We are in the midst of a workplace revolution that is seeing email moved from the center to the margin of corporate communications. Taking email's place is a new class of collaboration and communication platforms that can do everything email does--and a lot more.
Slack is perhaps the most famous of these products. Its explosive growth--200,000 users to almost 3 million users in 18 months--proved how much enthusiasm there was for a new kind of communication. But Slack is hardly the only player in the field. Dozens of companies have offered a wide variety of solutions ranging from messaging systems (like Slack's) to video platforms (see Kaltura below). Others, like Kiwi, have adapted old technologies for the modern age.
Here's a list of ten rapidly growing or newly released communications platforms to try in 2017:
Collokia is a machine learning platform that improves productivity and collaboration in the workplace. When a user searches for something on Google -- say, how to write code for a complicated function -- Collokia will overlay web search results with annotations, ratings and feedback from other employees in your company. Instead of every employee reinventing the wheel when searching for an answer or piece of knowledge, he or she can benefit from the wisdom of the crowd, understanding from their colleagues which articles and links are helpful, which are a waste of time, etc.
Since the technology works as a Google Chrome plug-in, the knowledge sharing happens right in your browser, overlaid on top of Google's search results, so that you don't need to toggle between windows. Launched this year with $1.8 million in seed funding, Collokia is one of the new tools to watch.
In August, when Kaltura brought in a $50 million investment from Goldman Sachs, the video company left no doubt it had cemented its prominent place in the tech world. The video platform is used by enterprises (like Bank of America) and schools (Harvard, Yale) in a variety of ways, including internal collaboration and communication.
The platform works as a sort of intra-organizational YouTube on steroids, where execs publish videos of them speaking to and sharing knowledge with their employees or students, and the latter uploading their own videos to showcase work, collect feedback, and be interactive.
The benefits are obvious: insights and success stories are shared so that colleagues learn, ideas are exchanged, and the organization's constituencies are brought together. Kaltura has succeeded by making its platform robust yet highly adaptable to different use cases and plugins. The company's CEO described it to the New York Times as a "lego kit." The next big event for the company is likely an IPO.
Kiwi for Gmail
There's little doubt that Gmail is the most robust, widely available email service. But even after all these years, we're still stuck using it through web browsers. Kiwi frees Gmail from the web, allowing you to use all of its standard features plus additional ones through a native desktop app.
You can compose new emails in standalone windows without logging into Gmail (and without visiting your inbox). When you click on an email address hyperlink on the web, a "compose email" window opens, allowing you to send a message from your Gmail address. Sending big attachments is easy because Kiwi integrates Gmail with Google Drive. And recently, the company unveiled its G-Suite product, which allows you to use Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides within Kiwi -- in native, windowed desktop applications.
With the formatting errors, speed issues and clunkiness that come with browsers, it's shocking Google never created this software on its own. But Google's oversight is Kiwi's good fortune.
Asana is a highly flexible workplace collaboration tool. The platform's ability to be customized is both a strength and a weakness, making it perhaps best suited for tech-savvy companies that are willing to take the time to personalize it. Asana has a range of features from to-do lists to project management monitoring, all of which can be put together in any number of ways.
PC Mag described Asana as a "deck of cards," as opposed to many other collaboration tools which are more like board games. That is, Asana can be used in a lot different ways whereas its competitors tend to work within more circumscribed rules. Asana's unique approach has earned it a loyal following of users reflected in its skyrocketing valuation. Last March, the company raised $50 million in a Series C round.
A direct competitor of Slack, HipChat is an online workplace communications platform. It includes screen sharing, messaging, and video conferencing, among other features. It can largely replace intra-office emails. HipChat is widely used by tech startups of all sizes and has started making inroads outside of the tech world in large part because it's very easy to use. Atlassian, which bought HipChat in 2012, has priced the service aggressively at $2 per month per user to help it stand out in a crowded field.
Podio is a business collaboration tool set apart by its apps market and its scalability. Small businesses can adopt it for office communications and expand its functionality as staff and requirements grow. A company could start using Podio as a messaging app for a dozen employees and, a year later, run sales and HR through it.
Fundamentally, this is a service for serious business use. The free version of Podio is bare bones, so the ideal customer is a company willing to commit to it and make it a central part of operations. Its pricing is mid-range with plans from about $10 to $25 monthly per user.
XWiki Collaboration Suite
An open source platform, XWiki Collaboration Suite allows companies to create a completely customized system for sharing information. XWiki can serve as a "knowledge base" where all types of data--from customer information to technical expertise--can be shared, annotated, and organized.
One of XWiki's most powerful features is that it allows users to create new data-sharing apps without writing any code, meaning that the software can be updated on the fly to meet changing needs. XWiki might be less polished than some "closed" platforms. But its customizability is hard to beat. (Arguably it is even more flexible than Asana.) Because of its adaptability XWiki's client list is diverse, ranging from giants like EMC to small enterprises.
When we think of Japanese exports, we tend to focus on gadgets and cars. But the most influential Japanese invention may in fact be lean, a highly efficient manufacturing technique. Created in Toyota factories and later adopted by corporations around the world, lean is a systematic method for eliminating waste. Since its popularization in the 90s, executives have used lean for everything from streamlining manufacturing to making teams of marketing executives collaborate more efficiently.
LeanKit adapts the lean philosophy into its project management software. Running on an intuitive graphic interface, LeanKit organizes each task of a project onto a virtual card. The cards are laid out visually, as if on a tabletop, so that all team members can see how much progress has been made and what remains to be done. Meanwhile, LeanKit tracks the team's progress, measuring how long tasks take and who collaborates on them. Afterwards, managers can use the metrics to analyze workflow.
For any company already using lean techniques, LeanKit is a natural solution. But the software has also attracted a growing contingent of users who are new to lean--and piqued the interest of investors. So far, VCs have pumped almost $25 million into the startup.
An enterprise-level project management tool, Workfront is at the high end of both capabilities and cost. It can be used to oversee employees, projects, orders, invoices, and company assets, making it suitable for big organizations. At 30 bucks monthly per user, its cost is also suited for bigger budgets.
One of Workfront's distinctive features is that it gives employees at different levels of the corporate hierarchy access to different types of information. This means that managers can maintain a top-down view of entire projects while collaborators are kept on a need-to-know basis. Conversely, the filter can work in the opposite direction, with subordinates able to see the nitty, gritty details while managers only see the big picture.
Skarpline is another one of those tools that makes you think, I can't believe this has taken so long. The online communication platform's most important benefit is eliminating the need for email attachments in the workplace. This makes a lot of sense. Attachments--whether they're internal reports, articles or spreadsheets--usually travel through offices in cumbersome email chains. Important comments can get lost in the fray and version control can become a nightmare.
Skarpline allows business to keep all files in an online repository where comments can be stored and organized in a single place and people can be brought up to speed quickly, without provoking a replyallpocalypse.