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Will Collaboration Software and Packaged Business Applications Ever Meet?

By Craig Roth | April 19, 2021 | 0 Comments

Digital Workplace ApplicationsDigital WorkplaceProduct Planning

Americans of a certain age may remember a commercial for peanut butter cups (here’s a 1972 version) where two people living in separate peanut butter and chocolate bliss get thrown together and realize a higher level of joy when they are blended together.  

The enterprise application space is divided into packaged business applications (such as ERP and CRM) and general purpose productivity applications (such as email, authoring, and meeting solutions). For applications this blending is more of a novelty than an everyday treat.  But times are changing.

Gartner has predicted that by 2025, nearly 65% of enterprise application software providers will have included some form of social and collaboration software capabilities in their software product.

Two Approaches

One beloved aspect of those commercials is the acknowledgement of two self-centered points of view:

  • “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!”
  • “Well you got your peanut butter in my chocolate!”. 

For the blending to work for a given user, one domain must be subsumed into the other. Who will own the interface?

One option is for the productivity parts to be blended (subsumed) into business applications.  An account manager reviewing a customer’s history in a CRM application can have a chat mechanism attached, without having to launch another window. And the conversation persists for anyone else that views that history.  Documents can be attached that are easily accessed within the business application, but just as easily searched along with all the other content in the content management system.  

The other option, where business processes are handled from within productivity tools, is also present (if not prevalent).  Invoices can be approved by pressing a button within an email, which sends a message to an invoicing system without ever showing its interface. Information about a shipping problem can be sent to a workstream collaboration channel.

If you live in the business application, then letting you stay there without task switching to myriad collaboration and content capabilities would be easiest.  If you’re rarely in the business application – to the point you keep forgetting how to navigate the complex screens (and your password) – then getting notifications, spoon fed data bits, and simple workflow prompts from within your chosen productivity tool would be best.  

Synergies of One Interface

Either way the organization benefits from having routine processes that require some unstructured interaction handled more quickly, with less chances to “drop the ball”, and with better knowledge capture of the collaboration that takes place around the dry data stored in systems of record. 

Increased synergies between social and collaboration software and packaged business applications will become more apparent in 2021 as Salesforce absorbs Slack and the Microsoft Teams and SAP integration expands. Trends towards a view of Total Experience, the composable enterprise, and anywhere operations are set to produce the contextual collaboration that was bandied about before it’s time in the early 2000’s.  

I look forward to a future where the lines between these two halves of the application market are no longer meaningful. There are simply applications for “getting things done”, and whether the steps involve highly structured processes and data or they involve nonroutine processes and unstructured content will be irrelevant to their primary users.  Won’t that be a treat?

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