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Are Smart Enterprise Suites Smart?

We don't often use acronyms from other analyst firms, but in this case we would like to look at a class of tools Gartner has dubbed (SES) Smart Enterprise Suites, and how they are evolving into the collaboration space.

The criteria Gartner defines for an SES are summarized below:

  • Collaboration/community: Messaging, alerting, RT app sharing, presence and threaded discussions, build and maintain on line communities
  • Retrieval: Index and search suite information or external. Also categorization, taxonomy generation and access to multiple data types.
  • Process Management: Process mgt. for the ad-hoc, and dynamic activities of knowledge workers
  • Business Intelligence: Analytics to monitor and provide feedback on processes and collaboration
  • MCA: Connectivity to a range of desktop and mobile devices for both content management and collaboration
  • Portal: Consistent user interface for B2E users or the value network. Accomplished through installation and no custom configuration.
  • Expert Location: Dynamically profile users and facilitate access to their tacit knowledge

Vendors that fall into the SES category include:

  • Hummingbird
  • Hyperwave
  • OpenText
  • KM Technologies
  • Advantsys
  • FileNet
  • Plumtree
  • Vingette/Intraspect
  • Sitescape
  • PeopleSoft
  • Microsoft
  • IBM/Lotus

None of the vendors listed above offer strong functionality in all of the categories of an SES, but many, like Microsoft and IBM though a suite of products manage to cover the waterfront. Most of the vendors (except Hummingbird and FileNet) have some collaborative capabilities, and we hear that FileNet is in the process of creating their own collaborative functions (due out later this year). Other vendors like SiteScape have a focus on collaboration.

Gartner has stated that these SESs will replace both portals and team collaboration workspaces in the enterprise by next year (2005). We at CS take issue with this prediction and here is why:

  • Many of these "suites" are not really suites but separate products hooked together by middleware. For example: IBM's WebSphere as middleware to hook together Lotus Notes, Domino.doc, Discovery Server, etc. Other tools like SiteScape have well integrated functionality in one application. There are two arguments in play: the “best of breed” argument, and the integration argument. Some IT organizations prefer the first, others the second.
  • Many organizations today are focused on ROI, but collaboration often has a very soft ROI and is a tough sell.
  • We believe that much of the work done in the enterprise today is done as projects, and none of these SES's adequately address project functionality very well.
  • Although some of these SESs do support workflow capabilities, we believe that a stronger process focus is necessary for such suites to get more traction in the enterprise.
  • Only a few of these vendors have added real-time collaboration functionality to their suite, and IM and web conferencing are hot and growing at twice the rate that audio and video conferencing.
  • We see a trend where much of the collaborative functionality is being pushed down into the infrastructure. Collaboration vendors are starting to partner with infrastructure vendors to get enterprise adoption. Examples of recent acquisitions to leverage this fact include: Latitude being bought by Cisco, e-Room bought by EMC, etc.
  • Everything always takes more time than analysts expect.
Is The SES Market Real?

We don't see collaborative team spaces going away by next year. We do see continued “convergence” in the collaborative space, and the SES are just another new spin on an old problem. Gartner is accurate in that the vendors are responsible for putting these suites together because the customers will not do it. Today, just like in the '90s with ERP, the enterprise has a lot of “point solutions” solutions with specific functionality. No CIO is going to say “gee, I need to knit all of these point solutions together!” So, it is up to the vendors in this space to have the vision. Another example of this consolidation of point solutions is the workflow space. There you had: BPA, BRE, BAM and BPM (includes EAI connectivity) all as specific point solutions. Some of the vendors in this space are starting to will wrestle the point solution vendors into a suite and according to Gartner, will eventually take over the workflow market because they provide a more complete and integrated solution.

However, we take issue with the same process occurring in the SES space. We do see portals becoming the front-end to other applications. But in our view, why would you buy an SES if you were a CIO? Some of the advantages an SES can provide are:

  • Common interface and common access point
  • Lower maintenance, less vendors
  • Higher compatibility, easy transfer of data between applications
Our Advice to End-Users on SES

The SES market today is very similar to the ERP market of the late ‘90s. There was ERP consolidation and consolidation amongst e-commerce supply chain management and EDI vendors, and today we now have business rule engines driving transactions. But beware the “steroids” approach to software. Bulking up is not always better!

Are SES's really attainable? Look at Vingette, which has required Intraspect and Epicentric over the last year. We believe that as these companies begin to bulk up, and the complexity of the system increases, the overall value of each group of functions declines, and in the short term the productivity gains from such a suite may also decline.

For example, everyone thought it was great to implement SAP...until they tried it. Any SAP implementation I talked to a CIO about always took longer and cost more than they ever expected. So beware of “steroid” software, it may not be in your enterprise's best health to adopt it.

Our Advice to Vendors on SES

If you are a collaborative vendor, and SES are really a trend, then start looking for partners. Try to make your product the best Collaboration Community component in the SES framework. Focus on the convergence in the collaboration space, infrastructure, support for small and large teams, and synchronous – asynchronous integration.

A good example of this is the recent offering form Intranets.com, where an essentially asynchronous collaboration vendor has integrated real-time collaboration and web conferencing capabilities. With their office productivity tools you can edit files in a web folder (a networked place where folders appear on the desktop) that can be locked. The other advantage to Intranets.com is its simplicity. It has been our observation that the adoption of collaborative technologies is inversely proportional to the amount of overt end-user action required. In other words, the lower the overhead, the greater the penetration. Another great example of simplicity and low overhead is Glance, which although it is low cost can boast high (and rapid) rates of adoption. In contrast there is Groove, which requires end users to upload files into Groove, and probably is one of the factors inhibiting adoption.

Make sure if you're a collaboration vendor now, and ASP only, that you have a premise-based solution. Make sure that you have some functionality in the process space, portal space, KM space. Have your collaborative house in order if you want to be acquired or merged, as the SES trend (if it is real) may be an opportunity!

David Coleman is the Founder and Managing Director of Collaborative Strategies. This column is his ideas and comments and do not necessarily represent the views of all of the analysts at Collaborative Strategies.

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