Who better to talk to about Microsoft's acquisition of Groove Networks, announced last week, than Peter O'Kelly, senior analyst with Burton Group's application platform strategies service? After all, O'Kelly spent 10 years at Lotus, where the collaboration category was practically invented, and he spent nearly two years at Groove (in the late 1990s) before becoming a consultant on collaboration strategies.
(If you missed the news, check out "Microsoft To Acquire Groove, Name Ozzie Microsoft CTO" at: http://www.internetweek.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=159400999 )
Here's the analysis from someone who has rubbed elbows with Ozzie and helped corporations make sense of collaboration.
Doug Henschen (DH): With collaboration becoming so much a part of larger platforms, did Groove Networks have good or even fair growth prospects on its own?
Peter O'Kelly (PO): Groove still had a viable path as an autonomous company because it was doing things that others didn't do. It isn't just Groove's peer-to-peer approach that's unique; there are many subtle things that the technology can do. For example, the default setting for security is always on maximum and you don't need an administrator to set up security for you. Compare that to what you need to do to set up a federated trust model with IBM, Oracle, Microsoft or anyone else's technology. There just aren't other products out there where you can get such stringent security in self-service mode. That helps a customer such as the State Department maintain top-down control, yet you don't introduce obstacles to serendipitous collaboration and individuals are still empowered to do things on their own.
DH: Microsoft SharePoint's black eye seems to be the "sprouting up like weeds" viral growth of collaborative sites. Does the addition of Groove's technology do anything to address this problem, or could it potentially make it worse?
PO: Growth of sites is a good problem to have because that means users are getting good utility. We had the same problem with Notes implementations, where people would go off and start doing things on their own, but I think Microsoft has done a good job of setting up administrative policies and rules so you can identify and delete dormant work spaces.
I'd say SharePoint's biggest black eye is that it currently lacks a way to work offline. Unlike Outlook, which has an auto-sync feature that works with Exchange, there's nothing analogous in SharePoint. Groove nails that.
DH: Groove was one of the few independent collaboration vendors remaining with unique technology. Is this further confirmation that collaboration is commoditized?
PO: There's going to be an incredibly relentless war of attrition. Microsoft just beefed up its real-time collaboration capabilities last week, announcing Communicator, and I have to say it's very strong. IBM had a very successful Lotusphere event recently, and there's a lot of excitement building around [IBM] Workplace. You also have to consider Oracle and its Collaboration Suite. Collaboration needs to be integrated with systems of record, and application vendors such as Salesforce.com, Siebel and SAP are all working with the platform-aligned collaboration tools. That's very compelling for end users.
I'm not saying there's going to be an oligopoly next year or even five years from now. The independents are moving upstream into application frameworks. They're not selling collaboration any more; they're selling employee certification and training, new product launch and IT rollout applications. Some of the independents have large installed bases and they're doing just fine. Even if a capability has been commoditized that does not mean it's devoid of value. The cost of that functionality may be low when it's added as a platform service, but users are still getting tremendous value from collaboration.
Doug Henschen, Editor, Managing Content
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