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So who really has the best “Collaboration” Portfolio

April 3, 2011

During the past few weeks I have been doing a lot of research on “collaboration” offerings from various vendors for our clients.  What has struck me is how much things change, they really stay the same.

Over the decades technology buying decisions have gone through the the following cycle:

Our analysis shows that buyers of collaboration offerings today fall into almost all of these buyer types, with larger organisations tending towards the integrated through platform and smaller organisations across all types.

The list of vendor offerings is also massive.

The usual suspects are very prominent in Cisco, Microsoft and IBM who all have extensive collaboration offerings.  But the significant list of more focused niche players is incredibly long.  To give you an example here is but a short snapshot of a list that Gartner include in their magic quadrant for Unified Communications and Social software – which is categorised in 3 categories – we’ve just shown below social software in the workplace (note images sourced directly from Gartner’s website at these links; UC and Social Software)

Gartner Unified Communications Magic Quadrant July 2010

Gartner Social Software Magic Quadrant July 2010

Notably, a number of big players are absent in the second quadrant including Google, Cisco, SAP and’s Chatter.  hence when thinking about collaboration there are so many ‘buckets” that offerings are lumped into it’s incredibly hard for buyers to wade through what it right.

So coming back to the question posed in the title, who has the best portfolio.  It’s really an irrelevant question as it depends so much on what people want to do, how they want to collaborate and who with.  Do they have a culture of collaboration, can they drive the process changes required to leverage the invested technology.

Many vendors offer value propositions from end to end to niche.

Cisco for example talks about the Cisco Collaboration Framework (here), or Microsoft discussing their UC platform (here).

The challenge for every buyer is what do they have today, will these new technologies work with the old, what are the downstream implications of new collaboration technologies – these are very technical considerations.

What are the best now versus later.  Should we be blogging, IMing, Tweeting, Video calls, team spaces etc etc

Through our work with clients, it may come as no surprise that there is no generic “best” portfolio.  In fact I would go so far as to say that when it comes to collaboration, technology / vendor choice is actually:

1. The easiest of all the investment decisions

2. By far and away the least relevant / impactful in the investment decisions

Organisations that successfully leverage innovative ways of collaborating tend to all have a similar approach in common.  in summary it goes something like this:

  • Taking an “outside-in” (ie using collaboration strategy expertise from outside their organisation) approach build a company and eco-system wide collaboration strategy highly and directly linked to the long term organisational goals and business outcomes
  • Analyse the collaboration culture and process changes required to achieve the above strategy and what it will take to execute those changes (including formal change management to over come the natural resistance to change)
  • Build a genuine and holistic business case inclusive of all change – expecting full well it may be a 1-2 year change journey that has many transitional phases
  • Build a detailed a targeted “business project plan” (ie not a technical deploy and maintain technology project plan) that drives actionable execution of all aspects of the change required (inc the technology aspects which will be the smaller part) to execute the strategy
  • Measure everything – including the measurement of what many companies see as “soft benefits”.  These can be measured if the analysis and planning is done up front

The best portfolio is the one that enables successful achievement of the desired business outcomes through the enablement of the business project plan to be actioned.

The best portfolio may not be from one vendor, but an amalgam of a few, that many consider to be fierce competitors.

The best portfolio is a lagging decision, an “output” of the strategy and business project plan, it is not the leading decision.

Ultimately if the decision on best is resolved on technology foundations (ie legacy investment, integration, cost, vendor payback calculations etc) it will be the wrong one.  There is enough data (empirically and anecdotally – Google “Software adoption rates”) to show that technology alone rarely lives up to business expectations.  Thus the best portfolio should be an output of the work done to define the differentiating collaboration strategy that an organisation requires.

We see and hear about too many companies investing in collaboration technology (as something they buy) rather than investing in collaboration (as something they do), resulting in a negative return on investment.



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