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The Connected Web

Phil Wainewright

Is Collaboration About Content, Process or Goals?

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With its acquisition announced last week of enterprise social networking vendor CubeTree, Successfactors provides a new answer to the question I posed here a couple of months back: Can Enterprise 2.0 Apps Stand Alone?. At the time, I wrote there was an "unresolved question whether collaboration gets subsumed into content management or process management." Successfactors has shown that there's another option, which is to fuse collaboration with goal management (its own term is 'business execution'). Its application provides an overview of content and process, embedded in the context of how both of them measure up to desired business outcomes. It's still a given that Enterprise 2.0 apps won't end up standing alone. But putting them together with goal management tools could give them a more pivotal role than if they just get sucked into generic collaboration or business software suites.

As the company's CMO Paul Albright puts it, "We're presenting everyone in the company with the data they need to get their job done." (Its earlier acquisition of Inform brought useful extra data analysis capabilities). Since projects are usually tackled by people working in teams rather than individuals operating in isolation, that data needs to be presented in a team context. One customer calls it "dynamic team execution," he told me last week. He quoted another as saying, "We want our employees to collaborate to go solve big problems." That emphasis on managing teams and sharing pertinent data is something that gives Successfactors an edge over content-focused collaboration suites such as Microsoft Sharepoint, he asserted. "Sharepoint will not help you form or manage teams. It won't identify the data that's necessary to complete the project."

The other element that gives an application like Successfactors an edge here is that it revolves around people, who are core to collaboration, whereas documents, processes and data are ancillary components. If you're forming a team, you start with the people. The content and data they access is determined by who they are. The part they play in any process is determined or influenced by the role within the organization. Therefore identity is central to collaboration and any application that is inherently bound up with the individual's place in the organization already embodies the core attributes around which collaboration is going to be structured. This tells us this acquisition is unlikely to be the last example of its kind. Expect to see other people management applications acquiring social networking and collaboration capabilities in the future.

1 Comment

I think the answer to your question is - all three. Enterprise collaboration must incorporate content, process, and goals.

Unfortunately, traditional enterprise applications have best served "process-oriented" work - work that can be disaggregated into well-defined tasks.

As I wrote in a blog post a while back, titled
"Process Work v. Knowledge Work – The Emergence of Performance Management" - http://bit.ly/bfprGS, I think the enterprise application software industry has done a terrible job creating applications for the Front Office and other employees whose work is mostly ad hoc and requires human - human interaction v human to machine interaction.

I made an investment in CubeTree because I believe that enterprise software must adapt so that the majority of business users can actually derive benefit from business transactional systems.

CubeTree is a step in the right direction in that it links people to people to systems. As a result, I believe that SuccessFactors - with its broad corporate footprint - has an opportunity to be a leader the application software industry with respect to this transformation.

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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