Every Friday I’m going to be reviewing a vendor in the emergent collaboration space and will provide an overview on that vendor which includes everything from leadership and vision to technology and market focus. If you are vendor that would like to participate, please contact me (email is in the sidebar as is twitter link). The goal of these posts is not to bash or praise vendors but to simply offer an objective view on what various vendors offer so that YOU can decide if they are a good fit for your business. Every post will cover the same elements for different vendors. If you have ideas or recommendations for other items to be covered in these posts then please let me know and I will consider them.
This week I’m taking a look at Traction Software. Traction is based in Providence Rhode Island with around 10 employees. I spoke with Greg Lloyd, President & Co-Founder and Jordan Frank, Vice President Sales and Business Development.
Overall direction/strategic vision for the company/leadership teams
In-Q-Tel (www.iqt.com) is a strategic investor (invest in tech companies on behalf of CIA) as is The Slater Technology Fund (www.slaterfund.com) which is an arm of the Rhode Island economic development corporation. This means that Traction doesn’t exactly have VC funding per say but that’s a good thing since the vision is driven by the leaders at the company and not necessarily by VCs who invested in the company. Applied Knowledge Corporation Inc (www.akj.co.jp) in Japan is a strategic partner and re-seller of Traction that has been instrumental in penetrating the Japanese market. Traction sees collaboration in the enterprise just like consumer grade web services and applications, meaning when you type something into a search engine, you should be able to all the information you need and use that as a starting point to take a next action. Basically think of a search engine that has the ability to index all of your content internally, regardless of what system it resides on, it can be on an ERP system a CRM system, or anything else. This search ability is what binds everything together. Traction also believes that the most effective approach towards collaboration is not through multiple social systems that connect to each other but through a central platform. One platform that can index and reference all of your content in one place, this eliminates the need to import, integrate and synchronize multiple systems. Simply state Traction approaches this as deploying a collaboration layer over systems of record instead of deploying collaboration systems embedded in each system of record.
While many vendors are trying to copy each other (who in turn are copying Twitter and Facebook) to develop products, Traction believes in creating solutions to solve problems and these solutions are created through products which use search as the tie that binds.
Traction was built in multiple layers from the very beginning. Everything is written in JAVA and the source code for what was used to build the UI layers are available for customers. The layers are as follows: a configuration layer, a CSS layer, a Skin Definition Language (or presentation) layer, and an SDK (software development kit) layer (for permissions data, relationship analysis, search and metadata access). The system also integrates with LDAP or Active Directory to pull in accounts, names, passwords, profile information, or groups for expressing role based permissions.
As mentioned above Traction uses search to tie everything together, this is done using the ATTIVIO AIE enterprise search engine to index content from external systems, documents, email systems, or pretty much anything else. This means that when you search for something within Traction you can get results from anything in the corpus, just like you would when searching on Google. Once you retrieve the information you need you can then tag the things that you find (even though the information might not reside within the Traction platform) or take a specific action on them (literally assigning a task if you wan to).
Right now there are several already integrated out of the box systems such as Sharepoint, Exchange, Lotus Notes, Filesystem, Documentum, and SQL databases. Again, this means that Traction doesn’t integrate with various system which usually entails copying and synchronizing data. Instead you can think of Traction as your internal Google which uses a robust customized search engine to bring back the information you need (and of course there are plenty of other things you can do which I’ll get to do below).Traction also let’s you can build your own plugin at the presentation layer. This means that if you want to have a widget that displays your Sharepoint documents or CRM data on the homepage that you can make it happen. The key integration happens with authentication systems and directories and all necessary IT plumbing.
Traction does offer in-house support. Each customer gets a space on the traction server where they get private communication and interaction directly with the Traction team. Phone and webex support are also available if necessary. Presentations and best practices for new customers are also provided as are various types of training. Most of the support and consulting is charged on an hourly basis (for strategy or technical help) but all customers get access to a free customer support forum.
Traction actually has a very unique pricing model that many might find refreshing. Pricing works on either an annual or a perpetual basis. For example for 200 named accounts you can pay $30,00 for the year (not including enterprise search) or you can pay an upfront cost of $60,000 and then just pay 20% of that for subsequent years for maintenance/upgrades. To add enterprise search to this for 200 named accounts is $5,000 annually or $10,000 up front with 20% due each subsequent year. I know this might sound confusing but there is an extensive breakdown on the Traction site. I had the pricing explained to me so I understand it but I think it would be helpful if they made it easier to understand for all site visitors because it really does make sense. For 500 named accounts without enterprise search the per user monthly cost comes to around $2.5-$5 but with enterprise search this is closer to $4.17-$6.67. Future product upgrades are going to impacting their pricing breakdown and you can expect to hear more about this in mid November.
