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How collaboration frameworks are becoming the platforms for all business applications
In the knowledge era, collaboration in business is like ecology in politics: it should not be the theme of a specific party but part of the programs of all of them! Collaboration should be a major component of any business activity, not an application by itself.
Similarly, collaboration software should not be a specific application, but a feature available in all business applications. Even further: it should be the glue between business applications. Just as a recent Forrester Study (see our recent article) showed that the future of collaboration lied in corporate IT's capacity to link the way people communicate every day with the projects they are doing for their company, the future of collaboration platforms lied in the capacity of software makers to tie together the business applications they use through common collaboration features that transcend these applications and even their vendors.
This sounds like middleware, doesn't it?
Could collaboration platforms become the ultimate middleware the industry has been seeking for 15 years now, able to finally connect heterogeneous applications after the disappointments of CORBA, Web Services, SOA and Mash-Ups?
To become so, collaboration platforms need to exit their niche market of collaboration, portal or social networking applications to become infrastructure: the hub of all business applications and communications in the enterprise. But infrastructure software is much harder to sell to entreprise IT because it is much more critical than business applications. That is why it is so hard for smaller vendors to compete against the big three (Microsoft SharePoint, IBM Lotus and Google Apps), even with products that show superior usability or functionality. This is because IT professionals anticipate that their collaboration platform will stop being dedicated to collaboration applications to become the communication hub between all their business applications.
Although this trend can be seen in the intranet, it's even more visible when it comes to SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) platforms, that I personally call PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) such as Azure, Force.com, Lotus Live, Google Apps, etc. These platforms offer an interface with their applications at a much higher level than Operating Systems or even Application Servers.
And much of the additional functionality is about providing way to manage users and their interactions, in short, collaboration.
In the future, only a few "Business Application Platforms" (BAPs) will prevail, and I expect all of them to be available both on-premise and as-a-Service. Only the bigger vendors who can reassure their customers on the reliability, stability, security and future of their platforms will survive. Smaller vendors will have to specialize on vertical business applications that can be plugged into these platforms or on extensions that provide improvements to these platforms.
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