The market is at once expanding and maturing, consolidating and converging. Stay focused on your own strategy.
The market for collaboration technologies is really two markets, at least for now. The first involves synchronous, or real-time, tools (such as Web conferencing), which typically bring people together over the Internet for a particular event—say a strategic planning session, sales training or a project kickoff meeting—and provide all of the communication tools necessary to support the event. The other market includes whats known as asynchronous tools. These include electronic workspaces that allow people to share documents, files, project plans, calendars and the like in the same online place, though not necessarily at the same time. Bulletin boards and blogs, which allow people to share thoughts and ideas on a particular topic over the Web, are further examples of asynchronous collaboration tools.
Over time, these two categories of tools will converge onto a single platform and will be served up in different flavors by a handful of vendors. Some of this convergence will take place through consolidation. Smaller vendors with a particular specialty, a two-year-plus development lead and a loyal user base will prove attractive targets for large vendors looking to kick-start their collaboration play or fill out a platform or suite.
Meanwhile, a number of previously separate markets, such as those for document- and content-management systems or project lifecycle management systems, are now being recast as collaboration technologies. Vendors within these multitudinous segments bring their respective biases to the table. As Mark Twain said, "To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail." While vendors such as Open Text and FileNet Corp. view collaboration tools as a opportunity for pounding on document-management issues, Oracle Corp. takes a "big picture" approach, emphasizing the importance of databases in collaboration. Enterprise application vendors view collaboration as a way to hammer out exceptions and problems that arise from otherwise automated production processes. CIOs, faced with a growing blitz of collaboration marketing hype, need to be ever mindful of these biases and stay focused on bringing in only those collaboration tools that satisfy the needs of specific groups of users and business processes.
Barclays Global Investors, a San Francisco-based asset-management firm, is typical of organizations trying to strike the right balance today. In 2001, BGI began using the CollabNet Inc. environment, a collaborative software development platform from Brisbane, Calif.-based CollabNet Inc., in order to bring together IT developers, project managers and business users from around the world. CollabNet helps BGI manage its extensive internal software development effort, from defining requirements to version control of source code to quality assurance and change management. According to Paul Stevens, global head of technology for BGI, "Having a collaborative platform for all of our stakeholders has sped up software development. It improves communication. It improves understanding." BGI also uses other collaboration mechanisms, including Intraspect (since acquired by Vignette Corp.), which allows users to set up online workspaces for sharing and storing documents and other unstructured data.
For now, however, these various tools, all of which can be used by a single employee, remain separate and unintegrated. At some point, Stevens would like to link these different collaborative spaces together, but hes not just sitting around and waiting for that to happen. "We began using these tools and standardizing on a small number for now. The convergence will be easier because of the knowledge weve gained along the way." Meanwhile, BGI users are left to sort out when to go where for what, with some help from IT. "We have to clarify what we put where and train people to use different tools for different situations," says Stevens.
Ask your enterprise architect:
- Can we wait for the enterprise suites to get better, or should we go for the best-of-breed packages now?Ask your current vendors:
- How does your technology support collaboration today, and how will that change over the next three years?Ask potential vendors:
- How will your applications co-exist with dominant players entering this market?