Are Portals back in fashion?

The enterprise portal has had a long (by tech standards) history. First coming to prominence in the late ’90s with the idea of pulling all your apps and information into one place. Back then, they were called EIP’s (Enterprise Information Portals), then Gartner tried unsuccessfully to brand them SES’s (Smart Enterprise Suites). The market was hot, and at the height of the dot.com boom many were getting rich on the prospect of the portal explosion to come, but it never really did.

Twenty years on and workers struggle with the same problems of uniting their digital workplace applications and files into a single and usable screen. Today, enterprise portals are more common, and catchily, branded as digital workplaces, call them what you will, the idea is good, but why have they never really had the impact they promised?

In 2019 there is no shortage of portals options available, though not labeled as such, companies like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Suite, and even Dropbox all offer portal functionality. A single place to pull everything you need to get your work done in one place, a digital version of a physical workplace.

However, it is here that I think things go wrong. Outside of environments where items are manufactured or created, that level of process and order is non-existent. Manufacturing environments need to be standardized and structured in such a way that the same thing happens every time. Most other workplaces are organic, they evolve to reflect the dynamics of the company and its staff. Physical workplaces are more than desks and filing cabinets; they are places that people come to interact, with one another and with systems of information. The prescriptive approach of a digital workplace (aka portal) often doesn’t work.

Even so, we live in a world of physically remote workers and an avalanche of apps and information sources. You have to bring some order to this new world of work, or you have chaos. That is where the new portals may make a difference, it doesn’t matter which option you chose, but sharing fundamental information sources for your work, files, calendars, and providing a centralized place to collaborate and communicate has never been more essential. The trick is to focus on the essentials and nothing more. Portals or whatever we call them, are back in fashion, whether they will succeed where they previously failed is an open question. However, the focus on providing a simple to use digital workplace that still allows for organic and ad hoc working habits is critical. If the massive growth of Microsoft Teams is anything to go by (over 500,000 organizations in under two years) is anything to go by, then buyers are eagerly looking for solutions.

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