New digital styles of working are shaking up the enterprise collaboration landscape, connecting people across boundaries of time, space and function to redefine organizational structures. A new breed of tools is emerging to serve us as we learn to work in dynamic, cross-functional teams.
This series of posts began by describing the emergence of digital collaboration platforms. In part two we examined how vendors such as Dropbox, Google, Microsoft and Slack support the key functions of messaging and content. Part three looked at the collaboration tools offered by enterprise application platforms such as Microsoft, Salesforce, SAP and Workday. And now in part four we evaluate the role of team collaboration suites from Atlassian and others.
Our industry often devotes too much mindshare to technologies and products, at the expense of the people who use them and the business outcomes they serve. That's where teams come in as the fourth and final pillar of collaboration alongside messaging, content and applications. A team typically gathers to focus on a project or task, whether firmly established and long-running or highly ad hoc and short-term.
Traditionally, such teams have been served by project management applications, of which literally hundreds have emerged since the advent of the cloud. Some tend to serve marketing or operational project teams — names such Clarizen, Daptiv, ProjectPlace, iMeet Central and many more have crossed my radar over the years. Others have found popularity among software developers, including Asana, Basecamp, Teamwork.com, Wrike and so on. But while these are all good at what they do, they're not part of a broader platform.
Meanwhile, developers in the agile and DevOps world have been in a unique position over the past few years to explore the further reaches of digital collaboration. In doing so they've also developed new collaborative organizational structures that fit the speed and agility enabled by connected digital technologies. For example, at online sports betting provider Sky Betting & Gaming:
Development at Sky Betting is organized according to the Spotify-inspired Scaling Agile model in which ‘tribes’ of small autonomous teams, known as ‘squads’, each take ownership of specific services.
At global banking giant ING Bank, the Spotify model of collaborative work has been rolled out beyond the IT function to permeate across its entire Netherlands operations — creating small, cross-functional teams that, for example, bring marketing and IT specialists together to deliver products that are responsive to customer needs. This has been challenging but rewarding, says Brendan Donovan, CTO and head of IT infrastucture:
The problem lies in the simplification of your organization ... The senior leadership team have to back it. But start the movement small and it snowballs. It just builds.
If you give people autonomy and purpose and then you let them free, you create unbelievable [outcomes]. The trouble is, we have too many silos, too many power hierarchies, too many handover points.
This simplification and autonomy is typical of the digitally connected, frictionless enterprise that modern collaboration tools have to support.
As the leading vendor serving the collaboration needs of the growing agile development movement, Atlassian is well placed to serve the wider interests of the enterprise collaboration market as these Spotify-inspired structures spread out beyond IT into other enterprise functions. Its $450 million acquisition of task management application Trello, announced in January and due to close this month, significantly consolidates its hold on the space.
Atlassian's existing products include HipChat for messaging and Confluence, a content-centered collaboration tool, giving it a broad footprint across the four pillars I've mentioned. The company is also good at listening to and learning from its customers. It has begun open-sourcing a digital teamwork playbook to help its users hone their collaboration skills. That's an important recognition that successful collaboration isn't just about the tools, it's also about the people.
I don't see any other vendors in this space that have the functional breadth and market presence that Atlassian has been able to build up, so it's the only vendor I can single out in this fourth pillar. While it lacks file sync, Confluence shares many of the other features of a powerful 'collaboration canvas', helping confirm Atlassian as a strong player in the enterprise collaboration landscape.
Now for the wrap ...
That concludes my survey of the leading runners and riders in digital enterprise collaboration, with Dropbox, Salesforce and Atlassian tipped as the three vendors to watch most closely to see what they'll do next. No doubt some vendors who I have left out will feel unfairly treated — I'll be glad to accept and debate further nominations in our comments below.
The landscape continues to develop rapidly. Since we published part two, word has emerged that Amazon Web Services is working on a productivity suite, while Google has added its Keep notetaking tool as a core service within G Suite. The continuing fast pace of developments means this remains a space we'll be keeping a close eye on.
And while the leading platforms are all expanding their functional footprint, there's still room for further consolidation. While I was sitting listening to ING Bank's CTO talk about its agile model at Workday Rising EMEA a few months back, the thought came into my mind that Workday should buy Atlassian. It's a wild thought and there are arguments why it shouldn't happen too, but the fact that it could make sense demonstrates how much is changing as this space evolves.
And finally, I'm not done yet. Several times I've mentioned this concept of a 'collaboration canvas' and how important I believe it will become. I feel that needs further elaboration and so in the fifth and final post in this series, I'll expand on the concept, explain more about its role, and investigate some of its key elements.