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Collaboration software: three key moments in 2011 and trends for 2012

It’s been a banner year here at FMYI [for my innovation] from new feature rollouts, being 14th on the Fastest Growing listgrowing list of client testimonials, the launch of our Change Agents Unite campaign with major brands and NGOs, the start of our pilot with the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, and our Sloan Award for Workplace Flexibility.

But let’s take a step back and survey where we’re at as an industry. I know it’s getting late already for 2011 retrospectives and 2012 predictions, but I still haven’t seen any succinct recaps of last year and a look ahead to this year for the collaboration software industry. So here’s your look at key moments and trends in collaboration from behind the scenes:

Three key moments for collaboration software in 2011

1. Jive Software’s IPO is evidence that collaboration software is big business and something Wall Street believes in. Their enterprise sales success is well documented (although losses continue) showing robust interest in purchasing these kind of platforms. The market for collaboration software continues to grow, and Jive going public gives them the cash to try and compete with large players like Microsoft Sharepoint as enterprise IT rolls out more platforms.

2. Google Wave’s demise came quietly compared with the hype surrounding its unveiling.Google’s official announcement about shutting down their Wave collaboration platform ended a short but wild ride, starting off with much fanfare, followed by eager “Googlers” trying out the software, and culminating with turning off the lights. The cautionary tale? Hype and pedigree can only take you so far – user adoption and revenue is what reigns with collaboration software. Also, if it takes you over an hour to demo a piece of software, it’s probably too complex for mass adoption. There’s a niche open source future for Wave, but for now, Google is content to mimic Microsoft by focusing mainly on their Google Docs service (like Microsoft Office) and traditional Gmail email (like Outlook Exchange). It remains to be seen whether their social (non-work) network Google+ will evolve into social collaboration and workflow productivity tools and get closer to a lofty new vision.

3. The rise of Dropbox and Evernote is evidence that people are getting very comfortable with storing their information in the cloud, whether they’re files or notes. Why are they so successful? The barrier to entry is low because the user experience is seamless and intuitive, and their freemium model is affordable. As we’ve seen lately with the iPhone, iPad, and social media, enterprise has been following consumer technology because people demand easy and fun ways to work. Although Dropbox and Evernote are primarily ways to store your individual content, they do have basic collaboration features. And their focus on making things easy directly relates to one of the trends I’m predicting for 2012…

Three trends for collaboration software in 2012

1. Simplicity for user adoption is going to be the name of the game as collaboration software becomes more a part of our daily work lives. Groups are interested in collaboration software, but there are two main barriers to success: too many steps (from a time and budget perspective) to pilot a platform and struggles with user adoption after the launch of a platform (especially with large enterprise platforms that need a lot of customization, handholding, and gatekeeping from IT). The name of the game isn’t putting out 50 page RFPs and cramming every feature under the sun into a platform. People at work are extremely busy and won’t use anything that requires months (or years) of customization before deployment, and they certainly won’t use anything that can’t be figured out or configured quickly by themselves without IT or training. And being hosted externally in the cloud doesn’t always mean it’s easy to rollout and generate user adoption. Salesforce is a case in point - paid training is needed for greater adoption. Yammer and 37Signals’ Basecamp product are examples of folks doing it right in terms of simplicity. And how will we know if collaboration software has hit higher levels of user adoption through simplicity? As Fred Wilson put it, you know you’re successfully achieved critical mass when you’re “Mocked and Misunderstood.“

2. Tools for action, not just sharing are going to be demanded this year. People are trying out simple status update software platforms like Yammer and specific tools like Basecamp’s project management service, but to get full value and actually change the game for reaching their goals, platforms are going to need to do more than share info. Solutions need to offer recommendations, such as ways to operationalize ideas, connections with project team members who can help realize a goal, and analyze data posted to the site for productivity adjustments, but in a simple way. There are elements of this in LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman’s Web 3.0 talk at SXSW last year. If ecommerce sites have been doing recommendations for years, it’s high time for collaboration software solutions to do this more.

3. Creating meaning has always been a tricky subject for the industry. Most lack a commitment to the triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) baked into their DNA. It’s mostly an afterthought, lagging behind the corporate responsibility commitment of other industries. With all of the significant global issues these days around economic growth, the strength of local communities, and the environment, the time is ripe for more collaboration software Benefit CorporationsWe don’t want to be lonely. To all our competitors: join us as B Corps and help us provide solutions and business models that walk the talk when helping businesses, government, education, and nonprofits work together to create a more prosperous future for all. There’s enormous opportunities out there to sustainably solve major issues through simplicity, tools for action, and triple bottom line goals. Let’s do this together.

Onward and upward,
-Justin

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