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Rob Howard on the Zimbra Acquisition, Email's Future in Social Collaboration

Social Business, Zimbra Acquisition, Telligent.jpgEmail is not dead. Far from it. Rob Howard, Founder and CTO of Telligent believes that with the acquisition of Zimbra, Telligent is now set to disrupt the social software market in a way no other provider can. And he's staking his company's name on it.

Email Isn't Dead, It's Misunderstood

The acquisition was announced in July and things are well under way to integrate the two software solutions. Zimbra is a cloud-based email, calendar and collaboration solution. It's been through a couple of acquisitions prior to Telligent, including Yahoo and then VMWare.

Zimbra's customer base is 40-50% outside the US, it has 400+ partners worldwide and has over 100+ million mailboxes. Howard said that its channel model fits very well with Telligent's channel model, and that many of Zimbra's customers have been demanding more social capabilities in their collaboration platforms, so this is a perfect fit.

Maybe you think this is a bad idea. After all, if Yahoo and VMWare couldn't make it work, what can Telligent do? Howard sees it differently. VMWare didn't sell Zimbra because it was a bad product, in fact VMWare remains a customer of Zimbra and is an investor in Telligent. The sell was more due to VMWare going back to its roots of virtualization. 

Telligent was founded in 2004 under Rob Howard and it's grown dramatically since those early days into one of the most well-known social software solutions. It hits the top of Forrester and Gartner's reports for social software/communities regularly. When he founded Telligent, Howard believed in the idea of "information independent of technology," and says that Telligent has done a good job of building on that vision. 

Howard is quick to point out that Telligent does not believe that social software will replace email — something that most social software vendors cry out continually. This acquisition is proof of Telligent's view of social collaboration. 

But he's clear when he speaks about email. It is not a commodity, he points out. It's part of the lifeblood of how information workers collaborate. Anyone who's looking to get plain old email capabilities needs to look elsewhere.

Organizations are struggling with adoption of social tools, it's a story we often hear. The key, Howard says, is to tie these tools together.

The 90 Day Plan for Zimbra/Telligent

Zimbra is built on the Java platform. Telligent at its core is .NET based. But its APIs for integration are web-based which means it can easily connect with different systems, regardless of the technology used. 

According to Howard, the plan is to keep the platforms independent and on a continual growth path, but to also integrate them in a services approach.

By the time Telligent's September conference rolls around, the first integration will be complete, including a more unified user experience, and the same unified search using Lucene. But this is really only the beginning.

The 3 Phase Plan for the "New Zimbra"

Telligent has an Email Gateway solution already. The integration with Zimbra will go much deeper. Howard talked about a three phase approach to making this happen. The first phase is to prove the vision and we'll see that all come together with the integration mentioned above, plus the new versions of Telligent (coming later this fall) and Zimbra (coming late spring 2014). 

After that, Phase 2 will kick in full force. It includes the creation of a Customer Advisory board around a joint product suite. The focus will be on key features and solving key problems. Phase 2 you can expect by next year's customer conference.

Howard told me that they are rethinking common work patterns and re-imagining the workflow, especially for things like sharing files. Phase 3 will be an even broader vision which will include database sharing features, instant messaging/Web RTC in Zimbra and social networking in Zimbra. 

From Telligent to Zimbra: A Rebranding

If you weren't reading carefully you might have missed that Telligent is rebranding under the Zimbra name. Howard, whose LinkedIn profile now says CTO of Zimbra, said they are still working on the nomenclature, but we should see it happening soon. This, he says, shows Telligent's commitment to Zimbra customers and the capabilities Zimbra provides. 


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