of time explaining generically what RSS feeds are and how internet syndication works in various RSS readers; is there anyone in this fairly technical portal-savvy audience who doesn’t already know all this? He then moved on to the differences between RSS and Atom and the specific tags used in an RSS feed; 30 minutes into the presentation, we still haven’t yet seen anything to do with RSS in the enterprise.

Eventually he does get to enterprise uses of RSS; no surprise, one big use is to have it integrated into a business portal, although the XML can also be consumed by various search tools, including ETL to capture the data and load it into a data warehouse or content management system — something that I hadn’t thought about previously, but can be done with tools like Microsoft Integration Services. He points out how RSS is one piece in the integration puzzle, which is essentially what I’ve been saying with respect to using RSS feeds of process execution data as one way of providing visibility into processes.

White covers the different types of feed servers: external, internal, and hosted SaaS. Interestingly, NewsGator is now in all three areas, with both an enterprise server and an on-demand solution that can aggregate and syndicate internal as well as external content, as well as their well-known external internet version. That gives a variety of ways that a feed server can fit into an enterprise environment: either an external feed server providing only the external feeds, or an internal/hosted feed server that can handle both internal and external feeds. This has the advantage of reducing network traffic, since the feed server caches the feeds, as well as providing filtering and monitoring of content that is consumed.

I’m really aware of a push to give PCC a very Enterprise 2.0 flavour; having not been at any of the previous PCC conferences, or even the first half of this one, I don’t know if this is a new bandwagon that they’re leaping on, or something that’s a logical progression of where this conference has been in the past.

Shared Insights PCC: AvenueA|Razorfish intranet wiki

I skipped this morning’s taxonomy/folksonomy smackdown featuring Seth Earley and Zach Wahl — I just wasn’t up for that much testosterone this early in the morning — and went to the best practices track to hear about how AvenueA|Razorfish implemented their internal wiki. I’m speaking next, so if this session isn’t sufficiently riveting, I’ll duck out early to review my notes.

Donna Jensen, their senior technical architect, took us through how they use a wiki as an intranet portal. She spent some amount of time first defining wikis and discussing benefits and challenges, particularly when used inside the firewall. She made a crack about how Ph.D. dissertations will be written on many of these points, which isn’t that far from the truth: things like encouraging active versus passive behaviour. And, although she claims that they’re breaking down behaviours tied to organizational silos, she admitted that no one can comment on the CEO’s blog although all others are open territory. At some point, even the top level executives have to learn that if they’re going to commit to Enterprise 2.0, it has to permeate to all levels of the organization: no one should be exempt.

The platform that they used was MediaWiki (the software used to create Wikipedia) on a standard LAMP stack, giving them a completely open source base. They also use WordPress for internal blogs, maintaining the commitment to open source. Although they did do some customization, particularly in terms of creating templates such as project pages, they took advantage of many freely-available third-party extensions for functionality such as tag clouds, calendaring and skins. They use Active Directory for security, and allow access only internal or VPN access: no external access or applications.

AA|RF put in the wiki with only a technical VP and a part-time intern, pretty much out of the box, and found that it wasn’t adopted. They did another cut with Jensen as technical architect (part-time) and a couple more interns, and arrived at their current state: no project management oversight, no content management system, and no creative designer, with the whole thing implemented in about 2,000 person-hours. As a web technology consulting company (although with little Web 2.0 experience), they can get away with this, but you may not want to try this one at home. They used agile scheduling, and eventually brought in some rigorous QA. Jensen feels that their only real mistake was not bringing in a create designer earlier, since the wiki is apparently pretty technical looking. They haven’t yet put a WYSIWYG editor so everyone still needs to work in WikiText, which is likely a bit of a barrier for the non-techies.

Jensen talked about a few byproducts of the wiki adoption, such as the incremental upgrade model that tends to come with open source or SaaS products, rather than the monolithic (and often disruptive) upgrades of proprietary software. She also talked about how many IT departments won’t use open source because it makes them unable to turn to someone who is compelled to help them — in other words, they have to take on the responsibility of finding a solution themselves. Another byproduct is the shift towards open source, and the savings that they can expect by replacing some of their current software platforms and their hefty maintenance fees with open source alternatives.

