Future of mainstream collaboration – Lotus/IBM style
Despite the fact that there are many specialist collaboration products that are far superior to Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange/SharePoint – IBM and Microsoft continue to be the mainstream players and certainly dominate if you consider collaboration from the “buy a platform and build on top of it” standpoint. IBM’s strategy is unfolding – Stu tries to make it clearer – but until the Hanover release it still seems to me to be a series of small scale sustaining innovations, by the end of 2006 maybe IBM will have a platform that again allows it to innovate more aggressively, rather than spend all of its time on re-engineering and optimising its current technologies.
Microsoft is also doing plenty of re-engineering, now nearing beta release of version 2 (3 if you are generous) of its SharePoint product which is happily disrupting the market it established for Exchange Public Folders and the now defunct Web Storage System. It’s clear that for collaboration all things point towards SharePoint and related real-time products and that the primary client is Office, especially Outlook. I can see no long term future for Groove myself.
However these platforms move slowly, as they both seem to draw considerable innovation from the client products, and have to bring with them a huge installed base. While Microsoft and IBM plod along a myriad of web based products are disrupting their old established platforms, at the same time as Ajax, Flash, .NET, and Java continue to reduce the value proposition of the thick client. Having seen Office 12 and SharePoint in some detail a few months ago I have to admit that I was impressed, but was I impressed enough to spend some hundreds of pounds upgrading, we will have to wait and see.
My gut feel is that in the future enterprise wide upgrades will be difficult to justify simply because the Office 12 value proposition is all about business improvement and business improvement across an enterprise is very difficult to achieve. Its much easier to buy a specialist product that solves a real business problem for a small user community, and repeat that many times over. So to compete against these specialist suppliers Microsoft (less so IBM) will need to show that their platform can be delivered incrementally and that it can add real value – rapidly – to specialist business process areas, and then be incrementally extended in its deployment scope and ambitions over time. First indications are that this is the first version of Office I have seem that may be able to achieve it – nimble and strategic, focussed and a platform – not easy to pull off, and only if enterprises continue to buy into the need to upgrade Office in the long term, which is a very difficult sell these days – now that upgrade pricing is no longer available and the Open Source competition is VERY capable.
There is another option, enterprises can get MUCH better at extracting business value from their infrastructure investments, and so people/organisations who can “business improvement across an enterprise is very EASY to achieve” will be in high demand in businesses that continue to invest in the Microsoft platform. This is a key area that Microsoft and it’s partners need to address.