Long a bandied-about buzzword, collaboration has gotten an enterprise makeover in recent years in integrating chat and content sharing. The market has emerged from its roots in consumer-grade social networks like Facebook and Twitter to incorporate established enterprise players like IBM, Oracle and SAP, especially after Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer in 2012. Since then, enterprise-specific social networking products have transformed from more consumer styled chat tools to fully fledged business collaboration platforms that have the potential to replace not only intranets, but knowledge management systems and corporate portals as their features and functionalities continue to expand. The main driving force behind this explosion in innovation has been mobility, both on the consumer and the enterprise front, as the impact of mobile-native millennials entering the workforce grows.
Differentiation in a crowded market
Companies are increasingly coming to understand the value of employee collaboration and of enterprise social networks (ESN), particularly as social media becomes a more integrated part of professional and personal daily life. However, the low barrier to entry has meant that there is an abundance of options available, ranging from consumer-grade chat options to Tier-1 solutions and everything in between. The result is a crowded market with considerable overlap, making it difficult for vendors to differentiate themselves. Although many companies faced with a plethora of options turn to existing solutions providers like IBM, Oracle and Salesforce, there has been room for innovators to disrupt the marketplace. These include companies like Atlassian, Slack and Zimbra, who offer a streamlined, mobile-first approach to collaboration. The sheer number of market players and the stratospheric levels of funding mean that the playing field is wide open with no apparent winners, which in turn is putting pressure on big name vendors to bring powerful collaboration tools to the table.
Appealing to a workforce that spans multiple generations
While the millennial generation has proved to be a significant driving force behind the adoption of more consumer-like collaboration tools in the enterprise, there is a challenge in getting older employees to adapt their work habits to embrace a more fluid approach to work and collaboration. For companies like Tangoe, considering the requirements of an intergenerational workforce has been central to the design and development of their product. In order to overcome resistance to new work processes and collaboration tools, vendors have the ability to introduce adaptive elements that can learn from end-users’ habits, although this presents privacy and security issues that would need to be addressed by the vendor.
Seamless integration is key
There is definite value in areas like user-defined contact preference, one-on-one and group chats, and content sharing, particularly when combined with a mobile-first, device-agnostic approach. This is increasingly becoming the norm across enterprise productivity applications and products. However, to be truly powerful, these solutions must be able to provide a user experience that meets the high expectations of a user base accustomed to consumer products and seamless integration. In an era where many longstanding productivity applications like email are undergoing significant revamps, a lack of integration could lead to a glut of programs and unnecessary app-switching, which is inefficient and cumbersome. Any shortcomings in either category can result in a lack of employee buy-in, or worse, employees resorting to workarounds using consumer-grade programs that lack the necessary security features and risk data leakage. Major players like Microsoft, Salesforce and SAP have done well in integrating their collaboration tools into their portfolio, but the bar has been set high to meet expectations. Given the growing market for enterprise collaboration, however, it is a challenge that a growing number of vendors are willing to accept.
Kathryn Nassberg is an analyst and Eric Klein is a Director at VDC Research.