The leading enterprise intranet, portal, and collaboration platforms for 2016

While there is a relatively small short list of platforms suitable for large enterprise needs, two recent entrants, and some maturing contenders, are shaking things up in 2016.

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SharePoint: The most common large enterprise intranet and collaboration solution

Still the most used platform for intranets, portals, and digital collaboration in medium to large enterprises today, Microsoft SharePoint began life as a document management solution over a decade ago. The new features in its latest incarnation, the brand new SharePoint 2016, show the continued vitality of the platform and it remains the proverbial 800lb gorilla in the industry.

Although Microsoft robustly supports the product and its evolution, it is worth noting that SharePoint has not always kept up with the latest developments in collaboration, which the tech giant is now frequently adding instead as cross-product capabilities such as Office Graph and Office Groups. Microsoft has however recently added much needed basic native mobile app support to SharePoint as well, but mobile functionality is still not the platform's strength.

Overall, however, SharePoint is a rich and capable platform that can meet many sophisticated enterprise needs, but its very complexity and aging user experience is also one of its signature challenges as well.

There's a long standing debate -- my take on it -- on whether a document management solution is necessarily a good intranet or collaboration platform. The respected AIIM society noted last year that many SharePoint efforts have not met with high levels of success, according to their members. That said, most enterprises already have SharePoint licenses and a very clear business case often has to be made on why to invest in additional software. I should also note, that there are indeed a good number of successful intranets running SharePoint today.

With corporate emphasis these days shifting to social collaboration and lightweight messaging solutions to enable their teams, SharePoint sometimes feels a little heavy weight. Microsoft's acquisition of Yammer a few years back still raises questions for Microsoft about how all their products should fit together to enable collaboration in the workplace.

Therefore, for many practitioners, you'll start on a journey with intranets, portals, and collaboration in most organizations by having to at least consider SharePoint on the short list, although the best approach is almost always to find a solution that directly supports your actual business objectives.

Additional Reading

Microsoft Vice President Teper: What's next for OneDrive and SharePoint

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Jive: Born social for the enterprise

The Jive platform and the company behind it is one of the original pioneers of social collaboration and online community. Jive's popular community-based intranet and collaboration platforms is often cited as "born social" from the ground up, instead of later adapted to today's newer, more participative communication models, sometimes well after the fact.

Unlike many portal and intranet platforms, Jive can be used with a full range of audiences and supports stakeholders of every variety, from employee-only or customer-only, to everyone. It also has best-in-class smart device support including individual native mobile apps optimized for intranets, real-time messaging, and employee directories. Jive also integrates with SharePoint and Google Docs as well, and even has its own app store for integrations with popular productivity apps.

Jive is also one of the few pure-play companies that only offers one product-line centered around intranets, portals, and collaboration. As a result, Jive likes to point out that other enterprise software companies which offer the kitchen sink in terms of categories of software products are perhaps not as invested in making the very best possible platform for connecting people and information.

Jive continues to rapidly evolve the platform, and it is robust and mature. As a consequence, Jive is generally on the short list of most organizations seriously considering a contemporary intranet or collaboration solution, even as the company continues to grow and evolve.

Additional Reading:

Jive Software CEO talks collaboration to engage customers and employees

The IBM Connections Family: An industrial-strength collaboration, content, intranet, and portal platform

IBM has been investing heavily in social collaboration for years now and the results show in its industry-leading Connections platform, which has been extended into an entire family of Connections products that "infuse" social features across conversations, content, documents, and files.

The Connections platform is the company's flagship enterprise social network, which I complimented in my last roundup a while back, and my assessment remains true today.

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Connections goes well beyond the basic enterprise social network and offers full-fledged integration with the entire collaborative experience, from e-mail and content management to unified communication and all the standard office productivity suites. Connections offers the extended feature set you'd expect from one of the most mature and advanced enterprise collaboration suites available including social analytics, intranet integration, and APIs. As you'd expect, mobile support is excellent as well.

