With 2016 just around the corner, it’s a good time to assess the major trends that are influencing the market for social collaboration technologies. This remains an area that is seen as a major growth opportunity for many vendors, but as the market starts to mature and evolve, suppliers need to stay on their toes to ensure they maintain their relevance. I’m just wrapping up my vendor landscape report for this space, which will map out the different types of vendors and offerings available and will be published later this week, but to whet your appetite, here are my top 5 vendor trends for social collaboration for 2016.
Increased Use Case Focus in Marketing and Product Strategy
The social collaboration space has been an area of considerable innovation and rapid evolution in the last few years, and we expect this momentum to continue with solutions becoming increasingly feature-rich and sophisticated, either through in-house development or through acquisition of (or integration with) third-party technologies. However, this will be less about building a huge, all-purpose collaboration platform, and more about tailoring the solution to better address specific use cases – either to reinforce those where the vendor already has traction, or to extend into new opportunity areas.
This increased use case focus will also lead to a greater investment in packaged solutions, accelerating the sales cycle as well as the time-to-value for customers, particularly those at the smaller business end of the market. This approach, which drives vendors to focus more directly on the business problems they are seeking to address (rather than simply the features they can add to their offering), should also help encourage a more hands-on involvement by vendors in the adoption process as they seek to better understand the challenges faced by customers (see Customer success and adoption support, below).
The use cases we anticipate will be most interesting to vendors over the next 12 months are social intranets and HR & talent management opportunities.
Maintaining Momentum with Mobile
The impact and importance of good mobile support has been a common thread in vendor development strategies for some years now, but we expect this to remain high on their lists of priorities going forward. There are still significant differences in the degree to which vendors support mobile working, with many still getting to grips with what people want from their mobile access. As we discussed in our report from earlier this year, What does Mobile Collaboration mean to you?, this is an evolving business requirement which organisations themselves are just getting to grips with, and vendors will continue to adapt and respond as customer demand dictates. It is clear that some vendors are taking the lead in this area, and are seeking to differentiate themselves on their proactive approach to mobile collaboration. Jive Software is a good example here with its new Workstyle Apps, and sees this as an opportunity to better support smaller organisations and drive more grass-roots level adoption of its technologies.
Customer Success and Adoption Support
While vendors in this space are fundamentally selling a software product, over the last few years the most successful have been those that recognise that social collaboration is about more than simply technology; that a successful customer is one that invests significantly in the business change and adoption aspects as well. With many social collaboration vendors’ revenue models dependent on renewable subscriptions, there is a pressing need to ensure that customers have the help required to achieve success in both the short- and medium-term. Whether they enable this through in-house resources or through partnerships with implementation consultancies and systems integrators, this is an area we expect to continue to strengthen over the next twelve months and beyond.
Integration with Everything
We don’t collaborate in a vacuum, we collaborate in the context of our broader daily roles, to get particular jobs done, and therefore it is vital that our social collaboration platforms are an integral part of those processes rather than existing in a separate siloed environment. Integration with the various business systems and technologies that we use in our day-to-day work is very important, and we expect social collaboration vendors to continue to expand the breadth and depth of their integrations, with three particular areas of focus:
- Integration with adjacent collaborative technologies. While social collaboration products often comprise a range of collaborative capabilities, many organisations already have other technologies – such as cloud-based file sharing tools and real-time messaging – in use across their business, and want to be able to take advantage of these as well. These integrations can also help vendors to fill gaps in their portfolio to allow them to support a wider variety of use cases.
- Integration with business applications. Some employees spend the majority of their day in a business application such as CRM, and need the collaboration platform to be tightly integrated to allow them to collaborate in the context of those activities.
- Integration between social collaboration technologies. Where organisations have multiple social collaboration tools in different areas of the business, there is an increasing need to connect these to allow conversations to take place in both environments, and let people use the tool they are most comfortable with. While this is less of a priority for vendors than the previous two areas of integration, we expect to see increased investment in this among social collaboration vendors, driven by customer demand.
Today, this area of the market is approaching a level of maturity and breadth of capability where it is no longer relevant to refer to the technology and space as “social” collaboration. Recognition among organisations that this is a business change exercise focused on encouraging a more open, networked approach to working – both inside the company and with customers and partners – means that the “social” moniker which has helped to distinguish this area from older approaches and technologies (and continues to help differentiate from unified communications definitions of collaboration) is perhaps more of a hindrance than a help to both the vendors trying to market these solutions and the business people trying to drive change within their own organisations.
In practice, it will be some time before the term “social” completely disappears, since it has become well-entrenched in the space, and remains strong in the context of “social media” and “social networks” in the public consumer space. However, vendors are already de-emphasising the term in their marketing and conversations with customers, often in favour of simply “collaboration”, and we expect this trend to become increasingly widespread as we move through 2016.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the key trends in this space – please do leave a comment or get in touch!