The concept of enterprise collaboration tools is nothing new. After all, Lotus Notes, a pioneer in this technology, dates back 25 years. And computing visionary Douglas Engelbart famously showed off early collaborative software in his 1968 "Mother of All Demos." Yet in the past few years a host of new collaboration products has hit the market, and they differ from their predecessors in ways both big and small.
Yes, the new tools, like the old, promote collaboration and idea-sharing in the workplace. But the new crop is, generally speaking, Web- or cloud-based instead of living on a server inside the firewall. They are also, mostly, much easier to use and set up than the older generations. There are also some new kinds of collaboration built around tools such as task management, chat, social networking and even document sharing.
"A common thread among these really highly disruptive vendors is they're always born in the cloud," says Rob Koplowitz, a Forrester Research analyst. "They're not retrofitting something to the cloud. They are very easy to access and start using, even on an individual basis and certainly by a small team."
In contrast, Notes, for instance, was a big piece of software tied to a specific version of Windows. That meant users got updates only when they got a new OS. "You sat around with 4-year-old software you hated," says Alan Lepofsky, who spent over a decade working on Notes at IBM and is now a Constellation Research analyst.
Plus, a Web-based offering is easily accessible by mobile devices, without requiring users to download an app. That makes the products useful in today's work environment, where people want to work wherever, whenever and with any device.