[Editor’s note. We attended the Office 2.0 conference this week, and noted a lot of interesting innovation happening with interactive applications for office workers. We asked Jeff Nolan, a former venture capitalist at SAP Ventures, to report about what he saw. Jeff, who this week announced he has become chief executive of a start-up called Teqlo, has been watching this area as closely as anyone.]

The Office 2.0 conference that was held this week was exciting for me, aside from the fact that I came out of the shadows with my new company, Teqlo.

There was a sense of determination and intent about the Office 2.0 meme that extends beyond hype. There are real companies with real and substantial products working here.

The venue itself was intimate. Demo, another conference, used to be like this (though is still a really good event). I was not alone in wondering if the Office 2.0 conference is held again would it be as good as the first one. Time will tell.

As is typical at these conferences, awards are handed out and a best-in-show picked by the audience. I have to say that the wisdom of crowds was in full effect here with Joyent taking the award and few people outside of the other presenters disagreeing with it. The team over there is having some fun with this as their blog post from yesterday suggests, but they earned it, so congratulations.

I like this service enough to think we should be using it at Teqlo. Is it better than Zoho Office or any other the other competitors? Time will tell. Joyent captivates because it delivers applications focused on user experience: From small business to large, what people do in their workday is communicate, organize things and manage content, and Joyent delivers a service that appears to really hit the mark on those things.

Joyent captures something I’ve started to call “purpose-driven applications,” that are designed around what people do rather than around providing features that may seem cool, but which no one really uses. If you are offering what Microsoft Office does, so what? The point isn’t just to replicate what they did a decade ago, the objective for all these services should be to exceed by reinventing rather than replicating. Microsoft’s Office suite was a packaging strategy for an age when you put an actual product on a shelf, it’s less relevant today, aside from a demonstration of how dominant market share creates inertia in the market.

The second service I found interesting is one that is somewhat overlapping to my own company so I’m a little conflicted about including it. Nonetheless, in the interest of being intellectually honest, I have to say I was really impressed by what the team (of 3 people!) at Itensil have built. The best way I can describe it actually maps to my first impression, which was “holy crap, they built a wiki with workflow!” Here’s what they have to say about their workflow methodology:

  • Enables the people who perform the work to capture their knowledge quickly and easily • in an actionable, reusable format.
  • Enables the ad hoc application of that knowledge as an activity unfolds, when and where it is needed.
  • Team members adapt individual process instances on the fly as situations require.
  • Lessons learned are accumulated and available to teams performing subsequent activities.

The demo they gave me was very impressive in terms of “fit and finish”, features, and again, the “purpose-driven” approach to how they built it. I very much liked this service and couldn’t help but feel that if workflow products from the 1990’s had this level of elegance, perhaps the whole category would have a better reputation than it ended up with. But it’s easy to talk about workflow in the context of standalone services lacking integration to other products. If Itensil is successful in capturing and integrating services from traditional applications, it could become even more powerful. At any rate, it is already something that small businesses can drive real value with today.

techdirtlogo.jpgThe last company I want to highlight is one that I am very familiar with because I used to be a customer when I was with SAP, and more importantly, I have known Mike Masnick for a long time now and think very highly of what he has accomplished with Techdirt. Techdirt is more than just a great blog, as Matt at VentureBeat noted last night.

The service that Mike and Grier launched this week is revolutionary, it’s called the Techdirt Insight Community and it grew out of their own insights into where corporate intelligence (an oxymoron, I know now) and more importantly, discussions they had with their clients, including myself, about what we needed.

Bloggers who join the Techdirt Insight Community get access to companies worldwide, take part in interesting discussions and get paid for their insight. Their blogs act as their resumes, proving their passion and experience in certain topic areas, which Techdirt places into each blogger’s profile. As issues are raised that touch on their areas of expertise, the bloggers are alerted and can respond. Techdirt manages the entire process, from start to finish — making sure that all a blogger needs to do is to provide his or her insight and get paid.

Make no mistake about the fact that this is a shot across the bow of the entire professional analyst community.

With Techdirt’s IC, authentic, expert bloggers will also get the one thing that currently eludes anyone but the “A-List” blogger, namely access, and that is the one thing that analysts and traditional media have traded on to the exclusion of everyone else. In other words, the playing field is being leveled and everyone who is a participant in the “insight economy” is going to find themselves competing on the basis of insight alone.

Corporate clients are screaming for this kind of service not because traditional analysts are failing them, but rather because the information marketplace has become increasingly complex and in order to attract and impress smaller influencer communities you really have to engage the people who are in them.

There you have it, my top 3 picks and what I hope you will see is that this notion of Office 2.0 is not limited to the services that aspire to toppling Microsoft and their dominance in the office suite application market. In fact, I was gratified to hear a range of people saying (out loud mind you) that this isn’t about Microsoft at all but rather evolving the next generation of productivity applications that have great context to what people do in their everyday jobs.

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