Office 2.0: The future of work

The Office 2.0 Conference is getting underway this morning in San Francisco, with 600 attendees and more than 70 companies exhibiting their 2.
Written by Dan Farber, Inactive
The Office 2.0 Conference is getting underway this morning in San Francisco, with 600 attendees and more than 70 companies exhibiting their 2.0 wares. You can catch a live Webcast of the event here.

While the conference is labeled "Office 2.0," it is really goes beyond the idea of Web-based office applications. It's really about "Work 2.0," changing the way people work, especially with collaboration technology as a foundation, beyond having a group of people in different locations working from Starbucks and sharing documents.

The conference kicked off with a panel on the future of work. Panelists included Steven Aldrich, vice president of strategy & innovation, Small Business, Intuit; Denis Browne, senior vice President of Imagineering, Business User Organization, SAP Labs; Danny Kolke, CEO of Etelos; Richard McAniff, corporate vice president, Microsoft Office, Microsoft; and Jonathan Rochelle, product manager, Google Docs and Spreadsheets, Google. The moderator was Om Malik of GigaOmniMedia.

Steven Aldrich, Denis Browne, Jonathan Rochelle, Danny Kolke, Om Malik and Richard McAniff

Browne talked about the blending of personal and work lives and the global nature of work. "It's more feasible to be anywhere at anytime to get your job done," he said. "We are looking at it from the perspective of the end user and the massive explosion of data. We are looking at how to tackle signal to noise ratio and get them to work at peak performance individually, in a workgroup context or extended enterprise."

SAP is experimenting with Web 2.0 technologies, such as widgets and social networking. SAP's Harmony experiment combines aspects of social networking with traditional HR applications create a richer application. "We have to permeate it across an entire enterprise, and be integrated into the fabric of what they are doing," Browne said. SAP thinks in "big" software terms, creating applications that are sanctioned by IT and higher cost than the 2.0 applications employees might bring in through the back door to get work done more efficiently.

Google's Rochelle said that collaboration is the key feature of Office 2.0. "There are no more attachments. If you send a traditional attachment at Google, you get berated," he said. "The [impact] of real-time collaboration was surprising," he added. "Consumers weren't asking for it, but when we did found it, they found it to be more fun to work on documents together and it reinforces that they are working on a single version. That is more important in business."

"A focus on replicating what Microsoft or others are doing and putting it in a browser isn't Office 2.0," Kolke said. "That's the wrong vision. The key is innovation and doing it differently, redefining the work experience. The reason I use spreadsheets from Google is not because of advanced features but because I can create easily and share it."

McAniff summarized the generous Microsoft view: "We are trying to have fun, stay challenged and have a big impact. If we follow that forward, we will figure it out...all of us, not just Microsoft or Google but our collective innovations." Of course, Microsoft has not shown all it cards when it comes to an Office 2.0 suite of products that could make life less comfortable for Zimbra, Zoho, ThinkFree, Google and others building hosted applications and platforms.

Rochelle and Aldrich brought up customization, without programming or the need for IT involvement, as another key aspect of Office 2.0 applications. Aldrich echoed that idea, especially in the context of small business that don't have IT resources.

Integration and open APIs also play an important role in enabling an environment with mashing up and creating composite applications is easy. "We are still in new frontier with integration. It's a frustration. This is the bleeding edge. The API for a lot of people is part of the plumbing," Kolke said. Standards are needed to automate the building of apps and data synchronizing, he added.

Browne viewed smarter software that manages your inbox, for example, and takes out a lot of the noise is key to Office 2.0. Microsoft has invested significant lab resources over the last decade to deliver self-configuring applications that can schedule meetings or route phone calls based on analyzing user habits.

McAniff said that social networks will have a major impact in business, but he wasn't willing to share Microsoft's plans in the space. "I'm a technologist, not in marketing," he said.

"Facebook is interesting, with sharing photos and events. Something like that in combination with productivity tools could change way people work. Collaboration is critical for the enterprise and consumers. It's almost a given, but you have to look at how we could have a complete game changer in what the workforce is doing, just as email changed the way people worked or search," McAniff said. "That's the way to think about 0ffice 2.0 going forward. We believe it is an extremely fertile ground and clearly area with tremendous opportunity and ability."

I later asked McAniff how he defined a "game changer." "If you can you radically reduce cost, improve productivity and top line revenue, it's a game changer." He cited spreadsheets, search and eBay as examples. "Social networking is not a game changer by itself, unless the network effect happens with the people involved." Having higher bandwidth information via social networking about people in meeting can help drive decisions down an organization, enable more timely decisions and find the right experts, he said.

McAniff cited Excel Web Services as a game changer. "It satisfies end user and IT requirements. A mere mortal can publish a spreadsheet and it can go through a workflow process."

All the panelists agreed that consumers are driving much of the innovations that will end up deployed in enterprises. "In a lot of cases the market wants it before we are ready to deliver it," Kolke said. "We can't keep up with the demand. The market is ready and hungry for new ways to do stuff, which is driving innovation at a record pace."

The panel was missing clear statements from the panelists about how they are specifically evolving their Web/Office/Work 2.0 products to be more enterprise friendly. For Office 2.0 to be useful in a corporate context, security, compliance, data management and other elements need be woven into the fabric. Then the Office 2.0 concept could graduate to Enterprise 2.0.

More Office 2.0 coverage

Webware: The flow of work : Rafe Needleman checks out Central Desktop, Sosius, Huddle, and ShareMethods, hosted services aiming to take on Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration server from the bottom up.

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