Creating a Better Workplace through Effective Activity Streams for Intranet Software

One of the most promising new trends for workplace collaboration is the adoption and eventual maturity of activity streams. At a basic level we can think of activity streams as the differentiators that turned Facebook and Twitter into two of the most widely used online services in the world. However, in the context of business intranet software activity streams have the potential to be much more than social news feeds transposed to the workplace.

Consultant Bertrand Duperrin laments that 2013 will likely not see enough integration of effective activity streams into digital intranets. Duperrin considers activity streams to have tremendous future value in workplace systems as they centralize information access and create greater potential to improve situational awareness. However, activity streams as they are currently implemented tend to be coupled too tightly with social networks and draw too much from email, which is already a primary alert.

Similarly, CMS Wire has observed that traditional workplace structure is breaking down: the distribution and proliferation of projects are not as well defined by process or by business awareness as they once were. Unless there is an accompanying shift in intranet system technology, this situation will contribute to increased chaos and inefficiency in enterprise.

Many social software vendors integrate personal newsfeed-inspired features into their products. This step is part of the necessary phase of acclimating employees with the new tools, though it is certainly not the only step needed. The continued evolution of the activity stream in the social intranet environment must see innovations such as “APIs allowing any system to publish activities into the activity stream,” going as far as integrateing mobile sensors and enterprise social graphs in order to allow employees to make sense of the emergent patterns that appear in the chaotic digital workplace.

DotNetNuke for Web Content Management

The most popular web content management systems (CMS) run upon a web stack that reflects their origins as having evolved out of predominant open source web-technologies. Apache, MySQL, and PHP (which generally run on Linux but are not constrained to it) are the foundation of the most widely-known CMS platforms because they were the most effective way for web enthusiasts to get working websites online as the internet was gaining mainstream popularity.

DotNetNuke is an odd player in the CMS world – it is runs on top of ASP.NET and uses SQL Server for its database backend. Using Microsoft proprietary technologies for a website is an option that many developers may have the tendency to shun, but DotNetNuke is fully-featured, available through a free community edition (with enterprise licensing options for official support and higher-grade features), and has been regarded as easy to use despite its many powerful features. As far as advantages that DotNetNuke offers in the world of CMS, we can examine its scalability, hosting options, and administration features.

Scalability

By running on top of Microsoft’s server stack, DotNetNuke inherently gives itself a wide range. It is more than suitable for the type of private, small-scale website that a developer would launch with Worpress, Drupal, or Joomla, but it is also more than suitable for integrating with a corporate intranet and interacting with an array of internal enterprise systems. For instance, DotNetNuke intertwines very nicely with Active Directory memberships and roles due to its foundation of ASP.NET.

Hosting Options

Though DotNetNuke runs on a foundation that is not as familiar to many hardcore web developers as the WAMP/LAMP stack, the proliferation of hosting providers that offer push-button installs and management of CMS instances tend to make the underlying web architecture a moot point. Similar to the major open source CMS offerings, there are a number of providers dedicated to hosting a DotNetNuke implementation.

Administration

Ultimately, an administrator is the true end-user of a CMS and the ability to manage it can be a make-or-break. Fortunately, DotNetNuke tends to get high marks in this regard. One reason for this is that it allows granular security settings, such as password protection for individual modules in a page. Another is because it allows an administrator to support multiple websites from one account.

Business Processes Compliance with SharePoint Automation

SharePoint is one of the most widespread and mature document management systems. When we discuss “collaboration,” what often comes to mind is the sharing of a document for revision and approval. This certainly does occur on the enterprise level, but the needs of business go far beyond this capability: often there is a complex workflow of interaction and triggers between people with different responsibilities and distributed among different departments. When these processes are left as informal, there are often lags in productivity cause by confusion, limited employee bandwidth, and resistance to the process. The advantage of SharePoint – and what makes it one of the top choices for enterprise – is the ability to automate processes so that they are codified in the very way in which personnel interact with documents. This is largely thanks to SharePoint’s built-in workflow capabilities and PowerShell administrator commands. Let us look at the example of a firm that has the requirement to send a periodic report to a third-party.

