There was lots to learn at the Gartner Portals, Content & Collaboration Summit this week, including the definition of "integration." Thought you knew that one? Wrong.
Managing Vice President Susan Landry and Research Vice President Jeffrey Mann kicked off the conference by boiling-down the overused buzzwords of enterprise technology to just four bon mots: engagement, digital, content and integration.
They gave a unique spin to each. For example, they said that engagement is what happens when employees actually use workplace apps to do a better job. And content isn't just a stack of documents. It's a reflection of what your company thinks.
Digital technology isn't about digitizing everything in sight, but leveraging digital technologies to reinvent your business.
CMSWire wrote about the presentation on Monday, then caught up with Landry and Mann for a closer look at their vision.
Murphy: Would you review the four words you chose and tell me briefly why you picked them?
Landry: The four points were content, digital, integration and engagement. If you think about their comprehensive nature, if you nail each of those, you will have achieved all of the holistic aspects that we're going after in terms of the digital workplace. You could have gone after any one of the buzzwords, but those four in aggregate tell the complete story.
Murphy: You offered a made-up story of a salesperson who was completely connected. His car, his alarm clock, everything was part of his workplace and truly supported his work. It reminded me a lot of the vision for the Information Superhighway we heard back in the late '90s. So far, that hasn't come to fruition. Are we really close to this now or is this still somewhat of an IT fantasy?
Mann: I'm reminded of that quote from William Gibson: "The future is already here. It's just not very evenly distributed." All of those things are possible now. If you take any one of those items, we can do it. They can all be implemented. What makes that so slick is the way it's looked at in a holistic way, looked at in a complete way. It's also based around what that salesperson, Jeremy, needs.
What we've seen in the past is that everyone gets excited about this capability or that capability, and I think that's where we got a little bit distracted on the road from the Information Superhighway. We got distracted by point solutions. Now when it comes around to "What do I need?," it's all the design thinking. It's more of how can we tame the technology to do real things rather than get distracted by all the nifty possibilities.
Landry: If people sit back and wait for the Information Superhighway to wash over them in every corner of life, it will never happen. Our advice is to take specific scenarios, places in the business where that type of highly integrated digital workplace would matter, and build out from there. Don't expect to do the whole thing.
Murphy: You redefined integration in an interesting way. Would you explain that one?
Landry: There was one more line I wanted to included in the presentation, but it didn't fit: Integration is the new black. My eyes glass-over when I think about SOA and the layered architecture and that kind of stuff. It's really important. The problem is technologists don't think about "Why?" -- the real purpose of integration.
It really is to alleviate the manual integration that every human does almost every second of the day. It's about creating a relevant and complete experience for that user in their moment. So that's the redefinition, and the way you achieve it is by adopting an API-based architecture.
Mann: One of the things we've also seen is how we're working from integration. To do integration [in the past], you had to be a master craftsman. It was reserved for those professionals who did that. In essence, what we're beginning to talk about when you go to higher level APIs with more widgets and more configurables is almost like the Ikea style. You don't need to be a master craftsman to build a sofa anymore. There are modular components so I can make something that pretty much works at a far lower cost. And if I outgrow it, it's cheap enough that I can get another one later. So I think there's that analogy — moving from a master craftsman to an Ikea style.
Murphy: I've spoken to about a dozen people here about what's on their minds and one of the things they all were concerned about was that they have too many systems now, the number is rising and they don't know what to do about it. You had some practical advice about eliminating unneeded systems. But is that easier said than done?
Mann: One of the areas I look at involves cloud integration products like Google Apps and Office 365. Many people are bogged down. They say "We have all this stuff. We've got email, we've got SharePoint, we've got a lot of these document repositories. How are we going to take those to the cloud?"
What I'm often asking is "Do you?" Why not just leave it all behind? Just let it go, or maybe leave it where it was until you don't need it anymore, then focus on building something else now that you're in the cloud.
Murphy: That's kind of like keeping the old pictures in a folder in the attic and never looking at them.
Mann: Yes! That analogy often comes up. Yes, you could take it to the cloud with all of its complexity and all of its volume and all of its lack of utility. That's like the boxes that you packed three moves ago and they're still in your garage. You keep moving them to a new garage every time you move.
When a lot of people see that [they don't have to move them], it's almost a liberating thought: "Maybe I could do that. Maybe I could just close the door on all of that. If we need it, we can let it limp along for a while -- it's limping along now, so that's probably OK -- and then we can focus on something new." I think that many people find that a very attractive possibility.
Landry: One thing I would add is -- and it's not for this conference -- but the solution and the methodology to solve the problem is to really have an application governance and a portfolio management discipline that you take to all of your applications, whether they're business applications or workplace technologies, managing the portfolio proactively instead of waiting until the rust builds up and you have all these problems you're trying to deal with all at once.