Update to Governance Guidance for Portals, SharePoint, and Intranets

June 4, 2010 at 8:03 am | Posted in Governance, Intranet, Microsoft SharePoint, portals | Leave a comment

I’m happy to announce that my “Website Governance: Guidance for Portals, SharePoint, and Intranets” has just been published.  It’s an update to my Methodologies and Best Practices document on governance which is the most popular document that I’ve written for Burton Group (out of 17), even though only came out in March of 2009 and therefore has had less time to accumulate document views than others I’ve written.

I updated the document based on some new ideas and clarifications that have been needed since its original publication.  The main updates to the doc since publication are as follows:

    • Clarified the alignment with IT governance and service management
    • More detailed diagram of the document hierarchy
    • Added option to define roles and assignments separately
    • Added “cultural tenets” methodology

For more on what I’ve changed and why, click here.

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SharePoint Governance Process Saves Home Redecorating Project

February 25, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Posted in Fun, Governance, Microsoft SharePoint, portals | 2 Comments

I took a lot of vacation time at the end of the year for a big project – a complete home redecorating including wood floors, painting, furniture, and little stuff too.  My wife and I started running into some disagreements about various decisions and had to take a step back to analyze the situation.  I realized these issues seemed familiar.  Of course – SharePoint governance!  I just can’t get away from it.

My definition of SharePoint governance popped into mind and really helped clarify the problems that needed to be addressed.  I’ll relate it here in the hopes that it helps to illustrate how to use the SharePoint governance process in light of a much smaller, simpler situation that most of us can identify with.  My wife indulged me in this experiment.  (Note: she is a very special woman with a strategic IT background and patience for my technology experiments.  Do not try this at home!) 

My definition goes:

Website governance uses people, policy, and process to resolve ambiguity, manage short- and long-range goals, and mitigate conflict within an organization.

These were indeed the issues we faced.  The ambiguity about who was allowed to make buying and design decisions and how each party needed to be consulted was causing frustration.  Balancing the short range and long range was also difficult:  Should we quickly acquire cheap stuff that we can replace in a few years or spend more time and money to get higher quality pieces that last?  How much do we concentrate on furnishings that work safely for our baby knowing he’ll soon outgrow those needs?  And the need to mitigate conflict – keeping the disputes from ever getting to a frothy head in the first place – was obvious. 

It was validating to see how the same problems that the governance process addresses were the ones we were having.  But how to solve them?  Well, this definition is more than just a definition, but also illustrates how to proceed with solving the problems.  Back to my SharePoint governance process, I knew I needed to create a statement of governance that we could agree to. It consisted of people, policy and process.  I have posted it up here: Home Decorating Statement of Governance.

People: I started by defining a set of roles (designer, user, consultant) that clarified the responsibilities that needed to be assigned for each room.  Then, for each room, we agreed on the ownership by assigning the roles.  My wife is the designer of the living room, while I’m a user (but a consultant for the stereo setup).  I’m the designer of the deck, with my wife as user.

Policy: We had some discussions about our overall goals for the house.  Believe it or not, we hadn’t done this – we had just jumped into talking about specific colors and drapes and such.  Once our policies were codified, we felt better about leaving someone else to make decisions without approval as long as those decisions adhered to the policy.  In other words, the designer had freedom to make decisions, but only within the bounds of the agreed-upon policies.  These policies included items such as the Pricing Policy (anything over $200 requires review), Babyproofing Policy (we agree that unless a room is designated as an adult area, it should be babyproofed), and Gender-friendly Policy (nothing too lacy or too football themed).

Process: A few processes were needed based on these policies.  There’s one to determine the babyproofing room list, one for how to handle approvals of >$200 items, etc.

How did it work?  Well, we’re still in the process of redecorating, but it’s already made both of us feel better about what we can run with and where to stay hands off.  Conflict has been reduced.  And I think we’ll both feel more ownership of the result.  I think this experiment also shows that governance doesn’t have to be a big, bureaucratic sort of thing – this was self-governance between the parties involved.  Finally, as with SharePoint governance, the process forced us to talk through a lot of issues that were being left ambiguous and that would have remained as underlying causes of many smaller disputes if left unaddressed.  It’s the conversation and agreement that matters, not getting the document out the door.

