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Understanding Performance and Collaborative Workspaces

Originally published December 18, 2006

A new term has appeared on the analyst and consultant radar screens and magic quadrants. This term has a few variations – information workplace (Forrester), high performance workplace (Gartner), performance workspace (Accenture) – but the focus is the same, i.e., to provide an integrated information management environment that improves employee performance and productivity. In my presentations, I use performance workspace, and this is the term I will use throughout this article.

I like the approach used by Accenture to describe the role of a performance workspace. Accenture talks about the “nine performance accelerators,” which are learning, performance management, business intelligence, process support, search and data relationships, access to applications, knowledge, access to experts, and collaboration. Whereas these nine accelerators clearly define the integrated information business users need to do their jobs, they raise questions about the relationship of performance workspaces to technologies such as business portals, knowledge management, and even business intelligence and performance management. Let’s examine these relationships in more detail beginning with the business portal.

The main components of a business portal environment are shown in Figure 1. Early portals consisted simply of integrated intranets that provided an interface to Web-based content. The next step in portal development was to add support for collaboration, content management and search. To extend portal usage to external customers and partners, these information-driven portals then evolved to provide access to business applications. More recently, business portals have been enhanced with business process management and integration with business intelligence and business performance management applications. Portals today are used not only at the enterprise level, but also at the workgroup level for collaborative team development, and line of business and departmental users.

Figure 1: Components of a Portal Environment

During the evolution of portals, products at the enterprise level have changed from being standalone solutions to, in most cases, being integrated into infrastructure application platforms from vendors such as IBM (WebSphere) and Oracle (Oracle Application Server). At the workgroup level, portal usage is becoming increasingly dominated by Microsoft SharePoint, which Microsoft has now tightly integrated with Microsoft Office.

There are several things to note about how portals have evolved and are used today. At the enterprise level, portal technology is now capable of supporting a complete knowledge management environment. It can be argued that performance workspaces are the equivalent of role-based knowledge management portals. Why then the need for a new term? One of the reasons is that knowledge management has garnered a bad reputation over the years for not fulfilling its promises; and even though it is now possible to support knowledge management, it is perhaps too late for this term to gain universal acceptance. Another reason is that a portal is viewed as a technology, whereas the term performance workspace has more of a business and business process association. This is somewhat analogous to the way the technical term data warehousing has evolved to more business focused terms such as business intelligence and business performance management. These two latter terms are, in fact, two of the nine performance accelerators identified by Accenture.

Another term that is frequently used with respect to a business portal is collaborative workspace. This term is used more in the context of a workgroup portal than an enterprise one. A collaborative workspace provides a subset of the functionality of a performance workspace. This subset varies by company and portal project; but, in general, collaborative workspaces are used by information producers during project and team development, whereas performance workspaces are employed by information consumers who require information that may span multiple business units.

Of Accenture’s nine performance accelerators, five apply to collaborative workspaces. These are learning, business intelligence, search and data relationships, access to applications, and collaboration. There will be a need in most organizations to move information from workgroup collaborative workspaces to enterprise performance workspaces. This can be achieved in several ways. This information can, for example, be pushed using Real Simple Syndication (RSS), or pulled using Web services. The advent of new Web 2.0 technologies is likely to have a significant impact on the design of both collaborative and performance workspaces, and I will discuss this topic next month.

In summary, both performance and collaborative workspaces are key to providing business users with the personalized information they need to do their jobs. These workspace environments, however, require careful planning, design, and governance because they involve a wide range of different IT technology areas including portals, content management, collaboration, business intelligence and office computing.

  • Colin WhiteColin White

    Colin White is the founder of BI Research and president of DataBase Associates Inc. As an analyst, educator and writer, he is well known for his in-depth knowledge of data management, information integration, and business intelligence technologies and how they can be used for building the smart and agile business. With many years of IT experience, he has consulted for dozens of companies throughout the world and is a frequent speaker at leading IT events. Colin has written numerous articles and papers on deploying new and evolving information technologies for business benefit and is a regular contributor to several leading print- and web-based industry journals. For ten years he was the conference chair of the Shared Insights Portals, Content Management, and Collaboration conference. He was also the conference director of the DB/EXPO trade show and conference.

    Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Colin's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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