IBM and Microsoft are poised to dominate the collaboration technology market for providing applications to the future workplace, says a new report by Forrester Research. But that doesn't mean small vendors in the Web 2.0 space, or a little company called Google, won't have a prominent role as well.
Forrester's vision for the future office is the "information workplace," a 21st century platform that manages content, messaging, team collaboration, real-time collaboration and communication among employees using a common platform.
This would be a departure from many current businesses. Today users toggle among multiple applications that often don't talk well with each other and aren't integrated with back-end data.
The amount of enterprises who are actually ready to embrace this information workplace is still relatively small, however. When asked if implementing such a converged strategy was in the works for the coming year, only 24 per cent of the 1,017 enterprise IT decision makers surveyed said it was a priority and 8 per cent said it was a critical priority. Nearly 34 per cent said it was not a priority, and 32 per cent said it was not on their agenda altogether.
The report is bullish on Microsoft and IBM to be at the center of the information workplace. With Microsoft's SharePoint gathering nearly 85 million licenses, and IBM's Sametime collaboration platform having 18 million, CIOs looking to create the information workplace will likely try to leverage existing investments with those vendors.
As the report notes, both of these incumbents have offerings in collaboration, content, portals, office productivity and business intelligence - all the technologies Forrester views as critical for achieving the information workplace.
While IBM or Microsoft might provide the baseline, however, that doesn't mean smaller vendors won't play a part, so long as they design their software to connect with the big boys' mammoth platforms.
"Enterprises do want to work with a smaller number of vendors, but that doesn't mean [IBM and Microsoft] can do it alone,"says Erica Driver, the primary author of the report.
For instance, some Web 2.0 vendors might provide an enterprise wiki and blog with better functionality than the one provided by SharePoint. If that Web 2.0 vendor designed the software properly so that it integrated with SharePoint, however, an enterprise customer would be more likely to buy it.
"That's exactly the approach the point product ones need to take,"Driver says. "They need to keep their functionality ahead of what [IBM and Microsoft] are delivering. There's a chance they can stay ahead by releasing products more quickly."
But vendors such as Google, Driver notes, might not concede that businesses are always going to be in an all-Microsoft world.
With the company's Google Apps, its web-based collaboration suite that includes e-mail, calendaring, documents and spreadsheets, and now a wiki, Google could become a compelling option in the collaboration space in the coming years-provided they can start to integrate with existing systems, Driver says.
"They have their own office productivity tools now, and they're trying to change the game," Driver says.