The SMB collaboration market is in something of a conundrum. Multiple players
are targeting this segment, but with vastly different solutions. These solutions
differ not just at the features/functionality level, but at the conceptual level.
This is undoubtedly an era of change. A number of fundamental interacting forces
are at play which have ensured everything is in gray. They are as follows:
- The emergence of the SaaS model, and the benefits it brings -- no hardware/software
maintenance hassle, universal access, mobile access, end user rather than
- The comeuppance of "social technologies" which empower end users
to meet, connect, communicate, comment, tag, vote, or collaborate through
the Internet and form communities. This leads to phenomena like "crowdsourcing"
which enables companies to tap on the "wisdom of the crowd."
- Organizational structure and management theory are undergoing evolution
due to widely available benefits of the Internet and Internet technologies.
Those who have studied management will remember cutting edge theories like
"the virtual organization" or the "boundaryless" organization
which are possible because of current technology. The trend is undoubtedly
towards democratic systems and emergent (bottom up) rather than imposed (top
I will try to conceptualize the different solutions as a continuum (although
they may not fit perfectly in this conceptual framework), and discuss solutions
from one end to the other.
On one end of the spectrum are "freeform" solutions, which will have
nothing to do with organizational structure at all. The assumption is, groups
of people just need to get together for a task, finish the task, and move their
respective ways. The emphasis is on highly intuitive, powerful, and simple tools,
which all group members can access from anywhere to get work done.
One exponent of this approach is Adobe's Acrobat.com. Acrobat.com is a highly
visually appealing online solution that allows users to share and collaborate
on documents and PDF files. It contains tools for purely web based collaboration
on documents (Buzzword), presentations and spreadsheets as well as a tool for
online meetings (ConnectNow).