After a couple of weeks organizing my thoughts, here's my attempt to string together, in one run-on sentence, my key takeaways from the 2011 Forrester Content & Collaboration Forum:

Organizations should be striving to create an engaged workforce – which generates collaborative content containing mission critical knowledge worthy of harvesting – by strategically implementing an information workplace that seamlessly integrates the right combination of email, calendaring, intranet content, instant messaging, web conferencing, video conferencing, team sites, document management, wikis, blogs, microblogs, and the enterprise social network… and for the love of God, it better be mobile-enabled, and all else being equal, let's put it in the cloud.

Now you know what you're doing in 2012.

Here's the thing, though: despite the cynicism my run-on implies, I actually agreed with nearly all I heard at the C&C Forum. So if organizations are going to heed that guidance, as I believe they should, it makes "the right combination" the operative phrase in defining, designing, and implementing your information workplace. How can we define the right combination, you might ask? And are we talking about one product, or an integrated, or at least interrelated, suite of best-in-breed products?

Tim Walters (@tim_walters) pointed me in the direction of a good starting point for developing a content & collaboration product strategy during our one-on-one discussion: Forrester's POST methodology. Its linear simplicity makes a lot of sense in this context, as over engineering a process in which numerous dimensions simultaneously wield subjective but inconsistent influence will only muddy the path to the desired state. Instead, asking about your People's needs, defining related Objectives, setting a Strategy, and picking one or more Technologies – in that order – will go a long way toward preempting content and collaboration initiatives which are doomed from the start due to trying to be too many things to too many people.

With respect to the "T" in POST – Technology – a resource that I keep turning back to is the Real Story Group's Content Technology Vendor Map. Though intimidating at first, and not designed to give anyone "the answer," it does paint a valuable picture of the landscape and it presents many of the dimensions that should be considered in defining your technology mix.

While using POST, RSG's vendor map, and other strategy assets can help you point your organization to the right path, navigating to the end of the right path is a different activity with different challenges.

To reach content and collaboration nirvana, it seems to me that organizations must succeed in:

  • Customizing, implementing, and integrating one or more products based on the unique enterprise environment
  • Understanding when and how employees access and use (or wish they could access or use) their content and collaboration tools – including/especially the impact of mobile devices
  • Defining and communicating business process impacts that the new content and collaboration products imply
  • Communicating tool availability and otherwise facilitating adoption (potentially via training)
  • Monitoring usage and assessing the value of your content and collaboration mix on a routine basis - quantitatively where possible, but qualitatively at a minimum

Throwing a bunch of content and collaboration solutions/modules against the proverbial wall and figuring out which ones stick may be a viable approach in some cases. But for most organizations, time, budget, and employee patience* have their limitations, and getting it right the first or second time would be strongly preferred. If that's your world, I'd lean toward a well-defined content and collaboration product strategy augmented by a comprehensive implementation plan that spans technology, process, and change management. Of course, if you go that route, you probably know what you're doing in 2012, 2013, and quite possibly beyond; better may not equal faster, but better should trump faster.

*Intentionally or not, my current client is employing a non-integrated (and architecturally distinct) mix of technologies to support: email/instant messaging, intranet, wikis, document management, and project management, among others. Basically, it's ALT+TAB integration at its finest, and employee/consultant satisfaction suffers as key content is dispersed and dissimilar interfaces must be learned.