Jan
15
2019
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Smartsheet acquires Slope to help creatives collaborate

Smartsheet, the project management and collaboration tool that went public last April, announced the acquisition of Seattle-based TernPro, Inc., makers of Slope, a collaboration tool designed for sharing creative assets.

The companies did not share the acquisition price.

Bringing Slope into the fold will enable Smartsheet users to share assets like video and photos natively inside the application, and also brings the ability to annotate, comment or approve these assets. Smartsheet sees this native integration through a broad enterprise lens. It might be HR sharing training videos, marketing sharing product photos or construction company employees inspecting a site and sharing photos of a code violation, complete with annotations to point out the problem.

Alan Lepofsky, an analyst at Constellation Research who specializes in collaboration tools in the enterprise, sees this as a significant enhancement to the product. “Smartsheet’s focus is on being more than just project management, but instead helping coordinate end-to-end business processes. Slope is going to allow content to become more of a native part of those processes, rather than people having to switch context to another tool,” he explained.

That last point is particularly important, as today’s collaboration tools, whether Slack or Microsoft Teams or any other similar tool, have been working hard to provide that kind of integration to keep people focused on the task at hand without having to switch applications.

Mike Gotta, a longtime analyst at Gartner, says collaboration that happens within the flow of work can help make employees more productive, but being able to build specific use cases is even more critical. “The collaboration space remains open for innovation and new ways to addressing old challenges. For organizations though, the trick is how to create a collaboration portfolio that balances broad-based foundational investments with the more domain-specific or situational scenarios they might have where this type of use-case driven collaboration can make more sense,” Gotta told TechCrunch.

That is precisely what Smartsheet is trying to achieve with this purchase, giving them the ability to incorporate workflows involving creative assets, whether that’s including all of the documents required to onboard a new employee or a training workflow that includes learning objectives, lesson plans, photos, videos and so forth.

Smartsheet, which launched in 2005, raised more than $113 million before going public last April. The company’s stock price has held up, gaining ground in a volatile stock market. It sits above its launch price of $19.50, closing at $25.24 yesterday.

Slope was founded in 2014 and has raised $1.4 million, according to Crunchbase data. Customers include Microsoft, CBS Sports and the Oakland Athletics baseball team. The company’s employees, including co-founders Dan Bloom and Brian Boschè, have already joined Smartsheet.

Jan
09
2019
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Microsoft’s latest Teams features take aim at shift workers

Collaboration tools tend to be geared toward workers who are sitting at a desk for much of the day, but there are plenty of shift workers, also known as first-line workers, who rarely use a computer, but still need to communicate with one another and management. Microsoft released several new features today aimed at including these workers.

In a blog post announcing the new features, Emma Williams, Microsoft corporate vice president for modern workplace verticals, wrote that there are two billion such workers. By making the product more mobile-friendly and linking to existing enterprise employee management systems, Microsoft can make Teams more relevant for shift employees.

For starters, Microsoft is making mobile Teams more flexible to meet the needs of a variety of shift worker jobs. Some might need to record and share audio messages, while others might need to share their location or access the camera. Whatever the requirements, Microsoft has started with a Firstline Worker configuration policy template, which IT can customize to meet the needs of various worker types.

The mobile tool also includes a navigation bar, which allows workers to add the tools they use most often for easy access. The idea is to make it as simple as possible to access the tools they need, given that these workers tend to be on their feet or on the move a good part of the day.

Photo: MicrosoftNext, the company has released a new API to help IT connect Teams to existing workforce management systems. The Graph API for Shifts enables first-line managers, who are responsible for setting up worker schedules, to share data between a company’s workforce management system and Teams, allowing employees to get all of their shift information in one tool. This will be available in public preview later in the quarter, according to the company.

Finally, the tool now includes a new Praise feature, designed to let managers recognize good work by their employees by issuing badges with messages like “Thank you” and “Problem solver.”

The company wants Teams to be more than a tool for knowledge workers. These new features provide a way to include workers that are sometimes left out of these kinds of collaboration tools. The new features also help Microsoft compete with a number of startups that trying to attack the same problem.

These include Crew, a startup that scored a $35 million Series C round just last month and has raised almost $60 million, and Zinc, which also takes aim at the deskless worker, and has raised $16 million, according to Crunchbase.

Whether Microsoft can appeal to both the knowledge worker and the first-line variety in the same tool remains to be seen, but these updates are clearly an effort to take on this space.

Oct
25
2018
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Dropbox expands Paper into planning tool with timelines

Dropbox has been building out Paper, its document-driven collaboration tool since it was first announced in 2015, slowly but surely layering on more functionality. Today, it added a timeline feature, pushing beyond collaboration into a light-weight project planning tool.