Portal Quiz: What is WSRP?

February 5, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Posted in Fun, portals, Standards | 4 Comments

OK, it’s time for a portal quiz: What is WSRP?

Possible answers:

A. A Spanish-language AM radio station in Jacksonville, North Carolina

B. The Republican party state branch covering Microsoft headquarters

C. Web Services for Remote Portlets

D. A research project related to the biblical times of West Semitic peoples

It’s a trick question of course – they’re all true.  If you don’t believe me, see here, here, here, and here (for a fascinating treasure map from biblical times called the “Copper Scroll”!).

Well, now that I lay it out that way, my chosen topic for today – the Web Services for Remote Portlets standard – seems pretty boring.  But I’ll try to carry on.  A rating category called “standards support” has found its way into most portal evaluations I’ve ever helped with.  And WSRP support is usually on there.  Things get murkier when I ask what they really plan on doing with it:  “Well, we’re very into standards here … architectural guidance to use web services … there are a few different portal products in house that we may need to talk together …”

Unfortunately, WSRP shouldn’t just be a quick checkbox item on evaluations. WSRP can be useful, but in a limited set of use cases where it applies. And even if one of those use cases applies, you’ll also need guidance on how security, trust, UI frameworks, and optional services should be used. Usually if you’re just trying to solve portal proliferation problems, developing RESTful services for applications (or RSS/Atom for content) and then writing “last mile” portlets for each portal works better.

So what are those use cases where WSRP makes sense?  I did some digging and found three that hold water:

1. Syndicating a Branded Portlet to Users on Platforms Outside The Syndicator’s Control: This is where it’s not enough to just make the information easily usable in multiple portals, but the branding with it (the exact style, layout, colors, etc) is important too. But keep in mind that there are other choices (like Flash) if branding or formatting integrity—not the formalism associated with a portlet—is all you need.

2. Developing a “Portal of Portals”: If you want to create a new portal from portlets of existing portals, you could use WSRP wrappers to do this.

3. Exposing Portlets from Another Platform the Development Team Doesn’t Know: Are you Java based and your .NET programmers won’t talk to you?  Have them give you WSRP portlets instead of Web Parts and you’ll get along much better.

Now that I’m done with WSRP, you can get on to finding that ancient treasure. Let’s see … “In the Second Enclosure, in the underground passage that looks east…”

SharePoint Governance Definitions Evolve

January 14, 2010 at 10:12 am | Posted in collaboration, Governance, Microsoft SharePoint, portals | Leave a comment

2009 was the year that governance really took off in the SharePoint community as evidenced by SharePoint conference presentations, user’s group presentations, and bloggers.  It’s been a major part of my conversations with clients and presentations to audiences using SharePoint since 2003, but I’ve never seen the energy around this topic that I have in the past year.  That’s wonderful since I’ve observed that SharePoint installations that address governance upfront tend to have a much higher success rate.

Most governance conversations and presentations start from the definition to anchor the subject and then use it as a structure to drill into its portions.  The community has mostly settled on some combination of the 3 goals and 3 tools in my definition, as outlined in our SharePoint Planning and Governance workshop:

Website governance uses people, policy, and process to resolve ambiguity, manage short- and long-range goals, and mitigate conflict within an organization.

Over the years I’ve been happy to see my approach picked up by the SharePoint community via Microsoft and Joel Oleson.  It can now be found in places as diverse as Tech Ed Africa, SharePoint Magazine on Facebook, IronWorks , Robert Bogue, Michael Sampson’s blog, and Sean Stecker of Ensynch.

And other guidance from our workshop (like how “SharePoint often overlaps with other installed applications in particular capabilities”, how use policy is about “what constitutes abuse or misuse of SharePoint” and provides “clear instructions on how and when users should work with SharePoint”, my definitions of the centralized/decentralized/federated models) has now crept into the standard decks Microsoft provides to the SharePoint community (usually without acknowledgement, but I’m sure there’s silent appreciation there!).

The definition has even taken on a life of its own by evolving in a few directions, and – aside from the shameless chest thumping above – that’s what I’d like to provide my thoughts on today. 

