Sunday, October 07, 2007

Who is the best Vendor of Collaboration Technology?

Collaboration is a hot topic in the industry today, and every organisation wants to set up an advanced collaboration capability for their employees and customers. My personal view is that collaboration has more to do with culture than technology. So if an organisation's culture is not inherently collaborative, merely buying collaboration technology will leave a hole in their budgets but not actually achieve very much.

But catch vendors telling customers that.

Listening to them tell it, the key to success in collaboration capability seems to be in implementing the most integrated "stack" of products you can find. The theory goes that if you find a vendor with a rich and integrated stack of "collaboration" products, buying and deploying that stack will lead to collaboration nirvana (canned laughter here).

It's funny enough seeing stodgy, hierarchical organisations trying to acquire collaboration capability without becoming any less stodgy or hierarchical, but just look at who the vendors are!

You shouldn't be surprised to find that the "leaders" in the collaboration space (self-styled or anointed as such by analyst firms with backward-facing crystal balls) are large, stodgy and hierarchical software vendors. Our usual suspects IBM and Microsoft lead the pack. Blind leading the blind is the expression that leaps to mind.

Face it, buying collaboration technology from large software vendors is like importing voting machines from dictatorships. What do these guys know about this stuff anyway? They wouldn't recognise it if it bit them in a sensitive area. I bet they wouldn't be prepared to face its implications in their own organisations/countries, but they don't seem to mind pushing it onto others. (OK, that's a bit unfair, because many technical people in companies like IBM and Microsoft do collaborate quite effectively, but I'm talking about a larger organisation-wide culture.)

I believe that organisations that want to make a success of collaboration must (1) ensure first that their cultures are collaborative and (2) source their collaboration technology from collaborative communities, e.g., the Open Source community.

Collaboration is what Open Source communities do all the time. Newsgroups and mailing lists, IRC, blogs and wikis, RSS and Atom, mashups, -- all invented by the necessity of collaboration across far-flung communities of peers. These products and technologies are truly collaborative because the people that built them use them for true collaboration, not the sanitised, managed and controlled collaboration that corporate bosses have in mind.

And the "stack" theory is my pet hate. In my evolved view (and I say this without vanity), I believe that the best integrated products are those that were not built as a "family of products" by a single entity but those that were built by independent groups that operated in a decoupled way but had no hidden agendas about locking out their competitors. That's why you can run a Linux desktop with a Firefox browser, a MySQL database and your own local Apache web server running PHP, and build applications using this suite of products without having to think about where they came from. The Linux community, the Mozilla Foundation, the Apache Software Foundation, the PHP community, the MySQL community and MySQL AB have all collaborated (yes, that's the word) to deliver to you, the developer, a seamlessly integrated set of products. Is it a monolithic "stack"? Nonsense. The myth that software products need a common brand to be interoperable is just that - a myth. Open Source software groups don't have ulterior objectives of locking each other out. That's why interoperability happens, - because users want it.

Will decision makers get this? I believe it's an ongoing process of learning and maturity. Hopefully the presence of Generation Y in the workforce will teach the rest of us how to really collaborate. And put away those chequebooks, because the best things in life really are free.


US said...

I think the tittle "Who is the best Vendor of Collaboration Technology?" is not the right title.

The article discuss more about open source vs the vendors.

It highlights whether you need Collaboration tools or not. It will add value if you had done the analysis and provide some tools which are really good.

Ganesh Prasad said...


I take your comment on board. Do remember though, that the title is meant to be a rhetorical question. I don't believe *any* commercial vendor is the right source for collaboration technology, especially not the "market leaders".

The two points I'm making are:

1. Organisations need to change their culture to become more collaborative. You can't just buy a technology and get the benefits of collaboration while still remaining hierarchical and bureaucratic.
2. No commercial vendor (organised along hierarchical lines themselves) really understands collaboration well enough to be able to sell good collaboration tools. A good provider of collaboration software needs to "eat their own dog food". Only the Open Source community does that.

Smart organisations will change their culture to become more collaborative, and they will look to the Open Source community to provide the software tools they need.


Andrei Filimonov said...

"No commercial vendor (organised along hierarchical lines themselves) really understands collaboration well enough to be able to sell good collaboration taools. A good provider of collaboration software needs to "eat their own dog food". Only the Open Source community does that."

I'm not trying to push IBM products here but they have been using technologies like wikis, blogs, dogear, profiles internally for years. Do they qualify as "a good provider of collaboration software"?