In our conversations with many information and knowledge management professionals, it's clear that their distributed and multicompany teams need better extranet collaboration tools.
And they feel the problem is only getting worse as companies go virtual, global, distributed, outsourced, green, travel-less, and partnered, thus driving the need for ever-better collaboration tools that work outside the firewall.
Trouble is, the messaging and collaboration services that companies have implemented are designed primarily for internal teams.
For example, it's bloody difficult to set up a secure instant messaging connection with every partner you might want to work with. Such interoperability between IM platforms is technically possible, but operationally nightmarish.
So clever employees do what they must: Use public IM and calendaring services, cobble together conferences from piece parts, and fall back on endless scheduling and sharing emails and voice conferencing. Ugh. Ugly. And scary.
Well, the solution's just around the corner say vendors new and old. After all, many are on the cusp of major product releases that promise much better extranet connections and capabilities:
IBM Bluehouse promises a new extranet collaboration platform.
Google already offers an extranet collaboration toolkit in its Google Apps Premier Edition.
Cisco is adding extranet collaboration capabilities to WebEx.
Microsoft is moving its services into the cloud for easier extranet access.
By Gil Yehuda Those who drink the Web 2.0 Kool-aid live in a idealistic world where we can mentally connect a great idea to a great implementation of that idea. We live on faith that the great implementation will come, since there are plenty of smart people out there who will eventually figure out how to make value out of technology building blocks. Sometimes our faith is tested when the killer-app does not show up for a long time. But evidence can restore our faith.
Did you know that three vendors with something in common grew rapidly during the last recession? WebEx, Placeware (now Microsoft LiveMeeting cum Office Communications Server), and Salesforce.com all grew during the last recession.
One of the reasons is that they offered valuable services -- Web conferencing and sales force automation – that companies needed help with. But the other thing they had in common is that they packaged their offering as a cloud-based service with a pay-as-you-go pricing model.
This model offered three immediate benefits to cash-strapped companies:
It was cheap and easy to get started with these cloud-based services.
The business could buy the services without IT’s help, at least initially.
It was easy to provision these services for business users.
It is inevitable and welcome that a revitalized Lotus has launched a hosted email and calendar service.
Inevitable because cloud-based email services are on the rise and IBM isn't going to miss out on that. It might be your entire messaging system -- email, calendar, contacts as in hosted Exchange, Gmail, and now Notes Hosted Messaging. Or it might be an ancillary service as in email filtering from Microsoft, Google Postini, or Symantec MessageLabs or Exchange management from Azaleos. But pushing email out of the data center and into the cloud has some real benefits (outlined below).
Welcome to Forrester's enterprise customers because having Microsoft as the only hosted email service in town limits customer choice. And that's never good.
Oh yeah, then there's the attractive price. While nobody can undercut Google's $50/user/year price, IBM has aggressively priced this offering for between $8 and $18 per user per month.
Symantec today announced its acquisition of MessageLabs, a 520-person UK-based email filtering and security vendor. Given the cost and hassles that information & knowledge management professionls (IKM Pros) have keeping email spam down to a dull roar and keeping viruses outside the firewall, this is a great move for Symantec. And now IKM pros with deep Symantec relationships have a simple choice: Keep email filtering on-premise (and pay up front and on-going) or outsource that annoying task to Symantec MessageLabs (and pay by the month).
My colleague Chris Voce and I have been doing research into the costs and challenges of on-premise email versus cloud-based email. (We'll publish a report in the next month or so with the details, but Forrester clients can contact us if they want to talk now about email in the cloud or the cost of email.)
A few things have popped out of the research:
Firms don't know what their email costs. It's easy enough to calculate the server and mail client costs, but the other costs -- administration, server and software maintenance, email filtering administration, storage, data center operations -- are usually swept under the carpet. When firms calculate a fully loaded cost per user, they will be shocked.
Why? The truth is, I learn by doing and by speaking with others who do. So I dabble with Twitter, Plurk, Pownce, Spoink, Rakawa, Tumblr, Utterli, Yammer, FriendFeed, 12seconds, and probably a few others that I signed up for and forgot to use. I have found a nice collection of people that I like to follow, and some people follow me too. So microblogging appeals to the extrovert in me, and I'm strangely fascinated reading what other people are doing (or what they say they are doing). Narcissism and voyeurism are at play.
Following on to Rob's great analyses of Cisco's Jabber and PostPath acquisitions, here are some additional things that Information & Knowledge Management Professionals should tune into regarding Cisco as the new collaboration kid on the block:
First, Cisco is building a meeting-centric workspace product with WebEx Connect. Think about the key documents, chats, connections, calendar, contact lists, business and collaboration widgets, and video links hosted in a workspace with persistence, invitation- and approval-based access, and all the piece parts of a real workspace. That means you should be putting Cisco on your vendor list when looking at new team collaboration scenarios.
Second, Jabber will be bundled into WebEx Connect as the core presence engine. In other words, this acquisition is, as Rob pointed out, a great way for Cisco to get a global-scale presence engine. But it's also presence designed around a B2B or distributed team environment. And that signals where you should look at Cisco: It's in B2B teams. Or teams that sit on the edge of the enterprise -- sales, product development, supply chain, partner management -- should look at this new option.
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Today, Google announced Google Video for business, a new cloud-based collaboration service that gives employees the same ability as consumers to upload, find, view, and share video clips. It's YouTube for the enterprise, folks. See Rob Koplowitz's and Kyle McNabb's report for more on cloud-based collaboration services.
Not that Google's the first company to introduce this service. Startup Veodia launched its cloud-based enterprise video service in 2007. Both moves are part of the video-ification of business, what Forrester's Henry Dewing calls "The Screening Of Global Business."
I think this is an important innovation for the enterprise because it will allow a million video flowers to bloom: training videos, meet-the-team videos, rally-the-sales-troops videos, learn-about-my-product videos, customer-win videos, walk-through-the-power-generation-plant videos, corporate-event videos, how-its-made videos. You get the picture.
Google Video for business:
Is bundled into the Google Apps Premier Edition. So even if you don't need cloud-based email, calendaring, document sharing, or team sites, if you buy video, you get the whole suite of collaboration tools.
Today, Cisco announced its intent to acquire PostPath, a provider of email solutions. Interesting news. As parts of the collaboration stack become increasingly commoditized, the lure of moving the functionality up to the cloud and letting someone else take on the day to day responsibility becomes increasingly attractive. Cisco is at the center of this trend with its WebEx brand. Web conferencing has yet to gain widespread adoption in the corporate data center. It's almost as if the market just decided that as cool as web conferencing may be, I don't want to bother with installing servers and running them. Let someone else do that.
Is broad based collaboration the next big app to move to the cloud? Could be. Microsoft thinks so. They have moved quickly and decisively into cloud based collaboration, first with the acquisition of WebEx's chief competitor, PlaceWare (now LiveMeeting), and more recently with their announcement of Microsoft On-line Services. Google thinks so, too. They have been morphing their consumer collaboration offerings like G-Mail and Google Apps into business ready offerings for the last couple of years. IBM, too, with their evolving vision for Project Bluehouse and its focus on enterprise ready social computing in the cloud.