This requires a new breed of enterprise collaboration tools, as part one of this series outlines. Part two evaluates how vendors such as Dropbox, Google, Microsoft and Slack support the key functions of messaging and content. Now in part three, we'll continue by examining where applications fit into the ongoing evolution of collaboration at work. Here, we'll look at the collaboration tools offered by enterprise application platforms such as Salesforce, SAP and Workday, and their interaction with messaging and content platforms.
The new patterns of digital collaboration are no longer constrained by technology limitations that used to enforce a separation of functions. In the past, each discrete enterprise process had its own dedicated software application, often gathered into suites of functionality that mapped to the departmental structures of the organization. Thus finance, HR and sales each had their own application suite. If any department discovered a need to manage a project or share content, they would acquire another separate application dedicated to that task.
New digital styles of working cut across all those old demarcations. The technology converges functionality across interconnected applications. It connects people across departmental boundaries — even beyond the enterprise itself — redefining organizational structures. This breaks down the walls between departments and the application suites they use, it brings together the various collaboration tools they deploy, and lets people work in dynamic, cross-functional teams.
Applications become permeable
As we saw in part two, messaging and content platforms want to connect into applications and make their data and processes available within the collaboration environment. But many application platforms take the opposite approach, making messaging and content available within their own application environment.
The center of gravity of enterprise collaboration doesn't have to be a collaboration platform. For many workers, it's less disruptive to have collaboration as an add-on to the transactional applications where they already spend most of their working day. And for enterprise IT, having collaboration embedded in an existing trusted platform means fewer governance headaches.
What matters is for the collaboration to flow within and beyond the application platform so that it enables easy access to relevant conversations and near-frictionless task completion. Thus enterprise application platforms have to find ways to incorporate messaging and content collaboration, whether opening up to third party tools, or providing functionality of their own.
When enterprise software giant SAP acquired HCM platform SuccessFactors in 2012, it also gained Jam, a mobile-first, team-centered collaboration platform whose subscriber base now exceeds 34 million. SAP Jam can be used across HR, finance and sales as a virtual teamroom for purposes as varied as employee development (as Marriott has done), project management or prospect engagement. It can also bring in messages from other conversational tools such as Slack, as SAP's Steve Hamrick and Daisy Hernandez told diginomica's Jon Reed last year:
We don’t think that it ends with just Slack. We may need to integrate SAP with Slack, HipChat, Skype for Business, Facebook for Work ... In [Asia], it’s WeChat.
Using Jam as a gateway wraps up these social feeds in the kind of compliance beloved by enterprise, they explained, such as auditing, SSO permissions, security and asset settlements. Equally important, it adds business context so that the messaging is directed towards meaningful goals, says Hamrick:
Obviously I want to live in both worlds. I want to be hip, and cool, and develop cool technology, but I definitely want to make sure that in the end, it’s doing something that’s going to help a business run better.
Jam gives SAP a useful team messaging capability but doesn't have the content sync capabilities of richer collaboration platforms.
There's an interesting but unfinished convergence taking place between Microsoft's Office 365 content and collaboration tools, which we already mentioned in part two, and its Dynamics family of business applications — in particular the newly launched Dynamics 365 bundles, which combine CRM and ERP functions.
At the front end, convergence in the user interface makes it easier to combine Office functionality with the business applications. In the back end, all of these services run on the Microsoft Azure cloud infrastructure, and can therefore share identity management as well as access richer organizational and activity data from the Microsoft Graph API.
But Microsoft's own business applications are not the only ones that can access these cloud-based resources. At the instigation of none other than Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the Graph API is open to other vendors' platforms too. That opens up the intriguing potential for those vendors to do a better job of integrating Microsoft's collaboration and content tools than it does with its own Dynamics product set.
One vendor with that potential is Workday. As well as embedding its own collaborative spreadsheet, messaging and video tools in its platform, Workday is using the Graph API to connect its HR and finance applications into Office 365. The integration automatically connects workflow, organizational changes and employee information from Workday into Office, so that for example an employee can book time off from within their Outlook calendar, or a change of role can automatically trigger their joining the Office 365 groups that go with that role. This is just the beginning — further integration is planned, so this is a work in progress.
One important contribution that an HR vendor can make to the collaboration space is in providing the system of record for people's identity and roles within the organization. If new patterns of collaboration are changing the way people achieve business goals, HR may also have to take responsibility for nurturing those patterns and skills. So there is a natural synergy between HCM and collaboration platforms.
Recognized as a collaborative messaging player ever since it introduced its Chatter enterprise social network in 2010, Salesforce surprised many when it added a collaborative content capability with the acquisition of Quip last summer.
The latest iteration of Quip, introduced in February, brings sophisticated collaboration capabilities right inside the Salesforce platform, making them available directly within Salesforce applications. Although Quip doesn't have the content sync capabilities of Dropbox, Egnyte or (promised by) Microsoft, it is, like Box Notes and Dropbox Paper, another example of the 'collaboration canvas' that I'd argue is a critical component of digital collaboration.
By converging several formerly disparate functions into a single tool, Quip can replace entire categories of application. As I recently wrote of its new calendar function for setting reminders and due dates:
These reminders can either act as standalone due dates for individual tasks such as updating a document or reviewing a spreadsheet row, or they can form part of a checklist used to manage an entire team project. This is functionality that used to require an entire separate application, now embedded as a feature set within a multi-purpose digital document.
This is by far the most powerful collaborative content capability in any enterprise application platform. But significant questions remain, not least, how does this work with Chatter? The stock answer would be that Chatter is just another service within the platform, as indeed are third party tools including Box, Dropbox and the full Microsoft range. A more persuasive answer will have to wait until we learn from the experiences of early adopters and discover what combinations of tools have worked best for them.
What about teams?
When I started writing this post, I thought it would go on to cover the fourth pillar, teams. But it's long enough already, so I'm going to pause here and discuss teams in part four.