Maintenance & Upgrades
Many ideas for upgrades come directly from customers who provide feedback on what they would like to see. New maintenance updates are generally released once a month and major updates or changes to the product are usually released once or twice per year.
Traction customers have full customization capability of branding, layout, content, and the style-sheet. Many of these changes can be done via point and click right out of the box. So customization can be simple or complex but customers have flexibility. Traction also allows customers to write plugins that change the behavior of how the actual systems works and what it displays. The good thing is that when upgrades happen plugins can be managed and maintained over time.
Time to go live
The platform itself can be up and running in around 20 minutes. A realistic timeline to go live actually depends on how quickly customers can make it go live. In other words this depends on people not on the technology. It’s the actual configuring of the environment by customers that takes time, but again this really depends on the customers and can take one day, weeks, or perhaps months.
Traction thought of security from the very beginning. In fact, the platform records every recognizable action that takes place so customers can always refer back if/when they need to. Traction however is not SAS 70 Type III certified but customers themselves are able to get this certification. At it’s core Traction is a purpose built hyper-text journaling system. On top of that sits a well architected java layer which constructs the UI and the UX. The Java application has 0 pre-requisites. This means that when you upgrade traction it doesn’t affect your other systems and when you upgrade other systems it doesn’t affect Traction. The platform also has a strong internationilzation and multi-lingual component (local-specific translations, dates, and time-zones which can be overridden). Traction is offered as either an on-premise or cloud based solution (Amazon EC2).
The ideal customer is someone looking to fill between 50-5,000 seats, so small and medium size businesses. At this point there is no specific industry or vertical focus. This can be used for companies building airplanes or in a law office.
Traction allows for the creation of employee, customer, and/or partner facing communities. While search is a powerful component of Traction is but one of many. Traction is a full-feature emergent collaboration platform which allows for group creation, status updates, document management, and anything else you can expect to find in an emergent collaboration vendor.
Key differentiating factors from competition
- Search functionality, Traction is the only vendor I have seen with such a deep search capability. In fact, search is what binds all of the content and information that is passed through and is placed on Traction. This deep search extends beyond what is just found on Traction and it searches all back-end systems for relevant information. Permissions can be set to limit who sees what type of results.
- Deeply integrated action tracking and coordination, the system lets you comment, tag, task, and link within work space boundaries or across boundaries. This means that if I am in the marketing department reviewing a marketing plan which references product specifications needed from a product developer, that I can literally create a task within the document (at the specific and relevant point) and assign it to someone in another work group, for example someone in the product team. Most vendors have spaces that allow you to create advanced lists which are visualized as tasks or calendars, but these are siloed and not truly integrated. Traction solves that problem by being able to cross workspace boundaries.
- Pricing, small and medium size businesses are basically getting a package with enterprise search capabilities at an affordable price.
- Alcoa, Ensign Bickford Aerospace, Borlaug Global Rust Initiative
- Won 2010 Forrester Groundswell awardfor collaboration
- Won 2011 Computerworld Laureate award for collaboration
I’ve seen the Traction product a few times now I have to say that I really like it and not just for small and medium size businesses. Traction offers an amazing search integration feature which many large vendors can’t even come close to replicating. I think their approach to using search as the backbone behind collaboration is also very unique, in fact they are the only vendor that I have spoken to which highlights search and discusses it in such an integral way. I like the focus of not having to integrate various systems together which requires duplicating and then syncing content but I also wonder how deep the search functionality can go into things such as billing and invoicing systems, service request systems, or ERP/CRM systems. The platform itself is very intuitive and easy to use, everything extraneous seems to have been removed but without compromising the UI or the functionality of the platform. I also think their pricing model is also quite attractive.
The challenge for Traction is that they are a small company of 10 people which means that they can only do so much. One thing that I think people might find frustrating doesn’t even have to do with the product, it’s the website. Traction in my opinion has such a great product and a great story but the website is hammered with too much content that can confuse and lose visitors. While I do believe that Traction does offer a superior search feature, that feature does come from ATTIVIO which does pose some competitive threats as this is a third party application (albeit customized). Traction also offers a very unique approach to tagging, creating tasks, commenting, and linking to content which can be done anywhere pretty much as though you were reading a word document. I haven’t seen anyone else offer this yet. I will be able to test out the new upgrades/features in November at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara and will have more updates then. I also need to see how this deep search integration for a customer that has it deployed across several backend systems, in other words, I need to see it in greater action.
Here are some screenshots:
(Cross-posted @ Social Business Advisor: Social CRM and Enterprise 2.0)