One evolution I’ve seen is to add “to define a service” to the definition.  I really like the application of service methodologies to SharePoint and have been doing quite a bit of research in this area.  My 2007 workshop applied ITIL v3 to SharePoint and my paper on using ITIL to define “SharePoint as a Service” comes out in January.  Still, I’ve decided to focus on service definition as a management issue rather than a governance one (more on that here).

Another evolution I see as more dangerous.  A fourth tool snuck in at some point: technology.  There are plenty of other SharePoint documents that will focus on technology, such as maintenance manuals, administrator’s guides, tuning guides, etc.  Technology is a third rail of SharePoint governance.  I tried injecting it for a short time and quickly backed off after seeing the energy it sucked out of the other 3 tools.  It provides a slippery slope that enables those uncomfortable with the political and diplomatic challenges of defining people, policy, and process to focus on technology instead.  Also, you have different audiences and authors for technical docs versus the statement of governance so it’s best to leave that separate.

How Star Trek Informs SharePoint Governance Models

October 30, 2009 at 2:55 pm | Posted in Fun, Governance, Microsoft SharePoint, portals | Leave a comment

I just got back from an onsite visit to help a client work through their SharePoint governance issues, which includes talking about picking the appropriate spot on the governance continuum.  This is almost always some form of federation.  My definition of federation is “Groups in an organization recognize a central authority’s right to set high-level policy but retain the freedom to make their own decisions within the bounds of that policy.”

I’ve been asked before if federation can exist without a central authority.  I realize in some technical domains the word “federation” is used that way, like with P2P federation.  But for this domain, federation does imply a central authority. 

When talking about federation and governance, my model is federalism, which the U.S. was founded on.  Wikipedia calls federalism “is a political philosophy in which a group of members are bound together (Latin: foedus, covenant) with a governing representative head.” That’s how I seem to remember it from Social Studies class too, although that was a long time ago. 

For final proof, please note the definition of perhaps the best known, most advanced federation: The United Federation of Planets.  According to the Memory Alpha Star Trek wiki: “The United Federation of Planets (abbreviated as UFP and commonly referred to as The Federation) was an interstellar federal republic, composed of planetary governments that agreed to exist semi-autonomously under a single central government based on the principles of universal liberty, rights, and equality, and to share their knowledge and resources in peaceful cooperation and space exploration.” 

BTW – Apparently the UFP had an anthem too.  Click here to hear it.

Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.

Reflecting on the Winding Path of SharePoint

October 20, 2009 at 12:25 pm | Posted in collaboration, Microsoft SharePoint, portals | Leave a comment

At his keynote address at the SharePoint Conference, Steve Ballmer acknowledged that 10 years ago, if they had written up a list of what SharePoint is supposed to be on paper, that wouldn’t be what it is today.  “Your feedback and input … the way you’ve driven us” has made SharePoint what it is today, thank you very much.  For example, Internet-facing sites were not an original design point.  In the same vein, Tom Rizzo said that SharePoint has been such a success that Microsoft has been overwhelmed.

Why? 

Why is it the case that something far beyond a shared folder replacement couldn’t be envisioned in 1999 when Lotus Notes had already been around for years?  Why did that feedback take ten years to result in better top down management and control that every serious portal product mostly had in 2003 and certainly in 2007?  Why weren’t internet sites a design point, particularly when many of the stopping blocks (like limits on list sizes, farm management, and scalability) were also hassles for large intranet deployments as well?  And why wasn’t Microsoft more optimistic ( = prepared) for SharePoint’s success given the history of Notes and early Plumtree success?  This lack of optimism probably resulted in the 2003 and 2007 releases of SharePoint getting less R&D effort and sales attention than they deserved.

It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but I was in the press box for the 2001, 2003, and 2007 seasons and most of my fellow analysts were calling the same plays back then.  I don’t recall anyone saying SharePoint wasn’t going to go anywhere, or that IBM would stomp it out, or that they shouldn’t make the product appropriate for business-to-consumer (B2C) deployments. All these things should not have been a surprise and absent from SharePoint planning.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m pretty happy with what I’ve seen of SharePoint so far.  And it’s grown even faster than I personally thought it would.  But I don’t look back at the winding path with nostalgia either.  If I’m teary eyed thinking of what it took to get here, it’s not necessarily for the same reasons as Steve Ballmer and Tom Rizzo.

