The Connected Web

Phil Wainewright

Leveling the Playing Field with Web Collaboration

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Listen to my interview with Isaac Garcia, CEO of Central Desktop, a SaaS provider of social technology for business collaboration.

In this podcast, discover how small and mid-sized businesses are using web-hosted collaboration and learn why this technology is helping them compete on a global scale with larger companies.

Listen to or download the 8:06 minute podcast below:

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PW: Isaac, collaboration means a lot of different things to different people. So with Central Desktop, what are the main ways that your customers are using your service in their businesses?

IG: Well, beyond the practical ways that people are using most collaboration tools and platforms — and what I mean by the practical functions are managing projects, creating client intranets, extranets, etcetera — we're finding a lot of our customers are actually using it in a very people-centric way. They're connecting their offices that are perhaps in different disparate locations. They're collaborating with manufacturers that might be in another part of the world, another time zone. They're managing multiple franchises that are part of their franchise group that they're a group of. They're incubating innovative ideas within their own company — so they're using it to source other ideas and incubate these concepts within Central Desktop.

So it's a very broad appeal but we're finding a lot of — I think the limitation is really based on the user and how they're using Central Desktop.

Right. I can hear a couple of themes there emerging, that it's people collaborating perhaps across different locations, or collaborating with people outside of the organization on projects quite often.

Yeah, we've — it seems that the concept of collaboration has really evolved over time and become muddied — I think it's one of the questions why you're asking — and I think the emphasis has shifted substantially, from the tools of collaborating through files and very objective tasks and elements like that, into more social functions. I don't mean social in a social networking way, but as a social technology way, that it's all about the people rather than individually about the tools. And that's different. I think that is a different approach to how people are looking at collaboration.

Yes, and I know you were recently at the Enterprise 2.0 show in Boston. Have things like Web 2.0 and social media made a big impact on business collaboration?

Absolutely. I think in the past, I don't know if I want to put a specific date onto it, but around 2003/2004, there definitely was an emerging shift in how people were collaborating. Prior to that period, it was very top-down driven. It was tools and platforms and sets of information and software that were given from the executive office down.

Right around that time period, with Web 2.0 and social media, [there was] a sudden and oftentimes uncomfortable empowerment to the people, the users, to the employees, to the folks that are actually using the tools. And they're able to connect in very informal ways and in very new ways and faster ways that they weren't able to connect [before].

SaaS wasn't as big of a player back in those days, so the ability to access information and collaborate was oftentimes restricted to the office. With the advent and growth of SaaS, you're able to collaborate and connect with other people from any location, just through your web browser. And I think that has accelerated how people collaborate and work on ideas much, much faster, and is a direct result of Web 2.0 and social media.

Well yes, and of course, you've mentioned SaaS — software as a service — because Central Desktop delivers its services in that way over the web. And I guess that's a big factor for a lot of your customers, because I think it's mainly middle size businesses with 100 to 1,000 employees, you told me. And building out an infrastructure for themselves for that kind of remote communication is often prohibitively expensive, isn't it?

Absolutely. I mean the infrastructure required to connect a couple of hundred users that might all be at disparate locations can be daunting. Just the simple task of saying, 'Well, we need to connect everyone with an email address and they're in 200 different locations because they're remote workers' — not that we provide email — but that simple logistic is often solved with, 'We'll bring on an Exchange server onsite and let's go and resolve it that way.'

SaaS brings a completely different method. There's no hardware to buy, there's no software to download, and it's a very iterative, pay-as-you-go concept. And for large companies, or even small and mid-size companies, the idea of paying-as-you-go — and bringing an infrastructure that they can lean on the vendor to carry the load — provides the customer or the company using the tools with a very, very fast time-to-value, very low total cost of ownership and high ROI [return on investment]. These are things that the businesses today, particularly in a down economy as we're in right now, are driving their decisions more than anything. And SaaS as a delivery model, I think, for the near term as well as the long term I think, will be the preferred delivery model as we move forward.

What about integration with other applications? You mentioned email there. How important is that ability?

No, it's very important. With Central Desktop, for example, we do connect with other applications such as Salesforce —, obviously, being a very business-centric application. We're very — Central Desktop is very business in its approach to the market, not so much a consumer play. So the applications that we're connecting with are more around help centers, helpdesks, bug tracking services, CRM tools, etcetera, other web conferencing services, conference call services, etcetera — all of the different elements on how people can, I guess, collaborate and connect faster, and easier, and better.

Without the ability to connect to other applications, I think collaboration services tend to be very restricting and frankly, they become relegated as features rather than products or platforms. And these days, as a service provider, we're interested in being a company and a product, not so much a feature.

Would you say that the ability to do this web-based collaboration and be much more location-independent as it were, is that making a big difference to what smaller businesses can achieve these days?

Absolutely. An example that I like to give is — one of customers is named Equipoise, and they're a small manufacturing outfit of robotic arms and weightless arms for manufacturing. And they were recently, actually, on a panel about using new technology — I don't think the panel was even calling it Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0 kind of stuff, it was just new technology. And here we have a very small business that has an engineering group on the east coast of the United States, and the management group and the sales and marketing group is on the west coast. And they're using Central Desktop as a SaaS platform to innovate ideas, to collaborate, to work as their company intranet, etcetera. These guys were on a panel with very large companies — General Mills, AT&T, Proctor & Gamble.

In many ways, our product, Central Desktop — and SaaS-type collaboration platforms like Central Desktop — level the playing ground for even small businesses to rise up and compete with large companies, and I think that's a very new concept.

Of course, small companies have always been able to work faster and be more agile, but the tools that they've had have always been a prohibitive factor in their ability to grow and collaborate — and have the infrastructure to collaborate [on] the same scale as perhaps an AT&T would. And I think a company like Equipoise, as a small business, is able to innovate and accelerate their business much faster — and compete on a global scale — with very large companies. And as a small business, I find that very exciting and I think very new territory.

Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

Phil Wainewright

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