A sampling of hosted collaboration products
Collaboration can be found in products as diverse as document management, workflow and portals, but is overshadowed by those products' primary functionality. In this article on hosted collaboration, we will limit the discussion to vendors who specialize in collaboration and whose products offer all aspects of collaboration (not just Web conferencing, for instance) and whose feature sets pertain to more than one vertical market.
We will not include some big names. Although it represents the apogee of collaboration, IBM Lotus does not host it. Microsoft offers some hosted collaboration, but does so by means of multiple products. Customers can certainly evaluate those products, but here we are narrowing the field from more than 30 hosted collaboration products to just four—Open Text, Oracle, SiteScape and Xerox--that represent the directions different vendors are taking.
Hosted collaboration products are further differentiated by the inclusiveness of their feature set and extensibility of their solution. According to Richard Medina, principal analyst at Doculabs, Open Text's core product is comprised of no less than 25 modules. The result is that no other vendor comes close to equaling Open Text's scope of hosted features, and customers can indefinitely extend the solution.
That comes at a price, however. Medina says, "Open Text has the highest margin per seat of any collaboration vendor." The price for 100 users of hosted Livelink is $100,000 a year--or $1,000 per user--well above the price of most other vendors. But to be fair, the price drops with added users-- for 1,000, it's $340 per user and for 10,000, it's $160 per user. Those are better estimates of average price because the average install has thousands of seats.
Medina points out that Open Text's prodigality of functionality can be advantageous or not. While the company can migrate customers to just about any collaboration capability, the price is steep enough that they might get part way toward their ideal solution and not be able to afford the remaining modules.
Jared Spataro, director of collaboration and KM solutions at Open Text, says the company's collaboration functionality is distributed across three hosted modules--Livelink for Collaboration, Livelink for Business Process Management and Livelink for KM.
Livelink for Collaboration stresses team collaboration for workgroups, instant messaging, Web conferencing and even virtual communities. Business Process Management handles process work, such as project management activities like establishing project spaces, setting and tracking workgroup tasks and project milestones, and having ongoing threaded discussions. Of course, it also includes ad hoc workflow with which users can design and manage business processes and route documents. Capabilities can be added to the solution such as program management, a more rigorous form of project management used by government contractors, for example, which features stage-and-gate capabilities for certifying that the hundreds of tasks of one large project phase have been completed before the customer can move on to the next large phase.
Livelink for Knowledge Management deals with information. All content in all modules is viewed as content objects, and all documents are subject to check-in/check-out and versioning, and have audit trails. That module also does search and autocategorization across all modules and features Amazon.com-like affinity functions that tell users accessing certain documents what similar documents they might like to peruse.
Oracle is a different beast. Its Collaboration Suite features Web Conferencing, Files, E-Mail, Calendar, Voicemail and Fax, Wireless and Voice access, Ultra Search, and Workflow--so it's relatively extensible. The suite comes bundled with Oracle's database, application server and portal, and is available in two pricing models. First, through Oracle's on-demand service for $10/user/month, with a $72,000-a-year minimum, Oracle hosts the entire system and takes care of all administration and maintenance of the system for the customer. So Oracle's lowest suite price is for about 600 users, understandable because its typical install is 600 and above, with many customers running tens of thousands of users. The on-demand version does not include voicemail or in-bound fax without the customer installing hardware on its site to interface with its PBX.
Customers can also buy a perpetual license for all of Collaboration Suite for $60 per user if they prefer to run the system in-house. That price includes all software that is required to run the system, including runtime versions of the Oracle Database and Oracle Application Server. In addition, customers can buy E-mail/Calendar, Web Conferencing or Files separately for $45 per user, perpetual license.
The suite is priced to encourage customers to buy the whole enchilada--not point solutions like other vendors--and the common infrastructure is so pervasive Oracle can pitch it like an enterprise messaging platform. (In fact, it offers migration tools for integrating with messaging platforms like Exchange.) Rob Koplowitz, senior director of technology marketing, says Oracle believes collaboration will evolve into platform functionality that will pervade enterprises and transcend its present status as discrete products riding the organization's legacy IT plumbing.
That strategy makes Collaboration Suite especially robust. For instance, Koplowitz says, at Oracle, E-Mail (which is integrated with Outlook) supports about 50,000 users with a 2.5-GB e-mail archive, and the Oracle implementation of Files (which features workflow, versioning and approval management) handles about 23 million documents, or 7.1 TB of data, most stored in 53,000 current workspaces. In other words, the suite scales.
Because the document repository exists in the database, documents are accessible to any application in the organization, which is unique to Oracle--other vendors restrict document access to only collaboration modules.
For task and project management, says Koplowitz, Oracle uses Outlook to assign tasks (tasks can be surfaced into the Web mail client but not Files) and Files workspace to perform project management and team collaboration. For asynchronous communication, he explains, there's Workflow, which, because it leverages the Oracle application stack, can seamlessly pass items between transaction-based applications with structured data and the Collaboration Suite with unstructured data. It's capable of complex routing and customization using a development kit that comes with the application server. Additionally, Oracle will provide robust collaborative workspace capabilities with the upcoming release of Collaboration Suite 10g R1.
