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Collaboration Products – “Suite Spot” for Enterprise 2.0 Conference

  The Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston is winding down today. The official/unofficial theme for the conference was without a doubt collaboration, with a healthy dose of social media thrown in for good measure.  On the exhibit floor, the majority of presenting companies were offering some form of product that facilitates enterprise collaboration.  Companies are taking three basic approaches to offering enterprise collaboration capabilities; these are:

 

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The Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston is winding down
today. The official/unofficial theme for the conference was without a doubt collaboration,
with a healthy dose of social media thrown in for good measure.  On the exhibit floor, the majority of
presenting companies were offering some form of product that facilitates
enterprise collaboration.  Companies are
taking three basic approaches to offering enterprise collaboration
capabilities; these are:

Major vendors – full-function platform suites are being
offered by IBM (Lotus), Microsoft, Novell, and now Cisco, which just announced its
Quad product line. Novell’s special sauce is simultaneous document editing. Cisco’s
offering builds on the company’s installed base of VOIP products.  These products typically offer document collaboration,
knowledge management, chat, wikis, blogs, social networking, and voice/video
capabilities. The products are intended to replace whatever employees are
already using to do their daily tasks, most notably email. These products
represent a major shift in how information workers will spend their day.

Special vendor offerings – there were a large number
of specialty vendors such as Jive, Socialtext, nGenera, Traction,
ThoughtFarmer, Mzinga, MangoSpring, Kavi, and PBworks. These vendors also offer
full-function platforms, but these are typically the only products that the
vendors makes and supports. Each vendor had a story about why they were
different, but it seems clear that the market is not big enough to support such
a large number of products

Offerings that extend SharePoint – a number of
vendors presented offerings that make Microsoft’s SharePoint better, cheaper,
faster. As a dominant player in today’s collaboration space, these vendors are
betting on SharePoint’s continued success in the marketplace. Some examples
are: Mainsoft harmon.ie, Newsgator, and huddle.

The market is clearly early-stage, with confusing and
conflicting messages, an unclear set of product features, and a huge amount of
hype. What’s real?  As I always say, be
practical.  The basic premise of most of the
products is that their offering becomes the employee’s desktop. It contain everything
they will need to do for the businesses of tomorrow, such as document sharing, blogging,
wikis, chatting, voice/video calls, knowledge management, social networking, you
name it.  While many vendors were talking
features and functions, the one question few addressed was “how are you going
to get people to use your product?” Most of the answers were not convincing.
They ranged from “the business case is so convincing, people will just want to
use it” to “our younger employees will bring this into our organization to “our
product is so easy to use, it’s adoption will be viral in the organization.”

At the end of the day, I believe the winners will be decided
by those that provide the best and ‘least intrusive’ workflow. The thought that
a new application will become our desktop in the near future is not realistic
for most companies.  Like most
technologies, it will take several years of trial and error to learn what
works, what doesn’t work, and how people will ‘virtually’ interact with their
peers at work.  Several vendors mentioned
that employees are already Tweeting and using Facebook, therefore adoption of
these applications will be a ‘no-brainer.’ But these folks ignore the issue of ‘context.’
What is natural at home with friends and family, is not natural at work with colleagues,
supervisors, customers, and suppliers.

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Bottom line – this trend is too big to ignore and it is not
going away. There is a social trend of younger people being more collaborative
in general that transcends technology. Those who ignore collaboration as a
business enabler will do so at their peril. But it is not going to change
overnight either.  So embrace the concept
and learn what you can do to get started quickly, without necessarily investing
in a huge project.  There are certainly
informal ways that your employees are already collaborating. See how you can
improve this. As you gain experience with what people do today, invest a lot in
figuring where you can extend specific capabilities that provide a big
multiplier. Taking on the whole suite of capabilities at once is too daunting
for most organizations.

And the best piece of advice I can give is, spend the bulk
of your time and budget figuring out how to get people to adopt whatever
solution you select. The best piece of technology is useless if people don’t engage.
Vendors grossly underestimate the aversion people have to change.  Prof. Andrew McAfee of Harvard, discusses this
in his seminal “The
9x Email Problem
” article. The idea is that some replacement technology must
be 10 times better than what it replaces, if there is hope for it to be
accepted. Today, most information workers will not see new collaboration suites
as 10 times better than what they are already doing.

 

 

 

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About the author

A technology strategist for an enterprise software company in the collaboration and social business space. I am particularly interested in studying how people, organizations, and technology interact, with a focus on why particular technologies are successfully adopted while others fail in their mission.

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