Picture this: Your sales support is on the East Coast while your business development is on the West Coast. Some of your corporate information is stored in the cloud, while the rest is on a server humming away in a closet in your headquarters. And a $10 million deal you’re about to pitch is about to fall apart because you can’t share ideas and files effectively.
It’s a growing problem as businesses have become more virtual and the concept of the office dissipates. Even the smallest businesses are able to host enormous amounts of data online thanks to cloud storage and computing from companies like Rackspace and Amazon. With employees strewn across the country, there’s a huge amount of demand for collaboration tools to share files and communicate effectively.
Thats where companies like Box.net, Huddle, Yammer and Jive come in. Each offers its own spin on collaboration tools. Some companies, like Yammer and Jive, are taking an approach inspired by social media, providing a platform to organize collectively and get things done the Facebook way. Box.net creates a “workflow” similar to a Twitter timeline for business projects and opens up a large space for storage and easy access of files. There’s also Google Docs, where users can see changes in real time and simultaneously chat about their work.
But the holy grail of effective remote collaboration is still out of sight. There’s a lot of potential in companies like Yammer to generate the same kind of enthusiasm that Facebook generates, but it doesn’t yet fix the logistics of being able to quickly access and collaborate on projects across thousands of miles. Companies that provide easy ways to store and access files, like Box.net and Google, don’t yet have highly effective communication tools.
The opportunity here is for a service that wraps collaboration and communication together. Today, to address all its needs, a business would have to sign up with multiple services. That’s not particularly easy, nor is it cheap. The first startup that provides quick-fire access to storage with a communication medium that brings out the same kind of enthusiasm in employees that Facebook generates will be the clear victor.
The closest contender seems to be Yammer, which is opening up its platform to third-party developers. Adding Box.net’s or Google’s document-sharing capabilities to a Facebook-style news feed seems like the best of both worlds.
But it’s far from a given that Yammer will take the collaboration prize. If there’s anything unique about Silicon Valley, it’s that one or two folks in a garage working together can create the next killer app that solves this problem altogether. And there are venture capitalists looking to encourage it.