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Collaboration: multipurpose solutions

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Any software product that facilitates working together can legitimately be classified as collaboration software. Those products run the gamut from simple solutions such as e-mail and file sharing at one end of the spectrum to sophisticated document-centric collaboration platforms (with content sharing, blogs, wikis, messaging and other features) and enterprise social platforms at the other, which focus on interactions. However, many enterprise solutions, including business process management (BPM), now also have collaborative components, and single-function products, such as conferencing software, are counted as collaboration tools.

Because the collaboration market encompasses so many types of products, and some applications include collaboration as just one of a number of components, the market size is difficult to assess. IDC reported that the enterprise social software market alone was $1.24 billion in 2013. The estimate from Forrester for a broad range of collaboration services such as video conferencing, social software, collaboration platforms and messaging, exceeds $40 billion worldwide. That market is very diverse and is characterized by many new entrants and point solutions, and a fair amount of turnover and M&A activity as well as partnerships between complementary products.

Two of the major categories of collaboration platforms are document-centric solutions and enterprise social platforms. Although they are clearly delineated as categories, they also have some overlap in functionality. “Increasingly we see products that address both issues,” says Rob Koplowitz, VP and principal analyst at Forrester. “When users are in the social environment they can access documents, and when they are in document applications, they can communicate with colleagues from within the application through activity streams or chat.”

Centralized approach

Ellucian provides software products for higher education, including applications for recruiting and admissions, student information systems and fundraising. In addition, it provides hosting services for its products and professional support for deploying software on premise. The company was formed several years ago from the merger of two firms that were providing similar products to higher education markets.

One of the pressing needs after the merger was to establish a centralized document management system. At the time, documents were scattered throughout departments in the organization on share drives. Several candidates were considered, including one suggested by Karen Hodson, senior manager, procurement at Ellucian. “I had used SpringCM in the past and thought it was an excellent match,” she says. “It is affordable and has the capabilities we needed.”

The company selected the SpringCM platform and began migrating content from diverse locations into the content repository. “The deployment takes a minimal amount of time, and can be done easily without an IT staff,” Hodson says. “People in any department can access the documents now, initiate a workflow and attach messages to support collaborative projects.”

Perhaps the biggest boon to the company has been the collaboration that is achieved through the integration of SpringCM into Salesforce.com, which Ellucian uses for its marketing and sales activities. As of April 2014, SpringCM had developed software that embedded its functionality within Salesforce.com, so that users did not have to leave Salesforce.com to access documents.

That integration has provided a streamlined way to carry out tasks such as preparing proposals and contracts. With the workflow capabilities of SpringCM, users can bring up a document from within the application, launch a review and approval process, and have a contract ready much more quickly than when they used a separate content management system. “The automated approval is a huge help,” says Hodson, “and although not everyone in the company is using the full licensed version of Salesforce.com, everyone can access the same content through SpringCM.”

Added functionality

Ellucian plans to migrate all of its content to SpringCM, including marketing content, invoicing and information currently stored on share drives. In progress or about to launch are content migrations for the legal and HR departments. “We no longer have to call our colleagues to find out the status of a project,” Hodson says, “and we can communicate in numerous ways, including Chatter or messaging from within SpringCM. The messages can be tied to the customer in Salesforce.com.

In addition to solidifying the integration with Salesforce.com, SpringCM has also updated the user interface and expanded the functionality. “More actions are now exposed in Salesforce to cover more of the tasks needed on a daily basis,” says Victor Cizinauskas, director of product marketing at SpringCM. “We have also strengthened some of the document management features, such as comparing documents. Microsoft Word does not do a good job comparing embedded tables and graphics, and is not able to get down to the pixel level, which our application can do.”

One concern about the activity stream approach to collaboration, rather than tying messaging to tasks, is the potential difficulty in managing that stream. “We do have functionality in that area and we interact with Chatter in the Salesforce.com ecosystem, but our customers are telling us that the activity stream can get as overwhelming as e-mail,” Cizinauskas explains. “It is a challenge to give them the information they need without it becoming noise.” Sales staff typically has a high turnover, and social networking can be of great help to new employees who want to find out if anyone in the company knows a certain customer or potential customer. “These conversations take place in Chatter,” says Cizinauskas, “and are related to a particular opportunity in Salesforce.com.”

“Salespeople are enthusiastic users of collaboration solutions,” Koplowitz says, “because they have a strong incentive to do things more quickly. Salespeople were early adopters of e-mail, Blackberries and smartphones. The correlation between access to information and greater sales is very high.”

Although other areas such as manufacturing do not show the same levels of adoption, they also can benefit. “In one case we studied, a pharmaceutical manufacturer used activity streams to solve a serious packaging problem,” Koplowitz says. “There are a million problems like that. If more people begin to use this approach, the business value can be significant, even in industries that have not traditionally been strong users of collaboration.”

Solving multiple problems

ONA Investigación conducts research in the field of cosmetics, focusing on the properties of water as applied to cosmetics. In addition, it produces and sells its own brand of organic cosmetics called “Secretos del Agua.” Headquartered in Madrid, ONA Investigación has production facilities in Binaced, Spain, and offices in Germany and the United Kingdom. Its products are sold to spas, hotels and department stores.

Given its diversity of geographic locations and activities, ONA Investigación began to look for a collaboration solution to provide easy access to client data and product information, and to allow for freely flowing communication among its employees. Since it has minimal in-house IT support, the company needed an out-of-the-box solution. After checking several other options, the company chose eXo (exoplatform.com) Platform, an open source social collaboration software platform.

EXo evolved from a project begun in an open source community over a decade ago to develop a Java portlet container, which is software for managing components that display information in Web portals. Within a year after the project began, the U.S. Department of Defense initiated a working relationship to design a portal, and eXo was formed as a company. Subsequently, eXo incorporated content management, workspaces, activity streams, calendaring and other collaboration tools into the portal, and the product became a collaboration platform.



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