Yesterday, we wrote about Huddle’s decision to focus on complex document-centric collaboration use cases for government and large enterprise, as part of its new CEO’s strategy to become cash-flow positive this year after scaling back to more modest growth ambitions.
Today we explore what I learned about Huddle’s product roadmap from COO Rasmus Holst and VP of Marketing Tim Deluca-Smith at our meeting in London last week.
Enabling the networked enterprise
Huddle’s customer base is concentrated in government and professional advisory firms, reflecting its strengths in managing complex, often confidential document management processes across large, distributed teams. Whether it’s auditors reviewing client documents, account managers preparing complex proposals, or government agencies overseeing public projects, the processes these organizations use to manage document collaboration are often surprisingly ad-hoc.
There may be several different collaboration systems in use to exchange and store documents — including email and network file servers. Keeping track of where everything is often comes down to someone maintaining a spreadsheet or simply relying on someone else knowing.
What Huddle brings to such scenarios is the discipline of a framework designed to support the networked enterprise, says Holst.
This means that Huddle sits at the core, manages the teams, the documents, to collaborate. This is where work happens, at the core.
Huddle is not the workflow tool, but it harnesses the networked enterprise where you have multiple applications that are all used to collaborate.
The networked enterprise term originates from research by management consultancy McKinsey, when social tools first started being used in the enterprise as an alternative to email and intranets. The concept of the fully networked enterprise, Holst explains, is one of an ecosystem of collaborators working under a single brand identity even if they’re not employed by the same corporation.
An enterprise should have this expansion capability. The thought of internal and external gets wiped out and you just think of this is the next person I collaborate with. It’s always branded, it’s always secure, it’s always easy to understand. [MicKinsey’s] views were that these organizations, depending on what type of work they’re doing, are anywhere between two to six times more efficient than the ones who are in their infancy and still sharing things with email.
Security and social expansion
Holst says that Huddle will concentrate on four key elements in its product roadmap to further this goal. The first two are security and a concept he calls ‘social expansion.’ This is the ability to easily bring others into the collaboration, but without compromising security:
On the security side, we want to be the leaders. We will always invest more than the next person in line, because if you have federal governments in the US, you have government infrastructures here, you have the large advisory firms — we cannot compromise security on a KPMG or on the Department of Defense in the US or on the healthcare system here.
The next part is external collaboration — think of it as social expansion. We want to make it as easy for you to expand your collaboration to the next person in line — whether he’s a lawyer or whether he’s a contractor or whether he’s a product specialist brought in for something — I want you, as part of the organization, to just click. No call to IT, no million years to set up.
Then, what people tend to forget on social expansion, the second part of that is, how do you guide them through that process of becoming part of the collaboration line?
In the networked enterprise, being able to bring in participants from outside of the organization — advisors, subcontractors, stakeholders, customers — is crucial, and is one of the reasons Huddle has had a successful track record of supplanting more internally focused document collaboration platforms such as Sharepoint. Holst credits a lot of that success to the ease of use of the product, not only in terms of making the user interface intuitive, but also including explanations and guides within the user experience. He also points out that Huddle has a strong customer success team, which is ready to help outside collaborators get to know the system, as well as the customer’s own staff.
Search and the enterprise graph
The third and fourth roadmap components are searchability and the development of an ‘enterprise graph’ which maps patterns and relationships in collaboration activity in order to enable predictive analytics.
How do you even find information? You will have seen, over the past year, massive investments into search in Huddle, finding information, being able to pivot around different elements of how you collaborate … Keeping the security model inherent, but you’ve got this sense of groups of people or individuals or content that you’re working with, and having those search facilities — along with just plain search, find, having your recents, having all of those types of things. So the searchability will be another one. In fancy terms, that’s the big data part of it.
The last trick of this is, Huddle has this model of an enterprise graph or a social graph, which means we start to understand, what am I usually working with Tim on? Who do I usually invite into my workspaces as the team collaboration members? Who should I invite in?
It’s already in the product today. If you take out your mobile, it will give you recommendations of what to read. When you open Huddle, there will be a recommendation feed of, these are the things that are happening in your organization that you should be reading. So instead of you having to find work, work is pushed to you that kind of depicts where the organization is.
Using the graph for CRM
While Huddle’s enterprise graph sounds very similar in concept to Microsoft’s Office Graph, there’s one crucial difference, says Holst, which stems from Huddle’s strength in enabling collaboration across the enterprise firewall. That makes it possible for an enterprise to analyze the state of its customer relationships by mapping activity against the enterprise graph, he explains.
What does the enterprise graph now do for you if you do external collaboration? You start to understand your customer relationships. You start to understand who reacts to my documents when I send them to them. Who never reads it. You now start to understand where you create value, where you have risk in your business and where you have opportunity in your business. That’s where you build that future model of collaboration.
Collaboration internally, let’s be honest, you can save cost and you can save time. But ultimately, the collaboration out of the house, that’s where collaboration touches revenue, that’s where you become more efficient, where it becomes visible that you are a different company than the next in line, and that’s where you can start to measure if collaboration is profitable.
This will be the key to Huddle’s future roadmap as it starts to productize use cases targeting specific business outcomes, based on the experiences of its existing customers.
We can prove that ROI, we can prove that you can improve your customer relationships and you can always trust us to have the four strings of security, social expansion, the search and the enterprise graph as part of the roadmap.
We want people to believe in us, when you buy a platform, that they know what the roadmap is.
Now that the networked enterprise strategy is in place, the go-to market strategy around advisory and government — it’s not complete, but we’ve established ourselves as leaders in those two verticals — and then the third leg of that is to then start to productize the use cases that we’ve learned from that and sell them to more industries.
Huddle’s a company I’ve been keeping an eye on since I first met co-founder Alastair Mitchell in October 2007 — he was fronting the young startup’s stand at the Future of Web Apps show in London. Huddle was one of the earliest UK-based web-native SaaS companies to reach scale, and has been a pioneer in the highly innovative cloud collaboration space.
So it’s good to catch up with its story under new management and to hear a positive outlook, even though the shift has caused some pain as costs have been cut, as we reported yesterday. The positioning as an enabler of the networked enterprise for the more old-school organization that exists in many big companies and in government makes sense. It is a good way of leveraging Huddle’s experience with its existing customer base, and there clearly is a need for these organizations to make a managed transition to this networked enterprise world.
Since we also like to focus on business outcomes at diginomica, we can only endorse Huddle’s decision to do likewise. Digital collaboration tools are something of a fad at the moment, and many companies are indeed buying them on the promise of productivity gains but little real evidence that anyone ever achieves this — in many cases one suspects any time saved is simply misspent in new ways. To go to market instead with a collaboration tool that promises to protect and enhance revenue sounds like an astute and distinctive move. We’ll watch the next chapter of this story with interest.
Image credit - Businessman with papers flying from hand © ra2 studio - Fotolia.com
Disclosure - Salesforce is a diginomica premier partner at time of writing.