You’ve heard the expression: “What’s old is new again.” Traditionally, this phase has not applied to technology – why would any company, person, or vendor in their right mind go back to an old technology? Having been in the enterprise collaboration technology space for over 10 ten years (both on the vendor and client side), my colleagues and I have noticed that “what’s old is new” is a current trend in the digital workplace and collaboration space, and it is fascinating to explore. Why are today’s tools and features and trends popping up now, and why is this time different – or is it?
We have been here before.
The U.S. has a tradition on February 2nd of each year called Groundhog Day. And while the superstitious tradition is primarily about predicting the weather, the phrase “Groundhog Day” has also become a pop culture reference to the movie by the same name starring Bill Murray where he lives the same day over and over again. While that might be a little extreme in this example, it is still fitting. We have been in this digital collaboration place before.
Today, vendors like Microsoft, Facebook, Slack, Cisco, and many other smaller point-solutions are trying to create the one place to go to get your job done. They are trying to solve for every use case and develop features or integrations to address all of these uses – and many of them are not new. Technology product managers and marketers promise that their collaboration tools will solve both information sharing culture challenges like never before. However, now defunct vendors like Jive, NewsGator, and Socialcast were building and marketing the same thing over 10 years ago. These tools had very robust solutions that tapped into other enterprise platforms with extensive analytics, badging, Q&A, mobile access, and document collaboration features. Trailblazing companies understood and adopted these tools, then more companies followed. But then these software vendors got acquired – or met their end of life date – and their tools became not-so-cool (Jive migrations are still popular in our business). Companies then had to hop onto another tech vendor bandwagon, hoping for a similar experience.
And now “what’s old is new.”
The chatter about amazing collaboration tools from the technology vendors is suddenly loud. Is this the second wave of enterprise collaboration, a do-over, or just Groundhog Day? I always knew the early solution providers in this space were ahead of their time – there was no sense of urgency to adopt these tools a decade ago. These companies talked about letting your employees work when and where they want, to virtually collaborate with your colleagues to get work done and feel connected to the company. Sound familiar to the marketing of today’s tools?
One lesson these previous solutions can teach to new vendors in this space (we’re talking to you, Microsoft Teams, Workplace from Facebook, Slack, etc.) is: do not become too complicated. As a super user I loved all the features the previous tools provided, and I wanted more. But for non–super users, the features were too much. The solutions were overwhelming, and most people did not know about even a quarter of the features each tool offered – and that was part of their demise. A collaboration tool built for power users won’t be adopted by the masses.
One takeaway these previous solutions can provide to new vendors in this space (we’re talking to you, Microsoft Teams, Workplace from Facebook, Slack, etc.) is: do not become too complicated.
Will they get it right this time?
Our current global pandemic has greatly accelerated the need for companies to get on board with creating a digital workplace, but it has not changed the underlying need – it has just increased the velocity of it. Many companies were forced into adopting or revamping their digital collaboration environment in the past 12 months; some companies were already ready. I hate to think we needed a global pandemic for companies to understand the need to create a truly digital workplace and employee experience and a flexible work environment – but here we are.
And now the second (or is it third?) wave of enterprise collaboration technology vendors is racing at full force to help companies adjust – seemingly building the same features over again as the last wave. Will vendors get it right this time? It is an exciting time if you are a tech geek like me. Even the groundhog’s shadow cannot slow down this force of humanity and technology colliding.
Share your thoughts and predictions about the latest wave of enterprise collaboration, community, and digital workplace tools.