Collaboration 2.0: Old meets new

Take the essential concept of sharing, then add cloud, social, Web and mobile.

The concept of enterprise collaboration tools is nothing new. After all, Lotus Notes, a pioneer in this technology, dates back 25 years. And computing visionary Douglas Engelbart famously showed off early collaborative software in his 1968 "Mother of All Demos." Yet in the past few years a host of new collaboration products has hit the market, and they differ from their predecessors in ways both big and small.

Yes, the new tools, like the old, promote collaboration and idea-sharing in the workplace. But the new crop is, generally speaking, Web- or cloud-based instead of living on a server inside the firewall. They are also, mostly, much easier to use and set up than the older generations. There are also some new kinds of collaboration built around tools such as task management, chat, social networking and even document sharing.

"A common thread among these really highly disruptive vendors is they're always born in the cloud," says Rob Koplowitz, a Forrester Research analyst. "They're not retrofitting something to the cloud. They are very easy to access and start using, even on an individual basis and certainly by a small team."

In contrast, Notes, for instance, was a big piece of software tied to a specific version of Windows. That meant users got updates only when they got a new OS. "You sat around with 4-year-old software you hated," says Alan Lepofsky, who spent over a decade working on Notes at IBM and is now a Constellation Research analyst.

Plus, a Web-based offering is easily accessible by mobile devices, without requiring users to download an app. That makes the products useful in today's work environment, where people want to work wherever, whenever and with any device.

Also, and perhaps most notably, a culture of sharing and social networking has become much more ingrained. "We spent a lot of time trying to explain what Notes was," Lepofsky says. Today, people expect to be able to share and communicate at work as easily as they do in their personal lives.

Despite the advances, the new breed of services faces similar implementation challenges that products such as Notes and Microsoft's SharePoint have faced. "We do see a lot of failures" in deployment, says Jeffrey Mann, a Gartner analyst.

Still, with forethought into how best to roll out a new tool, some businesses say they have gained notable efficiencies.

The benefits

Companies that use collaboration tools say they find real value in them, often much more than they had with some of the older products.

Take Ricoh, the office equipment and IT services company. It has used SharePoint, WebEx One and Notes. One of the biggest problems with all of those products is that they require enterprises to establish sites designed for a specific set of individuals to collaborate, says Courtney Zentz, social collaboration manager at Ricoh. "They'd be hot for a week and then die," she says. "Projects would eventually go back to email. It never had that lasting impression."

In late 2011, Ricoh started using Jive. Users can easily set up workspaces on the fly, inviting whomever they want to collaborate. "It has the ability to look like the user intends, not as SharePoint intends," Zentz says.

1 2 3 Page 1
Page 1 of 3
Bing’s AI chatbot came to work for me. I had to fire it.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon