Is the future of work social?

The social business market is estimated to be worth $6.4 billion in four years. Microsoft, IBM and others are interested. What's it all about? We talk to Kasper Hulthin, of Citrix's Podio.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Are you still using e-mail and spreadsheets to manage your work at the office?

You're not alone. (We're a little bit guilty, too.) It's becoming harder to keep this up and stay nimble -- where was that attachment again? -- as businesses find better ways to collaborate.

If social has impacted the consumer world, and IT is experiencing consumerization, then it shouldn't be a surprise that we'll soon find it in the enterprise, too. The social business market is expected to reach $6.4 billion in the next four years, according to Forrester Research, and that's precisely why technology's biggest players -- Microsoft, IBM -- have been making key acquisitions. (Yammer and Kenexa, respectively.)

Online work platform Podio was acquired by Citrix in April of this year, the company's latest news is expansion from iOS to Google Android, thanks to a new app.

I spoke to co-founder Kasper Hulthin about how social business will impact the future of work.

ZDNet: So, social business: where are we at now? What are you trying to do?

KH: We're trying to change how people are getting work done. We've always been focused on that part of it. There's been a lot of talk around social, but for us, the idea was to empower people to build their own apps and manage and organize their work. For us, we want to bring it to the next level. Not just talking about these tools, but getting work done. Of course, it has to be social.

Where is the business? Where is the market? Everybody knows the problem. We want to give people a tool that's so flexible that they can use it instead of spreadsheets and e-mails -- [ridding of] "reply all" and organizing job candidates in a spreadsheet. If you cut out all the bullshit, that's where most companies still are. A normal medium-sized company outside San Francisco and New York, they do run their company on spreadsheets and e-mail.

ZD: Do businesses know there's a problem? 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' -- how do you convince them there's a better way? 

KH: Everybody knows the problem, but not everybody knows there's a solution. Everybody -- us, our competitors -- together is educating the market that there is a solution. Having said that, a lot of people using Podio are building [task-specific] apps and sharing them with others in our app market and it evolves. People might not look for a complete work collaboration platform, but they might be looking for some dedicated app -- a team meeting app, or a projects app or a swimming pool repairing app -- and they can find them.

ZD: And the challenges? How do you get customers to open their wallets to you?

KH: It's not the price. It's transformational, right? All transformation takes time. You need to get everybody on board. Most people who've seen it get it. It's just getting out there. We charge $8 per person per month.

ZD: OK. There are other major players in this market. How do you compare to their products?

KH: Podio's not just talking about work. A lot of companies are only focusing on the social part, and not individuals. You can do the work in the same spot you can talk about it.

ZD: How meaningful is mobility?

KH: I think it's moving in that direction. If I'm a construction worker and need to report on something missing in the construction yard, I can use my Podio app and take a photo and send it back with my phone. We're starting to see all these new use cases.

Mobile has been primarily about consumption, but that's changing. For example, I've been searching for a new office in San Francisco, and I can now walk around the city and take photos of buildings and share them with my team. In that way, you can actually create workflows. Or CRM -- sales people can use it while they're out with their customers. They don't have to go back to their laptop to update anything.

That's an important movement for mobile: create content, not just consume it. Beyond status messages.

ZD: It's early days. Where does social business go from here?

KH: I wish I had a definite answer for you, but I have my opinions. (laughs) McKinsey says that internal collaboration and silo management is changing. You'll start to see interaction changing. The only reason college students have e-mail addresses now is to sign up for Facebook. People will quit their jobs for tools. This transformation in IT is going to happen and happen fast -- people pick it up, like it and it's part of their company. The role of IT in companies -- what is the role of the CIO? Does he build software or something else?

Another big trend is that you'll start seeing collaboration elements merging. It's interesting to work with Citrix because they have really cool products that work in real time, and we have our asynchronous platform. You can imagine combining that into one tool and platform -- that's an exciting thing for me.

If you look at file-sharing, for five years you needed a Ph.D to set up an FTP server. Now you just sign up for a share box in five minutes. That's what we want to do for workflows and processes. It's the next step, and it will be interesting to see how it goes off.

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