Social collaboration software has come a long way, both in terms of acceptance in organizations (if not daily usage) and products. Ten years ago social collaboration was mostly thought of as Facebook for the enterprise, an unfortunate tagline that suggested frivolity and not utility. Since then, social collaboration has embraced many different types of technology that help knowledge workers find and share content and ideas. An explosion of new ways to work together gradually coalesced into the form we see today. This process is driving what we can expect in the next year or so.

Blurring Lines

The old distinctions are dying. File sharing, enterprise social networks, digital content management, to name a few elements of social collaboration, are merging into a more unified set of capabilities. Instead, there are two expressions of social collaboration technology that are developing to replace them: hubs and platforms.

In this emergent universe, there will be applications that act as a central place to begin and manage work -- the hub. They may, on the surface, look like an enterprise social network for more idea centered organizations or perhaps a file sharing product for content-oriented ones. It doesn’t matter since many of the features are the same. In any event, they will be the central launch point for the day.

There will also be platforms that bring social collaboration to all kinds of other applications. Platforms will infuse systems of record with social collaboration features that allow the sharing of business objects along with relevant content and ideas. Many products will encompass both forms. Is Jive a platform or a hub? What about Box or SAP Jam? They all strive to be both and mostly succeed.

Analytics in Everything

Analytics will become a part of everything and that includes collaboration. Data will guide us to content and collaborators more than ever. In larger organizations especially, finding important content and relevant people will require more than search engines and analytics will be the key. The integration of email, social collaboration and analytics in IBM Verse is a great example.

Analytics will also combine with collaboration to create new modes of working. For example, sales opportunities surfaced with analytics can be shared with others who might benefit. The ability to amplify analytics through sharing and collaborative vetting will change how many knowledge workers experience work.

A Need for Speed and Flexibility

Social collaboration is fundamentally changing productivity applications too. Companies such as Box, Microsoft (especially with Sway) and Evernote aim to change how we create and communicate work content. It’s not that classic word processors are irrelevant but there will be a lot of work that happens outside them now. The idea of writing a document or creating a PowerPoint presentation just to communicate some ideas will seem archaic and slow. Instead, applications designed to quickly record ideas, pictures and content and share them with others will help to create a more nimble way of working.

The big hold up in this process will be simple resistance to change. It is still the case that many knowledge workers would rather endure horribly long email chains then start a discussion in an enterprise social network. There are still a lot of files shared by way of shared network drives or through email than via cloud social file sharing, despite the benefits. Ultimately, the demands of modern business and the need for flexibility and speed will change those attitudes.

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