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Editor's note: In this Q & A, ebizQ's Peter Schooff talks with Tim Walters, a senior analyst and advisor at Forrester Research, about trends in enterprise portals and collaboration. Walters leads Forrester's research on intranets, employee portals, portal server technologies and the next-generation "information workplace." He was among the speakers at Forrester's 2011 Content & Collaboration and Business Process Forums in Boston.

PS: What's the current state of portals and collaboration in the enterprise?

TW: It's important to begin with some clarification about the terms. For some reason—particularly in Europe, where I live and work—a portal is a common name for any website, whether it's a public-facing site or an internal site. But for purposes of this discussion, we want to focus on those internal employee portals.

Secondly, in my own research at Forrester—and I think this is true of my colleagues as well—we tend to play down the distinction between an employee portal and an intranet. There are some differences between them, but we basically treat them the same.

Internal portals evolved as, and most of them remain, just what the name says: a portal. It's a gateway or a passage to somewhere else. Employees use the portal to get to applications or repositories that they need to do their work.

But one very significant change that's going on right now is that the portal is becoming a destination in its own right. So you come to the portal not just to go somewhere else. You come to the portal because it offers—within a reasonable integrated and cohesive environment—the tools and the content and the information and the data and the application support that you need.

Collaboration and enterprise social are increasingly important tools. So these, too, are being integrated into that portal, rather than operating as standalone collaboration applications that you find somewhere else.

Finally, in terms of terminology: These integrated work environments for supporting information workers provide a personalized and contextualized solution that has the information and data that they need, the office and enterprise applications that they need and the collaboration support that they need. This is what Forrester calls the information workplace. We see these information workplaces—whether under that name or some other name—actually being rolled out and used by employees today.


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