Feature

The changing course of collaboration software

There has been a major shake-up in the collaboration software market, with revenue up 12% year on year in 2013.

The collaboration market has diversified and now offers a variety of software. Some is suitable for users working on time-sensitive projects using Gantt charts, while others champion Kanban boards designed for projects with multiple consecutively moving parts.

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These feature Post-it note-style tickets that can be moved around between project phases. Others embrace Scrum-based working, where holistic teamwork tactics reign supreme. Nowadays there is no standard type of collaboration tool.

"A few years ago, differentiating yourself in the collaboration software market meant focusing on the people and relationships side of collaboration (the social aspect), but today the emphasis is more on facilitating and supporting the practical side of our day-to-day activities, through tasks and projects," says Angela Ashenden, principal analyst of collaboration at MWD Advisors.

"We are starting to see increasing use of workflow and analytics technology to help smooth the progression from social collaboration activity to the creation and management of tasks, making it more intuitive for the user."

Tibco Tibbr

As a self-styled "information decision" company, Tibco launched its Tibbr workplace collaboration platform in January 2011. Tibbr aims to bring together systems, content and people into a single central interface for work. Collaboration tools rarely amount to much today without mobile support.

As such, Tibbr works on iOS, Android and BlackBerry. Tibco says the mobile element takes users "beyond passively browsing updates" in collaborative terms, so they act on information with more immediacy.

Common to most tools in this space, Tibbr claims to have an open-minded approach to particular workflow styles. This means the software works unilaterally whether an IT department (or indeed any business department) subscribes to Scrum, Kanban, Extreme Programming or Rapid Prototyping systems.

Director of product marketing for social computing at Tibco, Leandro Perez, says the Tibbr philosophy hinges on supporting several key business metrics. These metrics include the seemingly intangible elements of employee engagement, employee productivity, staff  "ideation" (idea generation) and innovation, employee onboarding and training. Within this tracking, Tibbr traces employee interactions and information flow across offices and locations and tries to facilitate the discoverability of information across scattered teams.

For connectivity, Tibbr is built to open access to conferencing services and file providers such as Box, Huddle, SharePoint, DropBox and Google Drive. The software can be deployed on premise, in private clouds and through a fully hosted service based on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform. One of its customers is Schneider Electric, which has used Tibbr across 150,000 employees and operations in more than 100 countries since 2011. The energy management company needed a tool that could communicate across a dispersed workforce, integrate with existing legacy systems and encourage cross-functional collaboration.

Tibbr provides Schneider Electric with a single point of access for all work activities and information. It also integrates with the staff mobile applications. Questions posted on Tibbr receive 150 to 200 responses within 24 hours in the form of  "meaningful answers and replies" that are solicited from people who matter in the discussion and would otherwise have been unreachable. Schneider Electric also uses Tibbr to integrate with Box and WebEx to connect enterprise content and web conferencing with daily collaboration and workflow.

Jive

Jive Software builds its technology proposition around a promise to put people at the centre of its connectivity offering. Not documents, not tasks, not project plans, but people. This way, the Jive platform monitors how closely people are connected – the groups they work in, the documents they read, the ideas they share and the discussions they start.

"We amplify the signal of things that matter and reduce the noise of things that don’t, for each and every person. Our platform introduces you to the experts you haven’t met yet but should. It recommends groups and discussions you aren’t part of, but need to be in," says Tim Zonca, senior director of product marketing at Jive Software.

Rather than champion a specific workflow methodology, Jive claims to supports any workstyle from Scrum to the lean working approach and others. Jive’s Zonca explains that if a firm does all its business in cafes rather than office cubicles, the software is cognisant of that behavioural style and capable of shaping to fit.

The Jive platform provides a range of metrics, from basic community health to specific goal-based metrics, that might feature in an employee on-boarding progress for example. Plus, the software offers the ability to export metrics to third-party analytics tools such as Tableau, QlikView, Birst and Splunk. The Jive platform is entirely cloud based, with new augmentations added on a quarterly basis.

Huddle

The Huddle cloud collaboration platform is used to store, access, share, sync and work on files by users who can be located inside and outside of a corporate firewall. Indeed, Huddle champions secure external cross-firewall collaboration as key. The firm says social elements and content must come together to create context and focus.

Huddle is described as a "true cloud" service because it is pure software as a service, and the secure public version of Huddle is a multi-tenant-hosted public cloud. With its government enterprise-level security, this version of Huddle accounts for most deployments. This form of Huddle is used by 80% of central UK government departments for internal and external collaboration with data up to impact level 2.

A few years ago firms were riding the social enterprise wave, says Huddle CEO, Alastair Mitchell. Standalone social tools promised to connect workers, enabling them to collaborate, unlock silos of knowledge and, by doing so, boost productivity and efficiency.

"The reality was, workers were being bombarded by a firehose of idle chat and irrelevant information because there was simply no context or structure," he says. "Collaboration in today’s workplace has to be focused on content as it is at the heart of everything we do. By bringing together social interactions and business content, real work gets done faster.

"The focus for collaboration tools today should be making content shareable, discoverable, and social on any devices, with anyone – securely. Only then can you break down silos within and between departments and companies and make the promise of improved productivity and efficiency a reality."

Science Museum Group (SMG) is one organisation using Huddle. It used the social platform when it merged with the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. During the programme, numerous documents had to be shared between the museums, then reviewed, edited and approved. These included project files, designs and video content.

Previously, SMG would have used email, but large attachments and minimal version control proved a challenge. SMG’s human resources team also used Huddle to support a recruitment campaign, sharing confidential documents such as CVs, offer letters and job specifications with third-party recruitment consultancies and candidates.

Zimbra

Zimbra Community version 8.0 is an online community and social-networking product that includes a set of social applications designed to enhance customer support and increase employee productivity. With a belief that modern workers’ lives revolve around multiple modes of communication (email, social, mobile, etc), Zimbra allows community participation to happen in ways that honour these different channels (including email as a core experience), but also allowing for social interaction directly inside the community.

"Zimbra provides a track to community engagement through pre-built templates designed to decrease costs and deployment time," says Rob Howard, chief technology officer at Zimbra. "It extends the community experience to mobile users, giving employees and consumers access to their social communities."

A key feature of Zimbra Community is its suite of social tools. It includes blogs, microblogs, forums, tags, media galleries, photo and video embedding, event calendaring, WYSIWYG content editing, web pages and more. Zimbra Community 8.0 is a multi-tenant product, but can also be configured to run on premise as a single-tenant product.

The focus of collaboration software

Collaboration tools still share a commonality of purpose in terms of their focus on people, context, preferred working methods, mobile access and a path to the fabled land of discoverability. The ultimate digitisation and computerisation of the simple “to do” list has not quite changed our lives yet, but it may do soon.


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This was first published in May 2014

 

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