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Communication/ Collaboration/ Content Management Trends

My previous post focused on some historical challenges, highlighting several causes of communication/collaboration complexity and chaos. With this and my next couple posts, I’ll explain market trends that are helping to usher in a new, simpler, and more effective framework that includes channels for communication, workspaces for collaboration, and more contextual communication/collaboration.

The first trend, depicted in the diagram below, is increasing convergence among tools used for communication, collaboration, and content management.

In the past, it was routine for organizations to have specialized tools and support teams for different communication, collaboration, and content management needs.  It also wasn’t unusual for the people focused on the different specialized areas to not spend much time communicating and collaborating with one another.  This was exceptionally counterproductive, as work activities often cycle through many communication/collaboration/content phases.

If we receive a communication update (via email, RSS, or some other type of communication channel) about a competitive acquisition, for example, it’d be natural to gather the people responsible for determining a response in a workspace, brainstorm (collaborate) on next steps, and publish (communicate) the results via assorted communication channels.  As part of the collaborative work, we’re also likely to produce content designed to help sales people and others articulate the response. 

If participants are required to switch among different tools for different facets of the communication/collaboration/content work, they’re more likely to disregard or misuse one or more of the tools, reverting to the tools they’re most comfortable with even if those tools aren’t ideal for the tasks at hand.  If instead the tools are well integrated, facilitating in-context interaction, participants are more likely to be productive and responsive.

A second key trend is a shift to database management system (DBMS) foundations.  In the past, products focused on facets of communication/collaboration/content management have generally relied on proprietary storage engines.  This was done in part because DBMSs were traditionally focused on highly structured data and simple data types, an approach that was effective for data processing but not as useful for semi-structured or unstructured information management.

DBMSs are now much more useful for communication/collaboration/content domains, however, as recent releases of leading DBMSs offer strong support for document-structured information using XML, XML Schema, and XQuery.  XQuery, now a W3C Candidate Recommendation, is especially powerful, representing a data manipulation language that accommodates more of the richness of the XML data model than earlier approaches focused on supporting a subset of XML data manipulation operations using SQL.

Several vendors are now exploiting DBMSs for communication/collaboration/content-focused products.  IBM’s Workplace, for example, builds on IBM’s Cloudscape and DB2 DBMSs for client and server storage needs.  Similarly, Microsoft has moved to a DBMS (SQL Server) foundation for many of its communication/collaboration products, including Windows SharePoint Services, SharePoint Portal Server, and (some of the data managed by) Live Communications Server.

Oracle, unsurprisingly, has gone much further with Oracle Collaboration Suite, using its Oracle Database for nearly all facets of its communication/collaboration/content management storage needs.  Oracle’s broader DBMS foundation is a leading indicator of what’s likely to follow from IBM, Microsoft, and other vendors, and it can be a key criterion for organizations that face stringent regulatory compliance requirements.

While these trends are producing new opportunities for organizations, they also have profound implications for vendors focused on communication/collaboration/content product categories.  My next couple posts will address some related issues including the emergence of superplatform competitors and the advent of low- and no-cost alternatives such as blogs and wikis.

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