Dropbox has been hearing that customers really need a way to plan with Paper that was lacking. “That pain—the pain of coordinating all those moving pieces—is one we’re taking on today with our new timelines feature in Dropbox Paper,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the new feature.

As you would expect with such a tool, it enables you to build a timeline with milestones, but being built into Paper, you can assign team members to each milestone and add notes with additional information including links to related documents.

You can also embed a To-do lists for the person assigned to a task right in the timeline to help them complete the given task, giving a single point of access for all the people assigned to a project

Gif: Dropbox

“Features like to-dos, @mentions, and due dates give team members easy ways to coordinate projects with each other. Timelines take these capabilities one step further, letting any team member create a clean visual representation of what’s happening when—and who’s responsible,” Dropbox wrote in the blog post announcement.

Dropbox has recognized it cannot live as simply a content storage tool. It needs to expand beyond that into collaboration and coordination around that content, and that’s what Dropbox Paper has been about. By adding timelines, the company is looking to expand that capability even further.

Alan Lepofsky, who covers the “future of work” for Constellation Research sees Paper as part of the changing face of collaboration tools. “I refer to the new breed of content creation tools as digital canvases. These apps simplify the user experience of integrating content from multiple sources. They are evolving the word-processor paradigm,” Lepofsky told TechCrunch.

It’s probably not going to replace a project manager’s full-blown planning tools any time soon, but it at least the potential to be a useful adjunct for the Paper arsenal to allow customers to continue to find ways to extract value from the content they store in Dropbox.

Oct
10
2018
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Google+ for G Suite lives on and gets new features

You thought Google+ was dead, didn’t you? And it is — if you’re a consumer. But the business version of Google’s social network will live on for the foreseeable future — and it’s getting a bunch of new features today.

Google+ for G Suite isn’t all that different from the Google+ for consumers, but its focus is very much on allowing users inside a company to easily share information. Current users include the likes of Nielsen and French retailer Auchan.

The new features that Google is announcing today give admins more tools for managing and reviewing posts, allow employees to tag content and provide better engagement metrics to posters.

Recently Google introduced the ability for admins to bulk-add groups of users to a Google+ community, for example. And soon, those admins will be able to better review and moderate posts made by their employees. Soon, admins will also be able to define custom streams so that employees could get access to a stream with all of the posts from a company’s leadership team, for example.

But what’s maybe more important in this context is that tags now make it easy for employees to route content to everybody in the company, no matter which group they work in. “Even if you don’t know all employees across an organization, tags makes it easier to route content to the right folks,” the company explains in today’s blog post. “Soon you’ll be able to draft posts and see suggested tags, like #research or #customer-insights when posting customer survey results.”

As far as the new metrics go, there’s nothing all that exciting going on here, but G Suite customers who keep their reporting structure in the service will be able to provide analytics to employees so they can see how their posts are being viewed across the company and which teams engage most with them.

At the end of the day, none of these are revolutionary features. But the timing of today’s announcement surely isn’t a coincidence, given that Google announced the death of the consumer version of Google+ — and the bug that went along with that — only a few days ago. Today’s announcement is clearly meant to be a reminder that Google+ for the enterprise isn’t going away and remains in active development. I don’t think all that many businesses currently use Google+, though, and with Hangouts Chat and other tools, they now have plenty of options for sharing content across groups.

Sep
03
2018
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Dropbox drops some enhancements to Paper collaboration layer

When you’re primarily a storage company with enterprise aspirations, as Dropbox is, you need a layer to to help people use the content in your system beyond simple file sharing. That’s why Dropbox created Paper, to act as that missing collaboration layer. They announced some enhancements to Paper to keep people working in their collaboration tool without having to switch programs.

“Paper is Dropbox’s collaborative workspace for teams. It includes features where users can work together, assign owners to tasks with due dates and embed rich content like video, sound, photos from Youtube, SoundCloud, Pinterest and others,” a Dropbox spokesperson told TechCrunch.

With today’s enhancements you can paste a number of elements into Paper and get live previews. For starters, they are letting you link to a Dropbox folder in Paper, where you can view the files inside the folder, even navigating any sub-folders. When the documents in the folder change, Paper updates the preview automatically because the folder is actually a live link to the Dropbox folder. This one seems like a table stakes feature for a company like Dropbox.

Gif: Dropbox

In addition, Dropbox now supports Airtables, a kind of souped up spreadsheet. With the new enhancement, you just grab an Airtable embed code and drop it into Paper. From there, you can see a preview in whatever Airtable view you’ve saved the table.

Finally, Paper now supports LucidCharts. As with Airtables and folders, you simply paste the link and you can see a live preview inside Paper. If the original chart changes, updates are reflected automatically in the Paper preview.

By now, it’s clear that workers want to maintain focus and not be constantly switching between programs. It’s why Box created the recently announced Activity Stream and Recommended Apps. It’s why Slack has become so popular inside enterprises. These tools provide a way to share content from different enterprise apps without having to open a bunch of tabs or separate apps.