In their wiki environment, any kind of file can be uploaded, all pages (except the home page) are editable by everyone, and any content except client-confidential information can reside there. I really have to wonder how this would work if they upload a massive number of files: at what point do you need to add a content management system, and how painful is it going to be to do that later? Their wiki home page shows and Flickr feeds, internal blog feeds, Digg items and recent uploaded documents. One audience member asked if that meant that if anyone in the company tagged a public web page, that it would be included on the home page; there was general shock around the room and wonderment that you could do this without having some centralized body approving such content before it was surfaced to the rest of the company. I tried not to laugh out loud; is this such a radical idea? Obviously, the last year of being immersed in Web 2.0 has changed me, and I start wondering which of these things that I would adopt if I were still running a 40-person consulting company. As the session goes on, the same question about how user tagging on the internet drives their intranet home page keeps coming up from the audience over and over.

What I found interesting (and I’m probably blowing their whole game by publishing this), is that they’re using public Web 2.0 tools to feed part of the home page: if something is tagged AARF on or Flickr, it shows up there. For Digg, however, you have to be a friend of AARF to have your items show up. Jensen said that she’ll be changing the AARF tag to something unguessable, although if you know how to track items and users through or Flickr, it wouldn’t be that difficult to figure out their new tag. She also said that they had run some analytics on whether these tags gave away any secrets about what they’re currently researching, and found that the mix is too varied for any patterns to emerge.

The wiki is a portal in a very real sense, which was a bit of a revelation to me: I didn’t previously think of wikis as portals. Everyone has their own people page which they can format and populate as they wish, and which can include their recent file uploads and blog postings. On any page, adding a “portlet” is just a matter of copying and pasting a snippet of PHP code, including copying snippets of code such as the <embed> code provided by YouTube for every video on its site.

They’ve done some cool things with blogs as well, such as having mailing lists corresponding to blogs, and sending an email to that mailing list will auto-post it as a blog entry on the corresponding blog.

Jensen had some great ideas for wiki adoption, often centred around “wikivangelists” getting out there and helping people. I especially like the idea of the “days of wine and wikis” events. 🙂  And they’re getting some great adoption rates.

I had to leave just before the end: she was running 7 minutes overtime and I had only 15 minutes between sessions to get to my own room to set up. It was hard to tear myself away, however; I found both Jensen’s presentation and the audience feedback to be riveting.

Shared Insights: Two-Day Wrap-Up

Apparently there was no wrap-up session yesterday, so the last session today wrapped up the past two days. Colin White, who has been running this conference for 8 years, was joined by three of his regular presenters: Shawn Shell of Consejo, Tony Byrne of CMS Watch, and Zach Wahl of Project Performance. The discussion was pretty open; I’ll try to attribute to the correct person as I document it.

In looking at what has changed at the conference recently, White found that 2/3 of attendees were building external-facing rather than internal-facing, which he feels to be influenced by Web 2.0. Shell found the audience to be more technical and tactical, and very focussed on building portals to connect with customers and employees. Byrne commented on how layered that portals are becoming, sometimes with several portal products being used simultaneously, and how the sheer diversity of integration technologies is making a more complex portal ecosystem. He feels that many organizations are out-growing some of the lightweight tools provided by portals, such as document management, and thinks that traditional portal vendors are having problems figuring out how to do Web 2.0 in their products. Wahl mentioned a higher caliber audience (by which it appears that he means “more technical”, however frightening the implications of that statement), and sees that the outward-facing portals that are being developed provide a stronger tie-in to ROI.

They then moved on to audience questions, and I can’t attribute the responses to any of the four participants.

Q: How are organizations using blogs?


  • Attend the Razorfish session tomorrow for a case study. [I did]
  • It’s still a “cautious” activity for organizations, and is often still a top-down corporate communications “fake blog” from C-level executives rather than true blogs.
  • Blogs are useful for technical organizations [I scratched my head over that one, although I admit that one of the most successful organizations that I’ve seen using blogs internally is IBM]
  • Many people inside corporations “don’t have anything to say that’s universally consumable”. [This statement made me cringe; it totally misses the point of blogs]
  • A corporate ethos of content sharing can provide the right environment for blogging.