  • The document may require the approval of several different boards, each made up of an approved collection of members (who could even have assigned emergency delegates – just to give a more realistic sense of the complications involved).
  • These boards may be assembled from quality assurance, supply chain, finance, and any number of disparate groups.
  • Documents contain metadata that can signal when each board has signed off.
  • Email alerts can notify all the stakeholders at each point in the approval process.
  • When a user attempts to check in the document, its current state can be checked against whether or not it is on the list of approvers.
  • When all criteria have been met, the document can be safely checked in for final release, and can even be distributed to any number of key recipients or placed in a special repository.

The possibilities are nearly endless and can be adapted to all of the varied needs of a business.

Success with Document Management Systems for Software Projects

Almost every form of enterprise produces some form of work output that is usually document-based. This is especially true in the heavier forms of engineering such as aerospace, military, or medical in which the auditing and accounting requirements are high. No one wants to confront an ISO or federal audit and not be able to point to business procedures and work products that have been tested against a replicable quality process. In most commercial branches of software, especially web-enterprise and IT, documentation often takes the form of wikis or informal design files that are scattered around some agreed upon repository. Often if such documents exist they may even be stored in the code repository itself. In fact, in methodologies such as Agile or Extreme Programming there is sometimes the ethic that “the code is the documentation.” However, neither methodology formally shuns maintaining documentation but rather recommends keeping it spare. From these observations we can then ask what the proper balance a software firm should strike between heavy document management and none whatsoever. Documentation, especially when rapid development is employed, is especially susceptible to skew with the code and can become outdated quickly. Therefore it takes a well-designed document management system to maintain productivity. An effective way to manage modern software documentation is to break it down as followsPre-Development Documentation This phase is devoted to functional specifications, user stories, and relationship diagrams. The emphasis is on the high levels of what needs to be completed without locking in implementation details or sacrificing any of the flexibility needed to handle sudden requirements changes.

Documentation During Development Much of the documentation during the development phase can actually be generated by the framework or runtime with which the project is implemented. However, the products created in this phase still need storage and ease of access.   Post-Development Documentation Much of this documentation will be of the customer-facing variety: end-user documentation such as user interface manuals. This documentation should be easily accessed by management and non-technical teams.When the documentation is broken down in such a manner, it becomes spare, easy to sift through, and readily suited for any number of enterprise document management systems.

Is Social Intranet Software the Future of Workplace Communication?

Given the recent rise of online social media, it was only a matter of time before the “social” paradigm would start to influence enterprise intranet software. Many organizations have already worked features such as personal profiles and content sharing into their corporate communications. While it is possible to see this as a gimmick or a blatant attempt to capitalize on a market trend, social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn have large user bases for important, valid reasons; the ability to collaborate in highly personalized and emergent ways has value in the business world just as it does to private social media users.

The intersection of portals (the gateways of traditional intranets), team sites, and social sites is where the ideal benefits of social intranet are to be found. If execut ed correctly social intranet facilitates freedom, collaboration, discoverability, clear business context, and integration with company processes.

However, it is probably best to think of social intranet not so much as a replacement for the conventional approach but rather part of a gradual evolution. The reality of the business world’s adoption of social software is that it has augmented the capabilities of traditional solutions rather than making them obsolete entirely; legacy portals and content systems have adapted to integrate the new social features.

Indeed, a recent study from NetStrategyJMC has identified that there are five hurdles that social intranet must overcome in order to realize its potential:

  1. Lack of a sense of urgency for the transition.
  2. Lack of buy-in from senior management.
  3. Social solutions are not currently empowering employees enough.
  4. Digital environments are being fragmented rather than consolidated.
  5. Businesses are still concerned with management along organizational groups rather than operational groups.

