Social Business, Intranets, The New Promise of Corporate Portals: The Future of Corporate Portals
As summer draws to an end, so does my three-part series, The New Promise of Corporate Portals. This month, we get to the hard stuff -- the future.

In June, I explored the history of corporate portals, the broken promises of collaboration, and how we got where we are today. In July I examined how we can make the most of the portal and collaboration tools and technology currently available and what it takes to build today's most effective enterprise-grade portals.

This month I'll share my predictions for the future of corporate portals as they relate to cloud computing, system convergence, and planning and governance. I invite you to weigh in with yours. And thanks for all the feedback -- feel free to continue sending me notes directly, if you are so inclined.

Moving Up in the World

Cloud computing has become such a ubiquitous topic that it probably deserves it’s own "past, present, future" series of articles. But I'm including it here, because I believe that the future of corporate portals is inextricably linked with the future of the cloud.

Today's workforce is both global and mobile, and I don't foresee a return to the "old school" centralized headquarters or 9 to 5 workdays any time soon.

Employees are most productive when their office environment can travel with them -- providing a universal experience whether working from home, while on the road or from Junior's soccer practice. Cloud-based portals make this possible, increasing efficiency and productivity.

Cloud-based portals also provide the financial incentives of per-user licensing (which can be much more economical than licensing on a per-machine basis) and reducing maintenance and IT costs.

True, there are some industries for which the cloud isn't presently a very good option. Those industries tend to have security or legal requirements that the young cloud can't yet meet. But my years in this industry have taught me one thing above all else -- the only constant is change.

Today's security or legal shortcomings are tomorrow's opportunities.

As we look ahead, I'm confident that we're going to see less talk and more action when it comes to moving corporate portals into the cloud.

Fostering System Convergence

Early corporate portals were often little more than glorified employee directories. Although we've come a long way since then, we've still got a long way to go in offering a true one stop shop.

Today's best portals provide access to corporate communications, training resources, human resources, collaboration environments, and more. And the requests from new departments continue rolling in (this influx begs the question "what is our portal strategy" -- we'll return to that topic at a later date).

But too many enterprise organizations are still fundamentally module-based systems, and rely on separate software programs for functions like travel planning, expense reimbursement or purchasing.
This disjointed approach adds exponentially to the complexity of basic job functions. They require additional user IDs and passwords; they offer different user experiences (which requires users to continually "relearn" how to use each system); and they require substantial corporate governance and IT management.

As more and more systems are rolled out using open application programming interface (API), the possibility of a truly integrated corporate portal becomes a reality.

I expect that full portal integration will quickly become a top priority for the enterprise, and that this shift will reverberate throughout our industry. Stand-alone solutions that fail to find a seat on the convergence bandwagon will be left behind. More progressive competitors will be rewarded with huge adoption in the enterprise.

This trend also will do much for the burgeoning SharePoint app market, which I expect will become the go-to source as enterprise companies seek to add integrated functionality to their corporate portals.

Better Input for Better Output

It is true that in life we make tradeoffs. The cloud-based, fully integrated corporate portal that I describe above requires a much greater level of planning and oversight than the early "employee directory" iterations of corporate portals.

While the end product is much easier to use and has far greater potential for positive impact, it takes substantially more research, thought, and work to achieve.

It is a trade that I, for one, am thrilled to make.

I believe that the enterprise will continue to evolve in its willingness to invest in the front-end of corporate portal design -- personas, scenarios, hassle maps, storyboards, card sorts and surveys ... and don’t for a minute minimize Strategy!

I hope that we will see a similar commitment to formalizing the guidance and governance of enterprise portals. Formalized processes for portal governance provide an important bridge between IT departments (which generally manage much of the logistics in the development of the platform) and the diverse departments that create content and the employees who become the end users.

I predict that as corporate portals increase in functionality, so too will our process for creating, launching and sustaining them.

SharePoint is Here to Stay

I know that there are many corporate portal platforms available, but none can rival SharePoint's sophistication or ability to evolve. It wasn't so long ago, in the dark days of 2010 and 2011, that our team questioned the future of this space, but today we have a platform that is prepared to continue rising to new heights.

Whether on premises, in the cloud or hybrid, SharePoint is a true development platform. Its core functionality provides an amazing base from which to build, supplying increased functionality and virtually limitless possibilities for user experience.

Although it still requires a significant amount of customization and finesse to the user experience, SharePoint represents the ultimate platform for corporate portals.

Until someone creates a solution that can outperform SharePoint directly out-of-the box (a truly daunting prospect), SharePoint will remain the platform to beat when it comes to delivering world class corporate portals.

Bring on the next set of challenges -- that’s what makes this industry so amazing.

Title image courtesy of wavebreakmedia (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: To read more by Kevin, see Head in the Cloud: Is Your Enterprise Ready to Make the Move?