The bulk of what I do entails working with large (and some mid size) organizations on helping them understand and then adapt to the changes we are seeing around the future of work and collaboration. Part of this means understanding what’s happening on the technology side of things which is one of the reasons why I started doing my Friday Vendor Roundup.
An innovation problem or a marketing obstacle?
For the better part of a year now I’ve noticed a bit of stagnation on the innovation side for many of these vendors. Granted they are still adding features, improving their products, and making other enhancements; but they are not innovating. Most of the things I’m seeing are around new pricing structures, redesigned UIs, some new minor features, and perhaps some added integrations and capabilities. Of course this is still important but I don’t see anyone really pushing the envelope so to speak.
There’s been this long running joke where if you go to the exhibit call of a conference and cover up the logos and branding of the various products, that you won’t be able to tell them apart. They all look the same, do the same thing, and integrate with the same applications.
Many of these technologies have been around for a while now and instead of completely rethinking how work is and should be done they are instead continuing to pile onto their existing platforms which are now not as innovative as they used to be half a decade ago. There is a big opportunity for some disruption to happen here (and I know of a few companies looking to break into this area in the next few months).
The current market challenge
Now having said that I also understand that vendors are also in a bit of a catch-22. Vendors have switched from innovating and product development mode to marketing and selling mode while just doing enough on the product side to keep pace with the market. While these technologies have been around for a few years now, many companies have yet to begin investing in deploying them and developing strategies around them. I get the sense that perhaps some vendors want to move forward at a more rapid speed but then they realize that it might not make sense to do so unless they have more companies purchasing at least the very basic versions of their product. In other words what’s the incentive to innovate unless more organizations start to get on board? (of course I’m not their target market since I’m in the industry).
There are essentially five stages for building a collaborative organization but from a broader perspective I’m seeing a bifurcation in the market. There are those companies who are heavily investing in the future of work and want more innovative technologies and then there are those companies who are at the very bottom of the totem pole who are just getting started (or who started a while ago but haven’t moved anywhere).
The challenge for vendors is how to address the needs of both. How can they provide something for the advanced companies and also something for the companies just getting started? Keep in mind that the market for companies that are just getting started is far bigger which is why most vendors are focusing on sales and marketing instead of on innovation, unfortunately this frustrates the advanced companies. Many vendors are offering the same products and services to companies regardless of what their needs are or how advanced they might be, this is one of the reasons why I advocate the feature adoption framework for collaboration.
An opportunity gap
As mentioned above I see a big opportunity for new vendors entering the collaboration/future of work space that are going to challenge and disrupt the current state of things. Many existing vendors have their hands tied so to speak. They can’t innovate faster than the market is ready to adopt since so many customers are used to their existing platforms which means that they have to keep pace with things, at least until adoption of the technologies increases. However, this doesn’t mean that new vendors can’t come in and start to shake things up a bit, and there are a few which are just on the horizon.
So now the question is what are existing vendors going to do to innovate and what are new vendors going to do to shake things up?