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Summary:

With the collaboration market already crowded, it’s hard to imagine an unoccupied niche for yet another tool, but startup Sparqlight thinks they’ve found one by scaling down business process management to provide a flexible, cloud-based option for knowledge workers.

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With the collaboration market already crowded with everything from task-focused tools like Asana to social products such as Yammer, plus offerings pitched to specific groups (Atlassian for software teams, Wiggio for college students), it’s hard to imagine an unoccupied niche for yet another tool, but Santa Monica, CA based startup Sparqlight thinks they’ve found one — scaling down business process management to provide a flexible, cloud-based option for the average knowledge worker.

“There’s people at the bottom of the market that have products like Do.com, online to-do lists, and they’re useful but they don’t have automation. They don’t have analytics. At the other end of the spectrum, you have huge BPM tools that can do workflow with automations, but it’s like trying to use a sledge hammer to drive in a tack,” explains Michael Weir, Sparqlight’s CMO. “Those [tools] are for companies with rigid industrial processes and everything that could possibly happen is built into the system. Our product is for what I call the big fat middle — people who need workflow, transparency, templates but who also live in the modern world where they collaborate with anyone, anytime, anywhere. They need it to be improvisational.”

Sparqlight was founded in 2010 to address this market segment and has thus far been entirely bootstrapped. It launched its public beta at SXSW this year, attracting more than 1,000 companies so far, from HR departments to engineering firms. Now they’re announcing the public launch of their enterprise solution. Like many of its competitors, Sparqlight has opted for a freemium model, offering a free, stripped-down version for individuals and small teams and from today a beefed up product for paying enterprise customers priced at $20 per user per month.

So what sets this product apart from other collaboration tools and allows it to target the “big fat middle”? In short, easy automation through templates. The base of the product is a to-do list and task tracking system that lets you assign work to yourself or others — either internal Sparqlight users or external non-users via email — setting due dates and reminders, commenting on tasks, and allowing you to track what’s outstanding and which steps have been completed. The result is an activity stream that can be filtered by project, importance, person or due date. So far, pretty similar to, say, Asana in its focus on following tasks rather than people and building a product that’s more about getting stuff done that breaking down barriers to information sharing.

The difference is a slightly more complicated set of enterprise-friendly additions like templates and analytics. Say you’re an HR person who routinely has to go through a checklist of activities for each new hire, from contacting IT to set up a new workstation, to putting together a benefits package. Sparqlight allows you to set up a template for that routine which, each time you use it, automatically inserts the relevant to-do items in your stream as well as the streams of collaborators—so in our hypothetical HR case, IT (either the group or a specific individual) would automatically receive a to-do item telling them to sort out the new hire’s tech tools. It’s also possible to automate workflow steps with Sparqlight. So after IT marks their task as completed, you can specify that a request be sent automatically to facilities to wheel over a comfy new chair, for example. Sparqlight also offers simple analytics that track how well users are doing at getting their tasks done in the free version and a heftier set of analytics tools, including key performance indicators for management, in the enterprise version.

Though Weir says individuals “see a lot of value just in creating to-dos and goals with associated to-dos and using templated workflow,” he concedes that the product “does start to add a lot of exponential value if you have other people on the system.” The product, in other words, is very much an enterprise tool that seems most useful when broadly deployed within a company. Sparqlight is planning on reaching out in the future to actively sell it to businesses rather than just rely on viral growth and small team adoption, Weir says.

The central premise behind Sparqlight — that routine work is boring and time consuming and automating these tasks frees up time for actual constructive and creative work  — will be immediately compelling to most knowledge workers. Who likes repetitive donkey work after all? To accomplish this goal, though, Sparqlight needs to be adopted, and whether the product is both powerful enough for enterprise and pleasant enough for individual workers to actually use remains to be seen.

Has anyone out there given Sparqlight a try, or if not, does this sort of automated workflow sound appealing?

Image courtesy of Sparqlight.

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  1. George Gonzalez-Rivas Tuesday, May 8, 2012

    This kind of tool is “exactly” what most of us need. I haven’t tried this implementation (I will as soon as I finish this post) but the direction is exactly right.

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