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One on One with Alastair Mitchell of Huddle

January 19, 2012
Firece Content Management
by Ron Miller

Alastair Mitchell is chief executive and co-founder of Huddle. Frustrated by existing enterprise technology’s inability to help people work together, when collaboration apps in our social lives worked so easily, Mitchell started Huddle in 2006 with Andy McLoughlin. Since then, he has grown Huddle to 100 people in London and San Francisco and raised $15 million in funding. 

FCM: How is enterprise collaboration software different from commercial social services like Facebook?

AM: A key point here is that people often hear the words “enterprise collaboration software” and immediately think it means Facebook or Twitter in the enterprise. They are great tools for connecting and communicating with people in our social lives, or for brands communicating with customers, but they were not built from the ground up for the enterprise or with the purpose of enabling people to get their work done.

The new generation of enterprise collaboration software tools, such as Huddle, use social techniques to help enterprises work more successfully. Collaboration is inherently social and the great thing about this new generation of tools is that they leverage this to make the process simpler, quicker and more natural than the traditional top-down approach of legacy tools.

Faced with the challenges of dealing with legacy systems in the workplace, when they have grown accustomed to simplicity and flexibility in their work lives, workers have often turned to web-based consumer tools to help them get their job done under IT’s radar. With the new generation of enterprise collaboration tools, IT and end users are happy. Users no longer have to grapple with legacy systems that just don’t work and CIOs can rest safe in the knowledge they these tools were built for the enterprise. They have the enterprise-grade features, security, control and support that organizations require in order to deploy to thousands of people.

FCM: SharePoint remains a significant player in this space. How do you compete and work with Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) at the same time?

AM: Huddle is interesting as it is built on the Microsoft stack (.net, SQLServer etc.), but it is one of the biggest disruptors and competitors to Microsoft SharePoint. In that respect, we’re not unlike Salesforce.com in its competition with Oracle. 

SharePoint looms large in this space, but the fact is that it was designed in a pre-Internet era and is far too inward-looking to respond to the key issues that today’s organizations are faced with. These include effective cross-firewall collaboration, gaining using adoption when deploying enterprise applications, supporting an increasingly mobile workforce and reducing total cost of ownership. With a complex interface and poor user experience, it’s hardly surprising that many SharePoint users abandon it and revert back to using email or start to deploy more user-friendly tools so that they can do their jobs.

In short, SharePoint may be a significant player in the space, but it’s often only deployed because it’s bundled into a stack of Microsoft software. There is plenty of room for improvement.

FCM: How do you see collaboration and content management working together?

AM: The fact that collaboration and content management haven’t (until now) existed together is probably the single biggest reason for deployments failing. Let’s take a classic example. You are a sales rep doing a major deal with a pharmaceutical customer. When closing the deal and collaborating with the customer, you create all sorts of valuable content that should be shared with the rest of your team and with the other reps globally. But you don’t. It’s all locked in your inbox and you just can’t be bothered to go back to your content management system and figure out how to upload it for the good of ‘knowledge management’. Why would you bother? It is a fragmented way to work and extremely time consuming. As a result, numerous document repositories, information silos and gate keepers ensure enterprise content is fragmented and effective cross-organizations collaboration simply doesn’t happen.

What we’re now seeing is a new generation of tools bringing collaboration and content management together in one place. These tools are completely transforming the way that knowledge is stored and shared in the enterprise. Documents, conversations and ideas are created, developed, shared and discussed centrally and information is instantly transmitted to the people that need it without disrupting their workflow.

If I had one wish, it’s that every CIO would see how the cloud fundamentally changes content and collaboration, bringing them together and delivering amazing results for the user and organization.

FCM: How does a collaboration tool user separate what’s important from the noise?

AM: The danger in today’s enterprise is that a lot of tools are being deployed that are contributing to the noise rather than enabling people to get their jobs done.

An effective collaboration tool is social with a purpose. All relevant parties—internal and external—should have the ability to securely share documents, content and ideas around specific projects and programs in an online environment. Rather than being privy to every conversation that happens within and between organizations, an individual just needs to have access the information that is relevant to them.

The last thing people want to do is try and decipher which of the 40 conversations that happened in the company this morning are relevant to them. This hinders, rather than helps collaboration by simply adding to the noise. An effective collaboration tool should filter through the information for end users, sending them notifications and updates on relevant documents, informing them of content they need to review and by when. The tool should send reminders and notifications specific to the individual, rather than act as a fire hose of useless information.

FCM: Enterprise 2.0 companies like Huddle are beginning to look a lot alike in terms of basic functionality. Do you see consolidation ahead as a result?

AM: Consolidation certainly lies ahead. It’s starting to happen in the enterprise SaaS market and will spread to collaboration over the next 2-3 years. Last year, we saw traditional software players SAP acquire SuccessFactors for $3.4 billion and Oracle purchase RightNow for $1.5 billion, so tech giants are clearly starting to accept that the cloud is no longer hype and in fact the future of enterprise software.

The cloud is about much more than a payment model or where it’s hosted; it’s a business model that changes how you develop, maintain, market and sell software. Big players are waking up to the fact that they can’t just build their own, and will buy the best not just for their product or customer base, but for the knowledge of how to do SaaS well in the collaboration market. As the early stage companies also become more successful, they too will start bolting on smaller acquisitions to help them grow faster. Jive’s acquisition of OffiSync last year was an example of that. However, let’s not forget that this market is still very young and very big. There is room for several billion dollar players in this space and right now there aren’t any. The next three years are going to be characterized by continued rapid growth, consolidation and market maturity. It’s going to be an exciting time.

One on One with Alastair Mitchell of Huddle

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