A final visit to the Advanced Intranet+Portal Conference from last week. We heard already that the importance of content is changing so that now the context of that content is really where it’s at. At the heart of this is the next emerging trend in content: Social, mobile and cloud.

As individual elements, according to Dan Latendre, CEO of Igloo, there is nothing really new there. Combined, however, enterprises are faced with a powerful force that they either embrace and manage, or get left trailing.

Needless to say, this is where Igloo has pitched its tent; providing services since 2008 around this trend. Igloo, he says, is not an IT company, but a company that provides services; a company that provides and installs Igloo’s software, but a services company nevertheless, in the SaaS sense of the term.

Business Software Market

What is changing as a result is that the old way of doing software business is just not going to cut it anymore. The business marketplace and the corresponding software landscape is changing so rapidly that deployments that used to take 36 months, or even six months, will not be practical anymore.

Problems that enterprises are dealing with now are a different set of problems than those they will be dealing with in 12 months' time, so time is of the essence.

It’s clear, as the CEO of a SaaS company, where Latendre is coming from with this. But this is not just corporate promotion -- this is the reality of the marketplace.

Workers are going mobile, they are doing that through the cloud and they are communicating using social networks.

And this is clearly a subject into which Latendre has put some considerable thought, and not just for the Advanced Intranet and Portal conference.

He also addressed the issue in a recent paper for KM World article that also took a look at content in context.

Communication, Content and Collaboration

Clearly this is going to be a subject of the near future. Enterprise workers are using so many systems that it is getting close to impossible to get a single picture of a given piece of content.

The problem, he says, stems from the fact that communications and collaboration exist outside the flow of work; communication occurs in one system, collaboration takes place in another and the content is often stored in another.

Take even a simple document, for example -- if there is anything that might be considered a simple document any more. Chances are that it is not all that simple at all, and that far from there being one author, there are many authors.

To develop that document, then, communication typically happens through email and instant messaging with a final version published to a content silo in an enterprise CMS.

To actually work out and dig to what is important in that document, users will have to sift through email, instant messages and probably a number of different versions of documents.

That document, if it is to be used across the enterprise, will probably also have to be viewable through ERP, HRM, CRM and enterprise CMS systems, and be published across the enterprise intranet, with a version dropped into a records management system, if it has a legal standing in the enterprise.

This doesn’t take into account meetings or voice discussions around that document that may lead to other email messages, meetings or support documents. And none of this is going to get any easier as more people are using more technologies.

Collaboration Problems Go Social

In fact, according to Latendre, it's all going to get a lot harder. Knowledge work, he says, is unstructured work; it is based on interaction between people. Structures are becoming less hierarchical and information less structured; interaction between people who do business is increasing as more tools enable interaction.

Good. Well, yes -- and no. While it is clearly better that people in a business, pulling together to achieve a set goal, are communicating better, the amount of information produced in this interaction is staggering.

So much is this so that, according to an IBM Global CEO Study Capitalizing on Complexity, two hours per employee, per day is spent looking for the right information and expertise -- costs of which probably can’t be estimated.

Social As A Solution

As social technologies are introduced to business, it becomes easier to share unstructured and ad hoc information.

Workflow and employee interactions become more visible, and that decreases the time it takes to find information to solve problems.

But if social increases the volume and velocity of information, structure and context make that information relevant and searchable.

Whether you’re publishing a blog, posting a forum or sharing a small burst of information via a microblog, you should have the ability to target that sharing based on the notion of audiences.

People can then tune into the conversations based on roles, interest or the groups they belong to or the task they are carrying out, which becomes easier with a defined taxonomy that enables users to align content with a set of defined and accepted keywords given the context.

But with the development of social, content also develops context. Social profiles, for example, connect online identity to your contributions so people can understand who you are and where your expertise lies. They also set the framework for personalized content based on your social identity.

Social Collaboration

There are two ways of collaborating: Social, and structured. But there are problems with both:

  • Social: Leaves users unregulated, providing a sense of beyond management and control
  • Structured: Structure is necessary in all business, but the levels of structure need to be worked out with users

What way a company decides to go will depend entirely on the company. A new startup, for example, may be born social, while older companies will probably have to introduce it in a way that is regulated.

For older companies, this means that employees should be allowed to use whatever tools that company has agreed on, but with limitations that are agreed by company managers.

It may be the case that restrictions can be eased as employees get used to working with social networks and get used to being "social," but it needs control.

As an example of unstructured communication, he cites email messages that provide a great way of communication, but also creates problems like unplanned silos, with random “reply to all” responses burying valuable content under a blanket of information sludge.

It is in this context that the current bunch of communication tools is developing. Collaboration is happening now in a social context and in a single digital workplace, where unstructured social sharing can happen, in the same kind of systems that enterprise tasks happen in on a day-to-day basis.

Having to jump between applications mid-task is a hurdle to communication. In terms of collaboration, knowledge management applications have failed, Latendre argues, with information capture and sharing disconnected from the way we work.

In social collaborative spaces, the need for information syncing is minimized, teams can work without the delays in the time needed for everyone to get to the same hymn sheet and also enables people who were initially excluded from the conversation to join in.

Social Collaboration in the Cloud

But let's just go back to where this conversation started: The cloud. Latendre argues that the next new trend is social, mobile and cloud-based, and it is already, to a large extent, collaborative.

The importance of mobile social we have looked at before, but why do this in the cloud? Igloo has come up with a list of seven reasons that enterprises might consider.

Again, there is nothing new in these and anyone who has been working on and about the cloud will be more than familiar with them. They include:

1. Pay-as-you-go

For cloud collaboration you don’t have the heavy investment in IT, hardware and infrastructure that you once had before. Because cloud technologies are web-based, there is nothing to install or maintain. You do need to estimate costs over years rather than months.

2. Faster returns

Easier to configure and easy to deploy, it enables business users to become the buyers, meaning they pick and choose the technologies they think will help their business rather than technologies that IT wants.

3. Scalability

Enterprises can start small and shift their technology up a gear as quickly as demand for the tools increases. It also enables scalability the other way with some vendors offering the possibility of paying for what you use only.

4. Fewer barriers and obstacles

Firewalls and the need for data to be able to move in and out of those firewalls is a major problem for on-premises systems. It is also just about impossible with many systems to offer third parties access to these tools. The cloud does not require shared infrastructure.

5. More frequent updates

More iterative releases and agile development processes means that functionality often shows up faster than it would during on-premises release cycles, where 'new’ functionality often arrives months after it as originally needed.

6. More secure

This is the traditional bug-bear around cloud deployments with many enterprises still terrified by security reports that warn of the dangers of cloud computing. However, think of the security issues of email, then think that the most frequent way of sharing documents in social media is using links. Also there has been considerable investment in security by cloud and SaaS vendors.

7. Anywhere, anytime access

It’s accessible just about anywhere and from anywhere. Information access across multiple computing systems and devices, including Windows, Apple, Linux and smartphones or tablets, is actually one of the top drivers. In an increasingly wired world, work is no longer confined to a specific location or time period. But with traditional on-premises collaboration software, information can be trapped or only made available on a limited set of computing devices.

This role of context in content and data management and the role social and collaborative technologies will play is only starting to be discussed. Expect a lot more discussion in the future.