My conclusion: half of the 4 speakers don’t get blogging.

Q: How much of Web 2.0 is hype versus reality for the enterprise?

A: “There’s some organizations for which this isn’t going to work”. [The speaker quite erroneously equated Web 2.0 in the enterprise with publishing corporate content on the public internet]

Q: What are the future directions in PCC?


  • There’s an increasing diversity of products rather than consolidation in the market, leading to more competition.
  • Major vendors, such as Oracle and BEA, are leapfrogging technologies to meet new standards and stay competitive.
  • The dynamism in PCC right now is in the add-ons, such as BPM, rather than the underlying portal technology. [This resulted in a specific discussion about how BEA’s BPM is driving portal sales, although I’m not sure that’s true]
  • Portal vendors are moving into the add-on market to take more of the enterprise pie.

There was also a discussion about getting started with search and taxonomy: for example, using the Google search appliance as a starter for search/taxonomy, and the need for a simple start to taxonomy in particular. We finished with a brief discussion about the perceived dilemma of SharePoint proliferation: is it out of control or a necessary state of departmental document collaboration?

Shared Insights PCC: Taxonomy Deployment and Governance

Seth Earley gave a presentation on taxonomy governance; he’s obviously a Very Important Taxonomist, and made sure that we knew it by having his flunky deliver his Starbucks Cafe Americano to him during the presentation instead of just grabbing a coffee from the service provided by the conference right outside the room. Yes, I’m cranky, I just flew 5 hours to get here and don’t have a lot of patience for a prima donna who wastes my time during the presentation talking about how he needs his 4 shots of espresso. Grrr.

Earley appears to be an anti-folksonomist: he believes that tags should be part of a controlled vocabulary, and that folksonomies are really only appropriate for identifying candidate terms, that is, terms recommended for admission to the change management process that would promote a tag into the formal taxonomy. The implication is that users aren’t qualified to define new tags/terms, but that it requires a “tagging expert”. Presumably like him.

Shared Insights PCC: Picking the right tool: e-mail, IM, post or publish

I arrived in Las Vegas late this morning for my presentation tomorrow morning, just in time for lunch at the conference. Sometimes, timing is everything.

For the first afternoon breakout session, I sat in on Craig Roth of the Burton Group discussing how to pick between modes of communication and collaboration. His main premise is that we often use the wrong tools for communication and collaboration — where e-mail is likely the most widely used and the worst — and he presents a chart for figuring out which method to use for which types of interactions.

This chart, and using it, formed the bulk of the presentation, and it was pretty interesting. Basically, it has four quadrants, with divisions by “communication” and “collaboration” on one axis, and “asynchronous” and “synchronous” on the other axis. For example, synchronous communication channels includes IM, telephony and audio/video chat; asynchronous communication channels include e-mail, RSS feeds and alerts; synchronous collaboration channels include web conferencing and whiteboarding; and asynchronous collaboration channels include wikis and discussion forums. It sounds a bit complicated, but it’s actually quite elegant and obvious when you see it.

He then overlays a decision flowchart on the 4-quadrant chart to show how you decide which quadrant that you should be in, then which tools in that quadrant to use. For example, the initial decision is “purpose of interaction”, where “telling” puts you into the communication half, and “collaborating on goal” puts you into collaboration. Once you’re in the communication half, the next decision is “when are responses expected”; either “now” or “today” puts you into the synchronous communication quadrant, with different channels for each of those two responses, whereas “over time” puts you into asynchronous communication. There’s a number of tools and channels that he doesn’t include here, which he still considers to be under the radar; surprisingly, workflow is included in that group, although it’s not clear what he means by that or why it’s under anyone’s radar.

In general, his quadrant chart could be a pretty useful tool, although I find some of the distinctions by content type to be a bit fuzzy. He has some great recommendations on battling dysfunctional behaviours and getting people to use some of the new tools as well.