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Social Collaboration Is on a Roll

Having just returned from Enterprise Connect 2016, I sat down at my desk the other morning and on the front page of The Wall Street Journal's Workplace Technology section I found the article, "How I Tamed the Email Beast at Work." The author, technology researcher Alexandra Samuel, went on to say in the subtitle, "By replacing email with new collaboration tools, I cut my inbox and became more productive."

Given the prominence of social collaboration topics at EC '16, the piece couldn't have been more timely.

Social Setting
In a Tuesday session Dave Stein, principal with Stein Consulting Group, shared results of a team collaboration "shootout" in which he compared top apps, and on Wednesday I hosted a discussion on whether mobile-first collaboration platforms are the "salvation of UC." But the biggest push probably came Tuesday morning when Rowan Trollope, SVP and GM of the IoT and Collaboration Technology Group, made his company's Spark offering the centerpiece of his keynote. Along with the requisite demo, Trollope announced a $150 million fund to support developers on the Spark platform.

Rowan Trollope at Enterprise Connect 2016

In her WSJ article, Samuel echoed one of Trollope's favorite themes, that being the idea of replacing email as the collaboration vehicle of choice with more modern tools. And, like him, she promoted the idea of faster and less formal texting over the more formal and conventional email. Samuel, however, pushed for apps like Slack, Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, and even Twitter (but didn't mention Spark).

The panel I moderated drew from both camps. From the traditional UC&C community we had Jonathan Rosenberg, VP and CTO of Cisco's collaboration business, and Jan Hickisch, VP of portfolio management and marketing at Unify. And from the app space, we had Peter Pezaris, VP of applications at RingCentral, which acquired Glip, the collaboration app maker he founded, in June 2015. Prior to founding Glip, Pezaris founded Multiply, a consumer-oriented social networking and commerce site. Rahul Asave, head of enterprise product management for Atlassian, which offers the HipChat collaboration app, rounded out the panel.

While all of the panelists represented their organizations well in what turned out to be a rollicking session, I was particularly taken by the energy and enthusiasm of Pezaris and Asave. While the Cisco and Unify executives are representative of your traditional staid and sensible enterprise suppliers, you get an entirely different vibe from those coming out of onetime start-ups like HipChat and Glip.

Atlassian acquired HipChat in March 2012, adding it to a team tools portfolio that includes the popular Jira project management and service desk products. Atlassian co-founders Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes have built a successful company with a decidedly New Age bent. You get the idea when you learn that Atlassian doesn't have a sales force; it seems to go out of its way to avoid a lot of the other things we have come to expect in tech firms. In addition, the company gives 1% of its annual profits to charity, 1% of its employees' time to charity, and 1% of the company's equity to the Atlassian Foundation, which adds up to $6.5 million. It also donates its products to charities.

Asave had my head spinning as he described the management practices at the company. Suffice it to say, it's all about building and improving products (which everyone in the company uses) and what appears to be an active program to avoid hierarchies and the other trappings of the corporate world to the greatest degree possible. If you visit, don't expect to find a 400-page corporate policy manual.

Search Me
During the session, I also got to introduce some of the questions Brian Riggs, an analyst with Ovum's Enterprise team, raised regarding social collaboration in his excellent No Jitter piece, "Confessions of a Casual Collaborator." The one area I find to be particularly challenging is how all of the information we accumulate in one of these collaboration rooms (Cisco's term) or conversations (Unify's term) is organized. I work on a lot of big, multifaceted projects and find that I can misplace things even if I'm the only one doing the filing -- and I am very organized. I could foresee a filing system that was the equivalent of a laundry bag full of dirty socks.

The answer being proposed to that dilemma depends largely on search. However, given the number of items that might contain the same keyword, I can still see the potential of our productivity draining away as we rummage through reams of irrelevant muck trying to find that one key element we need.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out going forward. First off, enterprises do seem to be waking up to the idea that the way we have been working is clearly not optimal, and the industry is responding with collaboration tools that could be far more effective. Further, the rather formal nature of email is giving way to the faster and more casual medium of chat. The younger generation grew up on AOL Instant Messenger and moved on first to SMS and later, BlackBerry Messenger (remember that one?), Apple Messages, and WhatsApp, but the reliance on chat, particularly in the mobile space, has swept across the generations.

While it is easy to get caught up in the energy and excitement of the creative sorts we are now seeing at EC, it's important to remember not to do so at the sake of things like security, reliability, process, and all the other stuff that ensures enterprise systems are safe and reliable. But do be inspired; as always, it is great to be at the leading edge of a new and important trend.

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