Huddle's Game Plan for GovernmentMay 16, 2013
by Rutrell Yasin
U.K.-based Huddle has launched a secure, cloud-based collaboration platform for U.S. government agencies, giving groups of users the ability to share and work on content internally and externally with partners and suppliers from anywhere, on any device — including laptops, smartphones and tablets.
Billed as an alternative to Microsoft’s SharePoint collaboration platform, Huddle had a coming out party of sorts at the annual FOSE trade show May 14-16 in Washington, D.C. “Where SharePoint fumbles, Huddle picks up,” was the marketing pitch displayed on banners throughout the Walter Washington Convention Center.
Huddle officials are looking to address areas where SharePoint is perceived to be vulnerable, such as ease-of-use, pricing and the difficulty teams have with securely sharing content with people outside of an agency. Huddle can work on top of, alongside or instead of SharePoint, depending on an agency’s collaboration requirements, officials said.
Huddle is an enterprise collaboration platform that combines cloud, mobility and social networking to allow teams of people to move out of e-mail as their primary venue for collaboration, said Chris Boorman, Huddle’s chief marketing officer, who demonstrated the platform’s capabilities at FOSE.
For example, Huddle gives users a “Workspace View,” allowing them to create a secure, private online workspace where they can share files, information, discuss ideas, arrange meetings or track projects with invited clients, projects or teams. A workspace could be a project, campaign, single Internet portal or a private client extranet area. The workspace would only be visible to those who have been invited. It is navigated by tabs at the top of the page, which include whiteboards, tasks, discussions, files, meetings, people or settings for the manager.
Understanding where valuable information or content is within an organization can be difficult, Boorman noted. To help users find content, Huddle has a new intelligent recommendation technology that locates, syncs and recommends content to users. The technology will even recommend content that it feels will be relevant to the job at hand, making sure people have everything they need (even if they don’t yet know it) at their fingertips. The demonstration also highlighted how team members can work with their colleagues on the same documents, keeping track of different versions as well as managing approval workflow and tracking who has accessed a specific document.
Huddle is available as software-as-a service. Data is stored in a government-secured, FISMA-compliant data center with 256-bit Secure Sockets Layer encryption in the Washington, D.C. area. Huddle offers a public cloud for agencies with sensitive but unclassified content sharing that requires compliance with Federal Information Security Management Act regulations. A private cloud is available for large, secure deployments and classified collaboration at secret and top-secret levels.
U.S. intelligence and civilian agencies are already using Huddle, including the Navy and Marine Corps, NASA and Defense Department organizations, Huddle officials said. The company entered into a strategic development agreement last year with In-Q-Tel, the strategic investment firm that identifies innovative technology to support the intelligence community. The collaboration platform is deployed by 80 percent of U.K government agencies, the United Nations and the governments of Australia, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain, according to the company.
Whether Huddle can become the “number one alternative” to SharePoint in the United States remains to be seen.
SharePoint entered a lot of public-sector agencies through small, independent workgroups and has grown very rapidly — but in an unstructured manner. Although Microsoft positioned SharePoint as a platform, most users didn’t treat it that way, installing the software more as a stand-alone application, John Mancini, president of AIIM, a global non-profit association that supports the information management community, told GCN in a recent interview.
SharePoint users primarily use it for internal collaboration, file replacement and to help in posting content to Web portals and intranet sites, according to a recent global survey of AIIM members, which included representatives of government agencies, mainly in North America and Europe.
But SharePoint is capable of doing a lot more than that, and users are still trying to figure out how to use the platform beyond those core capabilities, Mancini said. Several companies on the exhibit floor at FOSE such as SusQtech, now a part of Protiviti, offer services and technology to make SharePoint easier to use and help users derive more value from the collaboration and content management platform.
Agencies are now showing interest in SharePoint 2013, which offers simpler content sharing, a better social enterprise tool and advanced search, according to Steve Marsh, director of product marketing with Metalogix, a company that helps agencies move from older versions of SharePoint to SharePoint 2013. Agencies are also deploying SharePoint in private clouds or moving to Office 365, Microsoft’s cloud-based messaging and collaboration platform. Huddle officials claim their platform costs 20 percent less than SharePoint Online, which is part of Office 365.