Drupal for Enterprise Content Management

Drupal is well-known as a web content management system (CMS) that has adopters ranging from novice administrators all the way to Amnesty International and the White House. Its high adaptability gives it wide, effective use in many problem domains. There is a growing application for Drupal that happens to be one traditionally filled by proprietary vendors such as Microsoft – enterprise content management. Spurred on by the platform’s open nature, wide adoption, flexibility, and a boost by Drupal founder Dries Buytaert’s company Acquia, this popular CMS system is finding its way into enterprise.
Acquia launched in 2007 with a model very similar to that of commercial Linux vendor Red Hat: become profitable with the wide distribution of an open source technology by becoming its trusted support and maintenance partner. It should be noted that Ac quia and the Drupal community are separate, even with the presence of Drupal’s founder as Acquia CTO. Acquia could be thought of as the commercial advocate of the Drupal community; furthering its use in industry as well as the web, developing enterprise Drupal tools, and helping companies master its intricacies.

Acquia has shown no signs of slowing down as it secured $30 million in a recent round of funding. This new captial is expected to help it scale out Drupal’s enterprise presence.

Drupal not only has shown itself to be a strong commercial-level content system, competitive with Sharepoint, it also has a presence on cloud PaaS solutions such as AWS. Whether it is installed locally or on a cloud service, the following are some of the specific benefits of Drupal for enterprise:

  • no licensing hurdles,
  • enterprise support (from Aqcuia, other commercial consultants, and of course the Drupal open source community),
  • build quality and proven reliability as it is the underlying platform behind roughly 2% of all websites,
  • platform independence, unlike Sharepoint and Umbraco.

The Economist’s Transition to Open Source Web Content Management

The Economist, the well-known print periodical that covers politics and global affairs from a fairly academic level, has maintained an online presence since 1996. However, until 2008, www.economist.com was regarded as a web-based companion to the print edition that offered some online-exclusive content but was more or less a requisite internet-hub for a journal with an established reputation.

However, in 2008, The Economist made a strategic decision to turn its online component into a more community-driven, content-rich, dynamic forum in which contributors, readers, and guests could shape quality debate about the topics with which the periodical is usually concerned. In order to accomplish this, The Economist had to make bold decisions with its web infrastructure.

First of all, The Economist developers involved in the transition (split across three teams around the globe) had to transition the site away from its proprietary content management system (CMS) and adopt Drupal instead. Drupal was chosen for its ability to handle the scale of changes that would be necessary to make the site more contributor-driven as well as for its comprehensive set of existing modules.

Second, the developers had to choose a methodology for effectively launching the upgraded site in a timely manner. They decided upon Agile project management with Scrum, which typically allows for rapid development that is balanced out with thorough code review and peer collaboration.

Finally, the developers were met with the challenge of transitioning the website in stages so that the legacy CMS could remain partially in place and be iteratively replaced by value-added features of the new system. This meant a change in hosting structure as at first the new features could be delivered via proxy and then gradually moved into sub domains until completion of the new system.

The results of all these efforts have been notable. The modern online version of The Economist is regarded as one of the best examples of Drupal engineering and receives 6.5 million unique visitors worldwide.

A Close Look at Joomla: How Does it Compare to WordPress and Drupal?

WordPress gets a fair bit of publicity as the most widely installed content management system (CMS). Drupal, another popular CMS, is widely known but technically thought of more as a “content management framework” because it is a little heavier on the technical side and taking advantage of it requires a bit of a learning curve.

Where does this put Joomla, the other major player in open source CMS? Joomla is installed on 8.5% of websites in which the CMS can be identified, which is 2.7% of websites overall. With its significant presence in the field of site management, let’s take a look at Joomla in reference to the alternatives.

Installation of Joomla is much like installation of WordPress or Drupal. Hosting providers typically present one-click install options that give a webmaster the ability to quickly deploy the CMS to a ny domain.

Joomla is very flexible but also takes a very friendly and guided approach to getting a website up and running. The default page under the administrator login provides a helpful, streamlined guide to getting started and puts heavy emphasis on providing sample sites in order for the webmaster to get a sense of what is possible. The administrator is pointed to helpful links on both using extensions and modifying templates.

Joomla’s main strength is that it provides much of the flexibility of Drupal but with a design rather than tech-oriented focus. WordPress is a blogging platform foremost, and extending it to function as a general enterprise website – as for e-commerce – takes about the same level of expertise as managing Drupal. Joomla allows the designer a great deal of plug and play flexibility to move away from the blog paradigm but without having to grind as much with configuration files, CSS, PHP concepts, and hunti ng down correct the right versions of modules as you would with the Drupal.