Oracle WebLogic Portal Keynote

October 12, 2009 at 7:19 pm | Posted in Oracle, portals | Leave a comment

I was interested to hear the messaging to the audiences of the “other” portals that Oracle still sells, even though WebCenter is the annointed portal.  This was an issue that bookeneded the presentation.  At the beginning, there was a slide for people entering the room clarifying “This presentation is about WebLogic Portal. Not the product Oracle calls “Oracle Portal” …”.  At the end Josh addressed the relationship to WebCenter.  The official answer is that WebCenter can add in collaboration and portlets.  That doesn’t ring true to me as it’s not like BEA didn’t build that into their product and nothing has been removed.  When an audience member asked which portal to use in his case (“a customer-facing portal”).  The answer was “it depends … WebCenter is an umbrella term … leverage common services … not one or the other”. 

Josh Lannin described how the new version will have better drag and drop and better organization of the portlet library.  Simplification of the huge API set using controls (started in 8.1) and REST (10.2).  Will now REST-enable the user profiles.  Nice, but not earth shattering. There will be CMIS support to get at content, which is more RESTful and subscribeable. 

On the development front there will be a new “Oracle Enterprise Pack for Eclipse”.  It’s a set of free plugins for Eclipse.  He pushed the JSR286 standard since it works well with new UI frameworks like JSF, struts, webflow.  The IDE will have good JSR286 functionality including what he called “upgrade from jsr 168”.  Neat – I haven’t heard about that before.  And needed since it’s not like developers are creating jsr 286 portlets right now.  They’ll add more of the WSRP 2.0 optional specs too, like coordination, resource serving, and consumer control over navigation.

There will also be increased “Oracle-ization” (my spell checker is flagging that word).  Cute way of describing the security and internationalization standards that are required of their products.

Open Source Portals Nipping on Heels of Commercial Alternatives?

September 3, 2009 at 4:02 pm | Posted in portals | Leave a comment

At JBoss World today in Chicago, JBoss announced GateIn:

eXo Platform, Inc. today committed its entire open source eXo stack to be certified on Red Hat`s newly introduced GateIn portal project and, by extension, Red Hat`s forthcoming JBoss Enterprise Portal Platform. With the eXo stack tightly integrated with GateIn, enterprise customers will be able to extend Red
Hat’s portal offering with advanced applications from eXo for document management, enterprise content management, or collaboration.

I spoke with Thomas Heute, Jason Andersen, and Benjamin Mestrallet at the conference this morning and was taken by how much their strategy addresses the gap I’ve been telling clients about for years between open source and commercial portal products.

In summary, open source portals (like JBoss portal or Liferay) have been good at what I call “web stitching”.  This is where you just want an implementation of the basic portal standards (JSR 168 and WSRP) so you can stitch together a bunch of portlets using a portal-like screen real estate metaphor. 

The commercial products have more advanced personalization, delegated administration, admin UIs for just about everything (usable by non-developers), drag and drop layout tools (for non-developers), portlets for enterprise applications, certified out-of-the-box integration into common infrastructure components, and integrated knowledge infrastructure components (e.g., discussion groups, document libraries, search) that can be used or swapped out as needed.  You can find a few of those things to some degree in the open source portal market, but you need a commercial product for the whole kit and caboodle.

This is where a picture helps.  Essentially, open source portals cover the bottom half of the “Burton Group Portal Flag” while commercial portals provide the whole thing.

Portal Quick start figure

What the Red Hat folks announced is a solid step towards closing that gap by providing a bundle of JBoss Portal with all that “front-end delivery” stuff on the top half of the flag such as collaboration, document management, drag and drop interface layout.

It’s good to see open source nipping at the heels of the commercial products to keep them running forward. 

Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.

