Well, hey there folks! We’re a month and a half into the year 2014 and while it’s entirely debatable when we’ll be getting those flying cars and hover boards, we can say that it’s shaping up to be a pretty planet-shattering year in the world of technology.
I’m not going to sit here and make predictions about what to expect in 2014. Rather, I thought we’d try to draw some logical conclusions about where things may go. These logical conclusions are based on what happened in 2013, what didn’t happen in 2013 and a large part in my raw, unfiltered emotion about how things run today. Okay, that does sound like I’m going to make predictions. I promise you though, I’m not.
I just want to think about where we are and maybe we can figure it all out together.
Collaboration is still a really big, interesting word. It means something different to everyone. That hasn’t changed a bit. The items presented here for discussion may or may not mean something to you as a result.
Let’s start with the thoughts in no particular order. Note that because we’re all pretty familiar with how collaboration works in SharePoint and Office 365, we’re going to look mainly at the alternative solutions.
No Office for Mac Update… Today
Microsoft performed a significant update to the entire Office suite on the server and client side - as long as you’re on Windows. The story on the Mac side hasn’t changed. They’ve offered a few client patches and whatnot to fix some of the outstanding hiccups between Office for Mac 2011 but that’s about it. Better yet, Microsoft has not announced any new versions of Office for Mac.
Regardless, I don’t believe Microsoft is leaving Mac users in the dust. There’s a few clues about that if you look hard enough. There’s been a release of Office for Mobile on iOS and Android. Granted, it’s only available if you have the proper licensing. The feature set for Office for Mobile is pretty limited as well. It does mean, however, there is a team working on software outside of the Windows ecosystem. Many years ago I was told that Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit was responsible for the iOS software.
Mac and iOS share has been growing. The iOS share has been growing like gangbusters. The Mac side has been much slower, but there are many competing Office solutions on OS X and it seems like they grow more every day. Apple and Google continue to apply pressure on these points almost daily (more on these in a bit).
There’s also this clue floating around on Reddit. If you dig a little deep into the thread you’ll see that they’ve “done a lot of engineering work recently to share code across platforms.” You’ll also find a screenshot with the OneNote team where they aren’t officially announcing anything.
Yeah, okay 🙂 Keep watching.
iWork Continues the Assault
After the big iWork update of 09, Apple seemed to leave this product out to die. By now most tech folks are starting to notice this pattern from the fruit folks. If a product goes for an extended period of time without an update you can expect that they will give it the “Ol’ Yeller Upgrade” (Official Summit 7 term).
Apple’s not afraid to throw out an entire code base and start over. They’ve done this before with Final Cut Pro X, Logic Studio and other products… sometimes much to the dismay of regular users. They did this very thing with the iWork suite late in 2013. Apple saw the need to merge the code base and features of iWork across the OS X, iOS and web platforms to make it much easier to collaborate on documents.
I’ve used this quite a bit recently and I can say that the work Apple did here is quite good. The unified code base and features mean you can place elements in Keynote presentations or Pages documents that work across all of Apple’s supported platforms - even in the web browser on Windows. This fosters real-time collaboration across the web service and multiple authors can work on the same document. I’ve tested this type of collaboration quite a bit - using the Pages or Numbers software on OS X while another author works with it in the web browser at iCloud.com works pretty well.
It is a little clunky in some areas. The authors that are collaborating on the document cannot work with it in their own version of the iWork software. They have to use the web browser. The collaborative editing works in “ticks” or cycles, you cannot see the changes updating in real time.
When this feature was first introduced there was no real secure method for sharing the documents over iCloud. A link is created when you share the document and whoever had knowledge of the link would have access to your document. That didn’t last long. Apple quickly updated it so documents can be locked with a password.
All in all, iWork’s new collaboration features are pretty basic but solid. If you need quick, small team collaboration over a document this is a viable alternative for users of just about every platform. If you add SharePoint to the mix it breaks down though… as SharePoint does not support the iWork document formats. I suspect it never will, because iWork documents are bundles and not single files on disk. Bundles are a collection of files in a directory that are special to the Apple ecosystem. OS X and iOS can recognize a directory labeled as a bundle as a certain type of file. This offers a lot of benefit to users in the Apple ecosystem… but a lot of difficulty for using Apple-specific software in a shared ecosystem or document collaboration environment.
This just proves my earlier point. The iWork collaboration solution will work for you as long as you know the requirements.
Google Continues to Drive
One could argue that the big news in Google Drive is that there is no big news. Google hasn’t made any huge changes to the Google Drive product. The storage allotment per user continues to grow (now it’s up to 15GB), but if you’re looking for feature-rich collaboration that may not matter to you. The search behemoth continues to push the path forward on web collaboration. As long as you do not have a need for a rich Office client on a desktop to make your collaboration happen, it continues to be a viable alternative to Office 365 or an on-premises solution.
The Big Story
I think the biggest story in the world of collaboration today is how smaller startups are disrupting the concept of electronic document management and collaboration. Not only do you have smaller companies breaking off pieces of the collaboration pie, you have consolidation.
For instance, there are companies out there that treat the word “collaboration” as something that is based on tasks and workflows within a team. You can look at startups like Asana (www.asana.com) or Redbooth (www.redbooth.com). If “collaboration” means document collaboration, workflows, tasks and other bits of functionality, you can continue to look at SharePoint, Office 365 or an alternative solution like Igloo (www.igloosoftware.com).
Collaborate (www.collaborate.com) is an example of consolidation in this space. Collaborate was purchased by Cisco and is no longer accepting registrations for new accounts. This is a small example of market consolidation but I suspect it won’t be the last. Smaller companies that come up with collaborative solutions in bite-sized chunks will likely be acquired by the big fish going forward.
The real conclusion I think we can draw here is that there are a ton of collaboration approaches on the market today, but no single one of them stands out as the single end-all, be-all solution. Even better, we’re seeing a disruption in this space. The large enterprise-based behemoths are facing competition from smaller startups that excel at a few things vs. solving every use case. You can think of this as “consumerization” of this market if you like - and we know what happens there. I’ve often maintained that what gets used at home is what will eventually win in the enterprise. You have no further to look at iOS and Android or BYOD to the enterprise to see proof of how that has worked historically.
If you want an edge on the future of collaboration in the enterprise, stay apprised of the alternatives. You should especially keep an eye on the smaller players - you may see them again later, either as part of a larger solution or a replacement.
Regardless of whatever approach works for you, you’ll face the document collaboration conundrum when you grow. Your original approach for collaboration may not scale as well as the business. When that time comes you may have to seek help from folks who can help you sift through that chaos.
One thing is for sure - collaboration software still hasn’t replaced the true office collaboration. Nothing beats face-to-face communication for getting it done.