Citrix Understands Collaboration Is About Getting Work Done

May 13 2012 06:00:00 PM Comments Disabled
Swiss Army KnifeLast week Citrix held their 7th annual Synergy conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco with close to 7000 people in attendance. Many of the infrastructure products that Citrix sells ($2B+ revenue in 2011) are outside of my coverage area, but now that they are increasing their focus on providing software that helps people get work done, I was honoured to attend the event. Below are my thoughts around their collaboration portfolio which includes GoToMeeting, ShareFile and the recently acquired Podio.

It's How You Tell The Story

What impressed me the most during Synergy was not their products, but the way they talked about collaboration. Rarely during the keynotes or my 1:1 meetings with their executives did I hear talk of "social", and not once did anyone use the term "social business." There were no tales of how today's workforce is based on a more open culture of sharing, nor how a new set of tools/services is needed to help organizations change the way people work. Instead all of Citrix's messaging was around improving the processes that employees currently use to get their jobs done.

For example, think about a typical web-conference; a conversation begins in email or maybe chat and then an hour is scheduled to get everyone together to discuss and watch someone present slides. The problem with this workflow is that the information which led up to the meeting, the content produced during the meeting, the decisions made and follow up-items assigned, as well as everything that occurs after the meeting are not connected. Enter Podio, which provides collaborative workspaces where people can work together to create and share information and tasks. Add to that files stored in ShareFile (or other 3rd party file stores) and you have project workspaces, content and real-time web-conferencing combined. I think of this as the Citrix Collaboration Platform, which I've illustrated below.

Citrix Collaboration Platform

While having a platform that combines these features is certainly useful, it is not unique to Citrix. Several other vendors including (alphabetically) Cisco Quad (WebEx), IBM SmartCloud (formerly LotusLive), Microsoft SharePoint (Lync), Oracle (Beehive) and Saba People Cloud (Centra) have similar offerings based on their collaboration and web-conferencing services. Each of these platforms has its strengths and weaknesses (including features, deployment options and pricing) but one of the things that sets Citrix apart is the Podio applications, which I cover in more detail below. Side note: Adobe Connect is now the only major enterprise web-conferencing service without an integrated collaboration platform, so I expect to see them making an acquisition soon.

There's A (Business) App For That

I've been a big fan of Podio since the moment I first discovered the quirky little Danish startup. While most "2.0" vendors were busy developing blogs, wikis and activity streams, Podio focused on creating a platform where people could easily build (or perhaps a better word is assemble) or download (from an integrated app store) business applications for things like HR, CRM, finance, meetings, etc. These apps do not need to be coded by developers. Instead, anyone can create one by simply drag and dropping fields onto a form (text, date, check boxes, status indicators, videos, maps, etc.), people then create pages based on these forms, and the completed forms are then displayed in views. Does this sound familiar? If so, you'll understand why I've been calling Podio "What Lotus Notes should have become." for almost two years now.

There are several things I find extremely useful about Podio apps, such as:
  • They provide structured content versus simply jumbling together all the information into a single field. For example, if you're taking meeting minutes you could have a field for names of attendees and additional fields for agenda, notes and follow-up items. Or a feature request form could have fields for customer name, date requested, details, priority, revenue implications and project status. Providing fields to input information is faster and more consistent that just using free flow text.
  • Because of these fields, the views in Podio can be sorted and filtered to show just the information you want to see. For example, if you want to see all the feature requests with status "In Progress" that are from companies over 10,000 employees, a few simple clicks and the view will show you exactly what you're looking for.
  • Views have built in reporting capabilities where you can calculate things like count, sum, max, min or average of (appropriate) fields.  For example: In a CRM app, it's easy to quickly see the total revenue from of all the opportunities or you could just report on a subset based on any filters you wish to add.
  • Task assignment/management features are built into the core of everything in Podio. Tasks can be generic or related to a specific workspace, application or even as granular as a specific page.
  • Podio apps are accessible on Android and iPhones without any additional coding.
  • Podio has been excellent at providing integration with other products such as Google Apps, Box, DropBox, Evernote and more.

Getting Work Done  

While many vendors are talking about "Adding social to core business process", that often just boils down to integration of events from one platform into the activity stream of another. To get real work done employees need to be able to create and engage with the people and content that contribute to their jobs. Podio apps are design to "be" core business processes, not just link to them. Also Podio apps have social features like commenting, liking, sharing and task assignment built right in, not added afterwards. Now add to that the integrated web-conferencing features of Citrix GoToMeeting, plus attachment storage from Citrix ShareFile (or other 3rd party file sharing tools) and you have a very powerful platform that employees can work together on to help achieve their business goals.

Podio GotoMeeting Integration

When Your Benefits Are Your Curse

While I've mentioned several positive things above, reality is that the success of Citrix and Podio faces many challenges. With almost almost two decades of Lotus Notes experience behind me, I know first hand that marketing a platform that can be used in numerous ways is quite difficult. It's much easier to explain the benefits of specific applications like HR, CRM or ERP that it is to sell something that is "the Swiss Army knife of collaboration." Lotus Notes suffered from this as does Microsoft SharePoint today. But times have changed, and people are perhaps more accustomed to the "there's an app for that" philosophy today than they were a decade ago.

Similarly, while "anyone can create applications" sounds good in marketing material, this does not always work out so well in a corporate environment. Sure anyone drag and drop a few fields onto a form and call it an application. But designing a successful app also requires an understanding of workflow, user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design. Without corporate standards for things like form layout and field naming conventions in place, rouge applications can turn up by the dozens. I assure you, providing people bad applications, or even just inconsistently designed applications can almost be as bad as not providing applications at all. I think there is a huge opportunity for growth in administration and developer tools for the Podio platform.

The Road Ahead

Putting GoToMeeting, Podio and ShareFile together is good starting point for Citrix as they look to provide their customers collaboration tools. Podio workspaces provide a way to turn GoToMeeting into more than just an occasional tool that people use to get together online. Now web-conferencing can become an integrated part of the workflows that people use as they collaborate via Podio applications.  I'd like to see native chat added to the mix, enabling people to quickly get answers to questions, share links, etc. in a less formal manner than using the Podio activity streams or email. Today the integration between the 3 products is quite basic, but over time I expect to see a much more robust set of features evolve. To begin with, I'd like to see unified registration, log-on and directory (people and groups) features that span Podio, ShareFile and GoToMeeting.

Citrix provides the potential to elevate Podio from "niche collaboration product" to a major vendor in the collaboration market, as Citrix can supply Podio the resources to grow the product as well as a huge customer base to sell into. I hope to see several improvements in Podio's activity stream such as filtering (similar to what they provide in applications), embedded attachment viewers, tagging and hide/mute as well as a more robust text editor that allows control over fonts, tables, images and more. I'd also like to see more layout options for Podio forms.

While I don't expect to see an on-premises version appear, I do hope that restrictions such as GoToMeeting's 15 person limit are lifted, or else it will be difficult for Podio to grow beyond small departmental applications to supporting company wide business processes.

From everything I've seen and heard so far, I'm quite impressed by Citrix's vision to help employees get work done.  It's what they have been doing for years with their desktop virtualization products and now I look forward to seeing how they do with collaboration.

For More Information

This image shows how you can attach files from your computer, Google Docs, ShareFile, Box, DropBox, Evernote, Microsoft SkyDrive or SugarSync. The variety of services supported is great, but I'd rather see a configuration screen where you can choose which of these services you'd like have displayed versus them all being available by default.

Podio Attach File