Synchronous communication is handled by Web Conferencing--IM and click-to-chat voice capabilities are available in the soon-to-be-released (Summer 2005) Oracle Collaboration Suite 10g. Voicemail and Fax lets users perform activities like accessing voicemail through their e-mail; Wireless and Voice lets them access any module, for example, to get office voicemail and e-mail via their cell phones; and Ultra Search automatically indexes documents and can perform federated searches across all modules.
Medina's only qualification about Collaboration Suite is that customers have to commit to an Oracle infrastructure on which their other applications will also have to run.
SiteScape WebWorkZone is a robust hosted service with out-of-the-box collaboration functionality and a monthly price for 51 to 250 users of only $3,500 (the monthly fee scales according to the number of users; one to 10 users costs only $250 per month).
Chris Pressley, VP of engineering and service, says WebWorkZone mirrors the functionality of SiteScape's flagship software product called Forum, which offers threaded discussions, shared calendars, workflow and document management tools to handle any type of project.
"WebWorkZone lets users store all project data in a virtual workspace, assign and track tasks and send e-mail notifications about due dates," Pressley says. For clients who manage multiple projects, an advanced module called Program Management provides a task dashboard so project leaders can see tasks, their due dates and status using a traffic light metaphor--green for on track, yellow for approaching deadline and red for overdue. The Program Management module add-on costs 25% extra per user.
Pressley says WebWorkZone users can also add on real-time or synchronous collaboration, in the form of SiteScape Zone, which provides Web and audio conferencing, IM and chat. WebWorkZone integrates with Microsoft Exchange and Outlook, so e-mails from those can be moved into WebWorkZone, sharing calendar scheduling with Exchange and Outlook.
For document management, WebWorkZone indexes documents in more than 200 file formats, full-text searches them and provides granular access control. It also does automated check-in/check-out, version control and rollback, as well as audit trails.
Basic knowledge management features come out of the box, says Pressley, and users can create taxonomies and manage knowledge experts in virtual communities. WebWorkZone is easy to use (point-and-click, drag-and-drop), integrate (via Web services) and customize (with wizards).
WaterWare Internet Services is one of several resellers that host Xerox DocuShare. Mark Waters, president/CEO, explains that he offers two pricing models--the customer can buy the software license and WaterWare does the hosting and managed services for $500 a month for 100 users, or WaterWare can buy the license and also do the hosting for $750 to $1,000 a month. Those prices are also representative--the company's average install is 50 to 100 users.
DocuShare features several modules: LDAP Connector, for connecting to Microsoft Active Directory or LDAP servers for user management; Database Connector, for connecting to Oracle or Microsoft SQL servers for added performance; High-Capacity Kit, which includes LDAP Connector and Database Connector, as well as the enhanced Verity (verity.com) full-text search engine; Enterprise Workflow; Interact, for real-time team collaboration on documents; Archiving and Records Management.
DocuShare does not feature formal single sign-on. Companies manage users with the same login via Active Directory or LDAP, Waters says. The service features simple communication as well as IM and chat. They manage documents, he adds, "by uploading with a browser or just dragging and dropping them into DocuShare with a browser or Windows client."
They can also check documents out into Microsoft Office applications, edit them and check them in again to DocuShare. Task and project management are accomplished with out-of-the-box workflow for sequential and in-parallel routing and approval with e-mail notifications for events like task due dates. The Enterprise Workflow module lets users enhance workflows with Java applications. DocuShare is also integrated with Microsoft Outlook and Exchange so users drag and drop e-mails into DocuShare and synchronize calendars with those in Exchange. The Records Management module is especially useful for meeting compliance requirements.
Waters points out that DocuShare also performs information capture by transferring documents and forms from scanners into DocuShare via PaperPort capture software, FTP and Server Message Block (SMB) right out of the box. However, the service offers no Web conferencing or KM capabilities.
WaterWare can enhance standard features and integrate the service with other applications.
This does not exhaust all the hosted collaboration vendors that offer multiple types of collaboration functionality. Intranets.com, HyperOffice (hyperoffice.com) and EMC/Documentum eRoom feature functionality and prices comparable to SiteScape and DocuShare. All the vendors target SMBs or departments of G2000s that typically cannot afford vast internal IT resources but want better productivity and lower costs. But Medina makes the distinction that some like Open Text, Oracle and EMC boast much deeper pockets and, thus, can ensure product longevity and stability better than others.
According to Medina, in the future, vendors will have to make their products play with newer enterprise infrastructures, so they will have to embrace open standards. And, he adds, as vendors like Microsoft, Oracle and IBM Lotus commoditize their repositories in an effort to better manage unstructured data, hosted collaboration vendors will have to tailor their products to easily integrate with them.
John Harney is president of ASPWatch, a consultancy focusing on market, partner and technology strategy for ASPs, e-mail email@example.com.