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Blogs > MWD Advisors

2012 Outlook: Collaboration
Angela Ashenden By: Angela Ashenden, Principal Analyst, MWD Advisors
Published: 1st December 2011
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
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As we reach the end of 2011, the time comes for us MWD analysts to look ahead and offer our perspectives on what 2012 will bring for our research areas. To briefly reflect on the year that has passed, it has been—as we anticipated—a big year for collaboration, with “social” being one of the biggest buzzwords of the year across a range of different markets, not just collaboration software. Some of the biggest vendors in the space have launched major “social” strategies which extend beyond simple product capabilities to a broader corporate positioning and strategic direction. At the same time, we’ve seen cloud email move closer to the mainstream with the market entry of the on-premise email market share leader, Microsoft.

So, what can we expect from the collaboration market as we head into 2012?

Top 5 trends for Collaboration in 2012

1. Continued prioritisation of collaboration software investment.  Organisations’ recognition of the value of better collaborative working practices continues to be fuelled by the high profile of social technologies, and this area will remain at the top of investment priorities as we enter 2012.

2. Drivers focusing on better efficiency and improved business differentiation.  Organisations will continue to see collaboration as a way to make better use of their limited people resources, through better supporting distributed teams, and leveraging skills and expertise more effectively to drive innovation in increasingly competitive markets.

3. A more centralised approach to collaboration.  While many organisations are still taking tentative steps to understand how to leverage collaboration technologies, through 2012 we will see growing numbers of organisations reaching a degree of maturity that sees them centralising their strategies and exploring ways to leverage tools across the enterprise.

4. Beyond social: a focus on analytics and mobility.  As adoption of social technologies grows, organisations will increasingly demand tools which help them quantify the ROI on their social media and social collaboration investments. These social analytics capabilities will need to not just measure activity, but also guide business decisions in a proactive way. Similarly, mobile applications will need to focus on driving social collaboration, rather than just supporting it.

5. Fast paced development and innovation; continued new entrants. The hype around “social” will continue to draw interest from startups in 2012, as well as from vendors established in other markets. By late 2012, vendor positionings will start to move beyond “social” to better differentiate their solutions.

The outlook for 2012

The state of the nation for Collaboration

There is no doubt that collaboration—and especially social collaboration—is a booming software market, with vendors both large and small notching up significant new customers, and reporting substantial growth in revenue from this market. Despite uncertain global economic prospects, we will continue to see strong investment in collaboration initiatives by businesses over the next twelve months, both in terms of technology implementations as well as more practical, process-oriented initiatives. As economic pressures once again inhibit growth through organisational scaling, organisations will be looking to technology to help maximise their business opportunity. Collaborative technologies which not only support internal efficiencies but also enable improved relationships with customers (whether in a B2C or a B2B context) will be seen as a necessary investment at a time when organisations are looking to prioritise their spending.

To date, much of the growth in the social collaboration software market has come from North America, although we expect Western Europe to present increasing opportunities for vendors as we progress through 2012. Those vendors who are able to offer focused, industry- or function-specific packaged solutions which clearly articulate the benefits for all the different stakeholders involved (employees, line managers, senior executives, customers, partners, etc.) will have more success in the European market.

Key Collaboration adoption characteristics

At times where budgets may be tightened and resources become scarce, organisations see collaboration technologies as a means to maximising opportunities for business differentiation. On the one hand, collaboration technologies enable better knowledge sharing and communication across diminished and globally dispersed teams, creating a platform which supports and encourages innovation and idea generation in an open and engaging way. On the other hand, it can drive valuable organisational efficiencies by reducing travel requirements through better conferencing and communication facilities, supporting remote working to minimise office space requirements, and by minimising duplication of effort through better visibility of activities, for example.

Because many collaboration software offerings are delivered using a software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based model, barriers to adoption are also extremely low, enabling organisations to trial various services for very little up-front cost (and often with no cost at all via a free trial). This is particularly important given the cultural implications of a move to a more collaborative way of working, as it allows organisations to develop and evolve slowly, building up their own picture of what works for them, and how requirements differ across different areas of the organisation.

Key trends in practice

Collaboration has gained increasing recognition among business leaders over the last few years in terms of the potential benefits a collaborative working approach can offer; the reality for many organisations, though, is that they are still at the very early stages of understanding how collaboration software can be used within their organisation. As a result, as we progress through 2012, a large proportion of collaboration initiatives within organisations will continue to be small, project-driven initiatives, typically led by individual line-of-business managers looking for better ways of working within their team. In these situations, there is often no involvement of IT in the decision, particularly where a SaaS-based service is chosen.

However, in recent months we have seen increasing evidence of organisations progressing beyond this stage to develop a more centralised, enterprise-wide collaboration strategy, often delivered through a social intranet initiative. We expect to see this trend develop further through 2012, with more mature collaborative organisations commencing initiatives which are driven by a collective involving IT, communications and HR, often sponsored by the CIO.

In contrast, however, where the investment relates to externally-facing social collaboration, this will more often continue to be driven by line-of-business leaders such as those in sales, marketing, customer service and support.

Key technology trends

In terms of the major trends in technology development over the next 12 months, we expect to see social technologies proliferate further across the broader software market, adding social context to many different applications in a bid to improve usability and therefore drive usage. At the same time, we anticipate that social analytics will become increasingly important, providing social collaboration vendors with a key differentiator that offers the potential for customers to demonstrate ROI on their solutions. However, social analytics will also gain significant momentum in the broader information management market, with vendors looking to capitalise on the current confusion around social media usage and value.

Another area where we anticipate seeing significant investment by vendors as we progress through 2012 is the focus on “mobile collaboration”—leveraging the growth in mobile adoption through the success of smartphones and tablets to drive adoption of enterprise collaboration technologies. Until now, mobile has been an add-on to enterprise software—an after-thought, if you like. However, in the same way as mobile access has revolutionised consumer social technologies such as Facebook and Twitter, we expect to see enterprise collaboration vendors exploring how to best take advantage of our dependence on these devices.

Key Collaboration supplier trends

While “social” is the buzzword of the day—and we expect to see vendors continue to reposition themselves as “social” solution providers as we head into 2012 (though arguably there are already few left that don’t)—we believe that the trend is only a passing one, and that as the term becomes more and more diluted, we will see new positionings emerge which better characterise and differentiate vendor offerings.

From a supplier landscape perspective, while the collaboration market is already exploding with vendors offering various tools to better support collaboration, or to provide an alternative to email, we feel that there is still plenty of room for new entrants and innovation in the market. There will always be new start-ups emerging that inspire rapid development cycles across the market, but we also expect to see new entrants coming from other software markets, much in the same way as TIBCO earlier this year, or last year. We also anticipate greater overlap emerging between collaboration software and other markets such as document management, particularly prompted by the opportunity presented by SaaS and online collaboration. And inevitably there will be some consolidation as current players look to flesh out their offerings, and possibly also consolidation among the smaller players as they combine to challenge at the higher end of the market.

What do you think?

What are your plans for Collaboration in 2012? Leave your comments here or drop me a line at—it would be great to get your thoughts. To stay in touch with developments throughout 2012 subscribe to my collaboration blog feed and for research report updates.


Published by: IT Analysis Communications Ltd.
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