IBM Connections version 5.5, the latest incarnation of the product, shows that IBM is committed to bringing new capabilities in a space that overall has not seen that much innovation in the last several years. These new capabilities attempt to bring needed order to the vast amounts of information that collaboration platforms produce over time by improving search, navigation, and organization. New mobile support includes an advanced editor to allow sophisticated on-the-fly editing on the road. IBM Connections is full spectrum like Jive, allowing employees to easily and securely collaborate with customers and business partners.

The IBM Connections Family itself -- socially enabling numerous modes of digital collaboration -- has grown quite formidable as well, though at the risk of creating a complex user experience with some customers according to my industry conversations. The Connection Family includes the following capabilities today, in addition to the core IBM Connections product:

  • IBM Connections Content Manager: Provides a social networking and content management experience within IBM Connections communities.
  • IBM Connections Docs: A socially enabled online office productivity suite including word processing and spreadsheets.
  • IBM Connections Files: Provides an on-premises file sharing and file management environment for organizations in a similar way to Box or DropBox.
  • IBM Connections Suite: Provides social networking, real-time social communications and content management capabilities in an on-premises delivery model.
  • Vantage for IBM Connections: Provides robust governance, policy enforcement and eDiscovery for IBM Connections.

Additional Reading:

The digital collaboration industry continues to flourish

Slack: The fast growth new collaboration darling

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On the radar of very few organizations two years ago, Slack has become a virtual phenomenon in the last 18 months, for some very good reasons: The platform delivers real-time collaboration to teams using a uniquely effective and elegant user experience. Perhaps most importantly, Slack has also figured out a workable solution to solve the long-standing integration problem -- namely that we want to collaborate about our business information and content, but it's usually inaccessible within our collaboration tools -- the solution to which is clearly on demonstration with its vast and impressive list of connected apps.

Even more significantly, Slack has effective search that not only works within the messaging environment, but across all the files that users have worked on, turn the collaboration environment in an information discovery goldmine.

It's actually hard to describe the typical Slack experience, because it soon becomes so customized and adapted to a user, who configures the experience and then wires in the apps and data they use, that it becomes unique rather quickly. Slack does have a bit of a learning curve with its slash commands, which are usually second nature to developers -- and with whom the platform is particularly popular -- but most people seeking an effective new model for working can learn it without much trouble.

The issue comes in with the scale of what is essentially a forward-thinking messaging application: It gets noisy quickly and conversations aren't threaded, making ESN-style mass collaboration challenging, and perhaps even unlikely. To potentially address some of these issue and make the platform more attractive to large organizations, there is an enterprise-class version of Slack in the making.

In the meantime, with Slack growing exponentially (see chart), riding a consumer-like wave of adoption it's very likely it will show along side all your other communication and collaboration tools. Consequently, because of Slack and due to collaboration tool proliferation in companies today, I now suggest that most organizations will have to adopt a multi-layered collaboration strategy.

Additional Reading:

Slack raises $200 million at $3.8 billion valuation

Salesforce Chatter and Community Cloud

Salesforce extends Wave Analytics to channel partnersWhile Salesforce has had a collaboration offering in their cloud platform -- in the form of Chatter -- for a good while now, the recent introduction of its Community Cloud product has transformed the company into a versatile and capable new contender in portals, intranets, and social collaboration.

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As I explored recently when I took a look at Salesforce's traction in the space, Salesforce has finally achieved real velocity in enterprise collaboration, just as the space was beginning to look relatively stable in terms of credible offerings for large organizations.

Both Chatter and Community Cloud can be used for intranets and collaboration, with Community Cloud designed to be the more comprehensive of the two with pre-built business use cases, such as the Napili template for social customer care. To get the best from both services requires some customization, however, so in this respect it's more similar to SharePoint in being a powerful "erector set" for communication and collaboration.

Both offerings are usable from the large enterprise down to individual users, and mobile support is quite capable. Community Cloud is still evolving and there is a lot more on the roadmap when I last spoke to product manager Mike Micucci, so it's one to keep a close eye on.

