Jive Software is releasing version 2.0 of its Clearspace collaboration software today along with the announcement that is has acquired Jotlet, a calendaring service.
While others don't see a lot of innovation in this version of Clearspace, that belies understanding what is regarded as innovative by the enterprise which to date has seen little choice in software that allows people to readily collaborate beyond project management tools. In that context I'd argue quite the opposite as Clearspace is starting to look more like the Facebook for the enterprise I envisaged last year.
Sam Lawrence, Jives' CMO, has talked about the broad swathe of new features. I want to focus on usability and value.
I first saw Clearspace 2.0 several weeks ago and what struck me is how easy it is for people to set up workspaces that reflect the things that are of interest to them. A big part of that comes from the ability to drag and drop any number of pre-built widgets onto the Clearspace palette and then personalize those to suit individual needs. The video at the top of this article shows how that can be done.
That's fine and dandy but I wonder just how easy it will be to implement and achieve high levels of user adoption. On the face of it, the choices offered and the manner in which they're presented should help considerably but it is dependent on the business having a people centric approach to operations. That's not the same as process centric software which is task oriented. Altering the focus of how people work is much harder than simply putting software in front of them. It requires a different way of managing the business that relaxes the command and control structures and hierarchies that dominate business organization. At the user end, the thought that anyone can follow others' activity is scary for many people and I wonder whether people will be less or more inhibited by the introduction of such tools unless there are appropriate permission controls.
In conversation with Sam last Friday, he agreed that getting enterprise understanding of the value these collaborative suites offer is at an early stage which in turn lengthens the sales cycle. However, Jive has introduced features that should help, especially those that are heavily invested in Microsoft technology.
The ability to peel off a document for collaboration in the cloud and then pull it back into Clearspace looks similar to the way Google Docs works. This is a huge advantage for those who would otherwise be faced with dredging through 'track changes' in Word. Even so, I can't help but wonder how long this advantage will last if Microsoft pushes Word out to the Internet.
The Jotlet acquisition allows Jive to provide seamless integration to Outlook so again, Jive is taking a step towards integrating to the real world rather than fighting it. Whether people will move from managing their lives in Outlook to Clearspace is another matter. I'd like to think so because the benefits of seeing everything that matters to the individual in one place far outweighs the limited view that Outlook offers.
While on the topic of Microsoft, Sharepoint integration was an obvious move that has value for those businesses that have significant Sharepoint assets and an active base of users. This would allow Clearspace to become the UI for document management systems while promoting the people centric view Clearspace espouses.
I'm currently using Jive on a project so have some affinity for the product. I like that I have what amounts to a clean looking dashboard where I can see everything I need. However, the text editor which is based on TinyMCE has odd formatting glitches and can be annnoying. Jive says it will have a Flash editor later in the year that will be much better for users.
As we see 'service' supplant the provision of goods as the business differentiator that matters, collaboration software becomes increasingly important for activities like product development, information discovery and problem resolution. Introducing a product that not only offers collaboration but also takes elements of the 'social' and then presents it as a choerent whole should be attractive.
Elsewhere, IBM is readying Lotus Connections for release in the June to Augiest timeframe. While not quite the same as Clearspace, it shares many of the same features. As such, IBM acts as validation that this segment is here to stay but it also sets up an interesting competitive landscape. What we now need to see is the melding of collborative tools of this kind with process and workflow. While SAP's Duet represented an early iteration in this market, Clearspace could provide the impetus needed to take integration to another level.