Oracle WebCenter and Fusion Middleware 11g

July 9, 2009 at 7:07 am | Posted in BEA, collaboration, Enterprise 2.0, Microsoft SharePoint, Notes/Domino, Oracle, portals, Web 2.0 | 5 Comments

Oracle’s analyst summit in mid-June provided a good look at their plans for Fusion Middleware 11g and WebCenter (released July 1st for download; see summary of features here).  Now that we’re out of non-disclosure mode (and into “please disclose!” mode) I’d like to share my high-level impressions.  They covered a ton of stuff, but my view is biased towards my coverage area of portals with connections to search, productivity, and collaboration. Other Burton Group analysts were also in attendance from our Identity and Privacy Strategies team and our Application Platform Strategies team (see Anne Thomas Manes’ thoughts here).

First, although Oracle owns 4 portal products, all the portal-related time was spent on WebCenter. Sure, other portals were mentioned in bullets as examples of how they can plug in (or consume WebCenter’s social software), but it was clear WebCenter is the leading actor here (and supporting actor in the stories of the SOA, identity, and enterprise application teams). This confirms what I (and Oracle) has been saying: that WebCenter is the primary portal and that the other 3 (Oracle Portal, WebLogic Portal, and WebCenter Interaction née Plumtree) will be supported and have their die-hard fans but will not be best for new portal projects.

It was helpful to hear Oracle frame its collaboration/portal/search/productivity/social software ambitions in relation to Microsoft SharePoint.  For all its plusses and minuses, SharePoint provides a common point of reference against which to measure.  They described how they line up with SharePoint as an alternative, can coexist with it, and where they surpass it.  This is what IBM should have done with Quickr+Connections at Lotusphere.

As with SharePoint, WebCenter provides an impressive set of functions in one box. There is often better integration between WebCenter and other Oracle assets (like their applications and development tools) than Microsoft where other groups can sometimes get away with ignoring what the SharePoint and Office group does.

There are numerous SharePoint analogies in WebCenter.  From conversations with the execs there I found that some are intentional and in other cases they say SharePoint copied them (well, copied AquaLogic User Interaction)!

  • Business Dictionary as a role based catalog of information assets. Seems like SharePoint’s Business Data Catalog.  This should be an interesting battle since SharePoint’s BDC is clearly a version 1.0 work-in-progress and Oracle has a lot of expertise to bring here being a database company at heart.
  • Federated search. ‘Nuff said.
  • Office integration. Clients I speak with expect Microsoft will always have the best Office integration, but there are cases where Microsoft’s internal silos or some good ideas can expose openings.  Oracle showed a nice Word sidebar for document management that had people, versions, etc.
  • Slide sorter. This was a neat feature that SharePoint offered, but Oracle’s version seems to leapfrog it. They demoed picking all the slides for a sales deck. Oracle calls this a “folio” or compound document. Oracle acquired a neat little company called “Outside In” that has sophisticated filters for productivity files.  Blending this into Web Center can provide for some good Office integration.

Oracle did a fine job of acknowledging the need to work with SharePoint and others.  But the meat boils down to their WSRP producer running on .NET, selective metadata consumption, and Ensemble (a reverse proxy solution).  Hopefully this gets beefed up with more programmatic integration, discovery tools, and guidance so it requires less reliance on WSRP.

Of all the competitors, WebCenter is the newest architecture from the ground up.  Being the youngest has its advantages.  Since WebCenter is newly architected it feels like it more seamlessly integrates new concepts like tagging, linking, social connections, and REST services than IBM and MSFT where it’s more bolted on. So they’re better at utilizing these features across the suite that Microsoft and a little bit better than IBM.

But will Oracle – the whole company – give WebCenter the resources it needs to win the marketplace(not just the resources required to be a good and useful product)?  In the Q&A session, Oracle President Charles Phillips said there are “No plans to have middleware broken out in reporting. We have lots of product lines, we’re getting more with Sun… ” This hits at the perennial knock on Oracle’s efforts around knowledge infrastructure – lack of push and commitment.  Oracle did talk about how much revenue Fusion pulled in, the growth rate, penetration, etc.  That would indicate the company would have to care.  But still, Microsoft manages to report on four breakouts (Client, Server and Tools, Online Services Business, Microsoft Business Division, Entertainment and Devices Division).  Oracle sticks to two (Applications, Database and Middleware).  Sun will add at least one more (servers and hardware).  If Oracle is dedicated to the enormous space between enterprise apps and the database, breaking out middleware from the database would be a great way to track and prove this commitment.

Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog

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