collaboration software

The Promise, Progress And Pain Of Collaboration Software

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Editor’s note: Jason Green is a founder and general partner at Emergence Capital Partners. He was an early investor in Yammer and Success Factors, and he currently sits on the boards of ServiceMax, Replicon, Cotap, Lotame, Xad, Digital Airstrike, and Box (observer).

Truly effective enterprise collaboration applications represent one of the most promising opportunities for cloud computing. Over the last decade, several SaaS companies have emerged that improve workplace collaboration, including well-known companies like Box and Yammer, as well as newer companies such as QuipCotapHall and Slack.

Given my board roles with several of these companies, I am often asked about what is working and what is next. I want to share my thoughts on the promise and the progress in collaboration software while also touching on the areas of opportunity or the pain.

Emergence Capital Partners started with a thesis that software as a service would change the way that employees collaborated. We anticipated that connected employees would increasingly rely on always-updated cloud solutions to interact with each other, reducing the communication challenges of modern distributed work environments.

These challenges, documented in 1988 by sociologist Johansen in his ground-breaking CSCW Matrix, require different types of solutions depending on whether communication is happening at the same time or is asynchronous, and whether communication takes place face-to-face or remotely.

Cloud solutions have been particularly effective at tackling the challenge of helping employees who work together remotely. For example, Yammer built a business social networking platform to help employees feel more connected to each other, no matter where they worked. Box has dramatically simplified the previously complex task of working on a set of shared documents from multiple devices across multiple locations. Google Hangouts and Skype offer multi-device, real-time video conferencing applications at a fraction of the previous cost.

We are also starting to see a new set of mobile-first collaboration tools that offer mobile messaging in a work environment such as Biba and Remind101. Applications such as Cotap enable one-to-one or one-to-many texting, which is particularly effective for time sensitive information for distributed employees.

The good news is that these cloud collaboration companies are reducing friction in employee engagement, particularly for distributed employees. The bad news is that we are all dealing with information overload (“noise”) as an unwanted byproduct of increasingly friction-free communication.

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Given the explosion of communication, conversations can take place simultaneously over several competing channels, creating confusion and inefficiency by requiring multiple changes in context. In addition, the ability to access prior content easily and seamlessly across all these communication channels becomes more challenging.

When I think about areas of pain, I see several obvious opportunities:

Most knowledge workers will tell you that their biggest challenge is extracting the signal from noise amidst all of the communication and collaboration options. Employers that deploy these solutions in a workplace need confidence that the highest priority items are breaking through the clutter.

I can envision new solutions that help filter communication at both the individual and organizational levels. Here are some examples:

  • New types of multi-platform search capabilities that allow for real-time analysis of distributed communication and content.
  • A curation app that can subscribe, redirect and reprioritize enterprise communications.
  • Email that is smart enough to convert a “low priority” email into a “high priority” text.
  • Apps that automatically assign tasks and follow-ups and can track and communicate to a team as completed.

I get excited about entrepreneurs who are using cloud technology to solve big problems for the enterprise. Consumer adoption of new communication applications are a great leading indicator of what professionals in the workplace will desire in the future.

As VCs, our job is to find those applications that truly enhance corporate productivity and are amenable to the security, privacy and compliance needs of the enterprise. We have just uncovered the tip of the iceberg of the new forms of collaboration enabled by the cloud and mobile, and we can’t wait to work with the emerging enterprise leaders that will help solve these challenges.

Image: Modified from Shutterstock