The spectrum of tools at use in enterprise for workgroup collaboration, project management, task management, productivity, and communication has undergone sweeping changes in recent years.
Well-established players have fallen from leadership market position (such as work media products Jive and Yammer), while new startups have burst on the scene and become monster unicorns, most notably work chat’s market-defining product, Slack.
Ways of sharing work representations of social affordances introduced by pioneers a decade ago, are now standard (like kanban boards and @mentions in comments). Meanwhile, the internet giants, like Microsoft and Google, are building on their strengths in productivity and email to expand their presence in the largest corporations.
There is no single, right answer to the perennial question, ‘what combination of tools is the best for business, today?’ Each company will have to evaluate the various component technologies in the work technology landscape, and determine what offerings should be included in the company’s work technology stack. A 20,000 person law firm with offices in three countries has very different needs than a 300 person design firm in one city, and both are different from a 50 person software company with a largely remote workforce.
Email continues to rule as the bedrock of business communication and impinges on work technology in many ways, but it is best to think of it as orthogonal to the tools we are examining and not as a competitor. We are not evaluating email in this series, in the same way we are not looking into video conferencing or telephony.
As shown in figure 1, the work technology landscape naturally divides into three main categories, based on what the primary information being managed is: tasks, messages, or content. However, these categories overlap, for example, a content-centric solution may include tasks, and task-centric solutions may include messaging capabilities. This overlap between the classes of tools is one of the reasons many are confused when considering which tools to use.
The red-lettered region on the table shows the areas we will be addressing in this report series. Note that the bottom tier of these categories are personal or consumer-oriented apps which may be used in a work setting but, in general, are positioned toward individual or extra-organizational use. We will not be discussing social media tools like Twitter or the consumer Google Tasks app, for example.
There will be three reports in the series. The first of three reports in the series is Task-centric work technology, or Work Management. The focus is on ‘collaborative’ work management, deferring non-collaborative project management tools, such as those that principally involve modeling and analysis of projects. Note however, that the leading tools in the work management category have adopted many conventions of project management such as Gantt charts, sophisticated reporting, and financial and resource analysis.
Vendors studied include Trello, Wrike, Asana, Redbooth, Smartsheet, Microsoft and many more.
2 About The Work Technology Stack
A few words about the stack of extrinsic technologies that work technology tools rely on.
Many of these tools may have client software that takes advantage of the specific capabilities of the operating systems they run on. However, when they do, it is likely to be a trivial aspect of functionality — such as using native notifications on Android or accessing a file on iOS — and not a dependency that can not be implemented on another hardware option.
As a general rule, modern work technologies rely on a client/server architecture where the primary — and perhaps only — client is a web browser, and, as with any native clients, the web client does not take much advantage of specific browser capabilities for any critical functions. Occasionally a vendor might create some ‘nice to have’ feature that is available only in one browser — like a Chrome plug-in — but that is not central to the tools functionality.
In the past few years, file sync-and-share applications have become ubiquitous, acting as a foundational element underlying all work technology, and also overlapping some of the capabilities of content-centric work technology. In essence, these tools provide a virtual shared file system for workgroups.
Products like Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box are employed by all sorts of users, ranging from individual consumers to the largest enterprises. In this report we are not examining these now-mature solutions in any detail, although they are closely linked in everyday use to other work technologies because people use files of all types in their work. As I stated earlier, the content-centric tools we are looking at are not a replacement for a system like Dropbox or OneDrive, but instead act as an alternative or adjunct to task- or message-centric work technology approaches.
3 About Our Approach: Trending, Not Ending
The approach used in this series is based on characterizing products relative to key trends and patterns of use, rather than comparatively. We will not be producing an ordered list of 27 work management tools, ranging from best to worst, for example.
Our approach is to start by identifying the most important trends in each category of work technologies.
4 About Stowe Boyd
Stowe is a well-known futurist, visionary, researcher, blogger and analyst. His focus is the future of work, and the tectonic forces pushing business into an unclear and accelerating future. He has worked with small, medium and Global 2000 enterprises in numerous industries and with software companies ranging from small ISVs to large enterprises like Microsoft.
Stowe has been tracking the social revolution online since 1999, when he coined the term ‘social tools’, and starting blogging. Stowe worked as an analyst, and later lead analyst, for Gigaom Research from 2011, and as the research lead in social tools, work technology, and the future of work area since fall 2012. He served as head of Research for Gigaom from July 2015 to November 2016.
5 About GigaOm
GigaOm provides technical, operational, and business advice for IT’s strategic digital enterprise and business initiatives. Enterprise business leaders, CIOs, and technology organizations partner with GigaOm for practical, actionable, strategic, and visionary advice for modernizing and transforming their business. GigaOm’s advice empowers enterprises to successfully compete in an increasingly complicated business atmosphere that requires a solid understanding of constantly changing customer demands.
GigaOm works directly with enterprises both inside and outside of the IT organization to apply proven research and methodologies designed to avoid pitfalls and roadblocks while balancing risk and innovation. Research methodologies include but are not limited to adoption and benchmarking surveys, use cases, interviews, ROI/TCO, market landscapes, strategic trends, and technical benchmarks. Our analysts possess 20+ years of experience advising a spectrum of clients from early adopters to mainstream enterprises.
GigaOm’s perspective is that of the unbiased enterprise practitioner. Through this perspective, GigaOm connects with engaged and loyal subscribers on a deep and meaningful level.