Unlike WordPress and Drupal, one drawback to Joomla (at least version 2.5) is that the admin interface is not as cleanly integrated into web browsing. WordPress uses a convenient top menu bar and side navigation pane. Drupal 7 uses an extremely intuitive top menu interface that calls up dropdowns and  hovering dialogue panes. Joomla 3.0, however, has an interface that is similar to that of Drupal 7.

Sometimes the choice of CMS is a matter of website needs, and other times it is a matter of preference, but as Joomla combines the best of all worlds in CMS it is an extremely safe bet for any website.

Recapping the CMS Benefits

Back in the early days of the Internet, the only way to build a website was by learning HTML code and coding the website by hand. The website built is static. If content needs to be changed, only the coder or someone knowing some HTML code can change it. Nowadays, there is a newer, more efficient way to build a website. This is by using a content management system, or CMS. This has made website updating very easy and convenient to do. This article will discuss some of the benefits of using a content management system.

A lot of popular website are build on CMS. Take WordPress, for instance. You have the ability to update your WordPress site without knowing much about HTML. If you are the administrator, you can assign edit rights to certain individuals to give them the right the right to edit certain pages. No coding knowledge is requires. All you have to do is to open up a template or a page, and fill in the boxes.

CMS allows multiple people to work on the website at the same time. The main data is stored in a database on the server. Anyone with the proper login credentials can get to the back office to manage content. There is not need to to use file transfer protocol, or FTP, to upload changes to your server, as in the old days. Everything can be updated as long as you have access to the Internet.

The beauty of using a content management system is that you no longer need to rely on a single web developer to update your content and to make minor changes. In the past, if the web developer is not available, that means the website does not get updated until he got back. With CMS, different people can have edit rights to edit content, so updates are done more in a timely manner.

With CMS, it is easy to use plug-ins to add functionality to your website. Plug-ins are pre-made modules that you can just install with a click of a button. In the old days, you would need to hire a special programmer to program a script for you for the same functionalities.

CMS gives ordinary people the ability to manage and control their website better. CMS also has the advantage of tracking multiple versions of changes in the content. This is helpful because because there may be a time when you want to revert back to a previous version of your website. With a static HTML website, you would not be able to do that in a clean, uncumbersome way.

Content management systems are the way of the future in website design. No longer is website design only reserved for the programmers and professional web developer. Although they are still required to make major changes to the structure of the website, CMS allows the ordinary user to update and manage content easily and efficiently with very little effort.

SQL Injection and Content Management Systems: What Webmasters Should Know

Content management systems (CMS) are amazing and convenient platforms for creating high-quality, customizable websites in a short amount of time. The leading CMS software projects, WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal, all have built a great deal of useful technology on projects that started out small (for instance, Drupal evolved from a message board). They can be used to readily solve most of the common challenges faced by a fully-functioning website. However, the commonality of that technology means that CMS systems can become targets of well-known attack techniques. One such technique is SQL injection and it has especially become a common headache for WordPress site administrators.

SQL injection is a technique almost as old as databases. SQL can be considered the universal standard language for interacting with databases. It was created with the goal of making it easy to communicate with database systems without the need fo r programming. It was also made to resemble human language as much as possible (in fact in was originally called SEQUEL (Structured English Query Language). However, it has often been used by programmers to allow their programs to automatically communicate with databases as well. What often happens is that programmers take shortcuts with SQL that make development easier, but leave glaring security holes, and sometimes allow an attacker to insert entire queries to the database that overtake the system.

The popularity of WordPress has made it a common target for injection attacks. It is open source, written in PHP, and uses MySQL as its database. MySQL also happens to be one of the most used and well-known databases, meaning that its vulnerabilities are also well-known. Fortunately, the WordPress open source community generally works hard to provide updates and fix es to all compromised components whenever such a round of attacks occurs. This is why it is essential for a web administrator to constantly keep up with updates to all themes and plugins that are used to enhance WordPress and other CMS systems, and stay updated on the latest fixes needed to keep websites secure.