Additional Reading:

Salesforce extends Wave Analytics to channel partners

Yammer: Microsoft's more consumerized enterprise social network

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Any list of major collaboration tools would be remiss without including Yammer, Microsoft's other major platform for enterprise collaboration. While not a strong intranet or portal platform, Yammer excels at workplace discussion and knowledge sharing.

Used at more than 200,000 organizations today, Yammer is not quite as popular as it once was yet is still quite common to encounter in companies large and small. Yammer has apps like Slack, and though its ecosystem is not as vibrant or large, Yammer makes a good effort to appeal to developers and supports some key open standards.

As a workhorse general purpose enterprise social network, Yammer is very capable, but it's lack of support for specific business use cases or a well-established way for companies to create them, is a growing oversight. Yammer Everywhere is one particularly notable feature that allows the service to be easily embedded elsewhere, in intranets and other internal Web experiences, to make them more social and collaborative. Yammer does have a very good mobile app as well.

Additional Reading:

Microsoft tries to head off Facebook at Work by turning on Yammer by default

Atlassian: A still-popular favorite for document collaboration

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Atlassian's Confluence offering was perhaps the first highly successful enterprise wiki and remains a standard with a many companies that want a no-fuss, rock solid collaborative editing solution.

Quite effective at creating a more participative intranet, the company has tweaked the core product over the years, such as offering templates for common knowledge artifacts and work activities such as meeting notes, "how to" articles, and product requirements. The latter is a nod to the fact that technical teams tend to find Confluence a comfortable home, a bit more that your typical user, due to the company's developer roots.

You can also integrate capabilities like workflow, drawing, even a Slack-like command line interface, and dozens of other capabilities with Atlassian's Confluence Marketplace, an app store-like showroom of powerful add-ons that can make Confluence very rich indeed for those that buy-in to the platform all the way. Atlassian also offers integration with its HipChat real-time messaging service.

Confluence does have a native mobile app but it's rather limited at this time, though mobile responsiveness is good.

Additional Reading:

Atlassian's NASDAQ debut sees stock skyrocket 32 percent

SAP Jam: Serious, purpose-driven social collaboration

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When SAP Jam was first announced to the market in 2012, it was one of the later entrants in the social collaboration space, but it took many of the lessons learned from the previous generation to heart.

Specifically, the industry as a whole had learned that collaboration without a focused business purpose doesn't produce the kind of game-changing results that was supposed to happen with social business. Consequently, Jam is aimed at directly enabling specific types of high-value business scenarios such as performance improvement, learning and development, employee recruiting and onboarding, collaborative bid selection, partner relationship management, and so on.

Jam is not necessarily a strong intranet or portal platform, but it's sometimes relentless emphasis on socially enabling key business activities is probably the best and most effective realization of business-centric collaboration currently on the market.

SAP Jam has done well in the marketplace, especially with the company's existing customers, and it has a decent mobile app as well.

Additional Reading:

SAP Jam: Ready for enterprise collaboration

Exo Platform: An open source enterprise collaboration solution

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One of the only two open source offerings on this list, the eXo Platform has a long history and a good reputation for both collaboration and intranets.

eXo Platform is an all-in-one social intranet solution with the typical collaboration tools you'd come to expect such as wikis, forums, calendars and documents, which are integrated around activity streams, social networking and workspaces.

Exo has offered native mobile apps for a while, and it's open source roots can be especially appealing for those looking for a cost-effective solution where they can also extend the platform and add the features they need, while benefiting from a community to help maintain those additions.

Additional Reading:

How collaboration ended up in IT, and why it may move

Liferay: Open source collaboration and portals for all audiences

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The second open source intranet, portal, and collaboration platform on this list, Liferay also has a good pedigree and history.

Unlike eXo, Liferay is full spectrum and can be used to create customer, partner, and employee communities and portals. It has effective mobile support and consistently ranks high on Gartner's Magic Quadrants.

Liferay's reputation for scalability and reliability is also well known and I've encountered some very large intranets developed with it.

Additional Reading:

Watching digital collaboration evolve: Key events over the last year

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