Portals and LMSs (and Collaboration, SIS, Library, and other Suites)

Clay from Georgia Tech shot me an email recently which spurred me to try and put to words how my thinking has evolved about the relationship of an enterprise portal and Sakai, and where these technologies and communities are heading.

In general I think the focus of “enterprise portals” has always been one of integration and convenience, and as a result these products are moving towards being the place that knits together all the attention streams a user might have across the digital (and non-digital) campus. I think there’s a couple key use cases, some of which have more successfully been deployed than other.

1. One stop shopping (typical) + SSO
2. Summary Views & Aggregation

Less commonly actually implemented, though often talked about/pitched:
3. Dashboards
4. Actionable Intelligence (you have overdue books, return them!)
5. Deep aggregation (e.g. pulling in all the announcements from different systems and putting them into one stream)

In addition to portals focused on horizontal integration, I think we’re starting to see vertical integration around “portals” in Learning, Collaboration, HR/Admin, SIS, Libraries? and other clumps of functionality. Some of the goals around bundling related tools together are similar, but focused around a particular toolset, or context. At some point these could probably decompose into the “lots of tools/portlets in the uber-portal” that I think represented the portal thinking years ago, but I think the reality is market forces, as well as organizational and reporting structures make that unlikely to happen any time soon.

I suspect the interrelationship w a product like Sakai to a portal is mostly as a provider of information/data — pushing out items like announcements, scheduling, files in resources, and exposing them in a different context. Ideally if we shift our thinking more along the line of wire protocols (RSS, Real SOA, RESTful APIs) this I think positions us to also start doing “network integration” where Sakai can also start talking with and working with say Banner, or Kuali FS, or Facebook, or whatever platform. I’m very impressed with CARET’s mySakai work, and think John Norman’s vision on this is similar to the kind of plan I’d outline as benevolent dictator of the Sakai universe.

Along this line, I’ve scheduled another LMS-Portal integration BOF for JA-SIG and would like to use this project as the testbed for both a WG, and an incubated integration project within JA-SIG. I think a lot of the architectural level aspects should really span LMS’s — e.g. if we do it right, ANGEL, D2L, BB, and everyone should be able to use the same protocols, though Sakai seems an ideal reference implementation. I admit to being weak on knowledge of the IMS-spec side, and am not sure whether there’s work on that front we can leverage as well. So far what I’ve seen at least on the TI front has been less API/Data centric than I think we need to go though, though Enterprise seems promising.

One particular short-term item I’d like to see Sakai expose more broadly is the group contexts expressed in the form of class enrollments & particularly ad-hoc groups represented by project site membership. In many respects I think this is the most useful data in Sakai — it’s a social-network like context that integration with and hooking other systems into seems quite valuable. Enterprise grouping systems like Grouper while promising architecturally seems to have had slow adoption, and I suspect fitting systems like Sakai with something like OpenSocial or Google Contacts-like APIs to mesh groups together may get us farther faster in the short run.