Dropbox Paper is also about giving workers a central place to do their work where you can pull live content previews from different apps without having to work in a bunch of content silos. Dropbox is trying to push that idea along for its enterprise customers with today’s enhancements.

Aug
22
2018
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Slack must use cash hoard to find new ways to keep competition at bay

It was quite a week for Slack, wasn’t it? The enterprise communications platform confirmed this publication’s earlier report that it had scored another $427 million investment on an over-the-moon valuation of over $7 billion. Slack took a market that had once been in the doldrums and turned it into something significant by making itself more than a communications tool.

It changed the game by making itself a work hub. Through APIs and UI updates, it has made it simple for countless third parties (like Evernote) to integrate with Slack and provide the long-sought workplace hub for the enterprise. Instead of task switching, you can work mostly in one place and keep your focus on your work.

It’s quite a value proposition and it has enabled Slack to raise $1.2 billion (with a b) across 11 funding rounds, according to data on Crunchbase. They have grown to 8 million daily active users. They boast 70,000 teams paying to use it. Whatever they are doing, it’s working.

Competing with corporate behemoths

That said, Slack’s success has always been a bit surprising because it’s facing off against giants like Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Cisco, Salesforce and many others, all gunning for this upstart’s market. In fact, Microsoft is giving Teams away for free to Office 365 customers. You could say it’s hard to compete with free, yet Slack continues to hold its own (and also offers a free version, for the record).

Perhaps that’s because it doesn’t require customers to use any particular toolset. Microsoft Teams is great for Microsoft users. Google Hangouts is great for G Suite users. You’re already signed in and it’s all included in the package, and there is a huge convenience factor there, but Slack works on anything and with anything and companies have shown there is great value in that.

The question is can Slack continue to play David to these corporate behemoths or will patience, bushels of cash on hand and a long view allow these traditional tech companies to eventually catch up and pass the plucky newbie. Nobody can see into the future, but obviously investors recognize it takes a lot of capital to keep up with what the competition is bringing to the table.

Expanding their reach

They also clearly have some confidence in the company’s ability to keep growing and keep the titans at bay or they wouldn’t have thrown all of that moolah at them. Up until now, they seem to have always found a way, but they need to step up if they are going to keep it going.

Alan Lepofsky, an analyst with Constellation Research, who keeps a careful eye on the enterprise collaboration market, says in a recent video commentary that it’s great they got all this money, but now that someone has shown them all of this dough, they have to prove they know what to do with it.

“For Slack to continue to be successful, they need to expand beyond what they are currently doing and really, truly redefine the way people communicate, collaborate, coordinate around their work. They need to branch out to project management, task management, content creation — all sorts of things more than just collaboration.”

What comes next?

Lepofsky says this could happen via a build or buy scenario, or even partnering, but they need to use their money strategically to differentiate the product from the hefty competition and stay ahead in this market.

The other elephant in the room is the idea that one of the competing mega corporations could make a run at them and try to acquire them. It would take a boat load of money to make that happen, but if someone had the cojones to do it, they would be getting the state of the art, the market share, the engineering, the whole package.

For now, that’s pure speculation. For now, Slack is sitting comfortably on a huge cash pile, and perhaps they should go shopping and expand their product set with their newly found wealth, as Lepofsky suggests. If they can do that, maybe they can keep the technology wolves from the door and make their way down the path to their seemingly inevitable IPO.

May
22
2018
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Dropbox beefs up mobile collaboration in latest release

Dropbox announced several enhancements today designed to beef up its mobile offering and help employees on the go keep up with changes to files stored in Dropbox .

In a typical team scenario, a Dropbox user shared a file with a team member for review or approval. If they wanted to check the progress of this process, the only way to do it up until now was to send an email or text message explicitly asking if the person looked at it yet — not a terribly efficient workflow.

Dropbox recognized this and has built in a fix in the latest mobile release. Now users can can simply see who has looked at or taken action on a file directly from the mobile application without having to leave the application.

In addition, those being asked to review files can see those notifications right at the top of the Home screen in the mobile app, making the whole feedback cycle much more organized.

Photo: Dropbox

Joey Loi, product manager at Dropbox says this is a much more streamlined way to understand activity inside of Dropbox. “With this feature, we think about the closing loop on collaboration. At its heart, collaboration is feedback flows. When I change something on a file, there are a few steps before [my co-worker] knows I’ve changed it,” Loi explained. With this feature that feedback loop can close much faster.

The company also changed the way it organizes and displays files putting the files that you opened most recently at the top of the Home screen, which is somewhat like Recents in Google Drive. It also provides a way to favorite a file and puts those files that are most important at the top of the list, making it easier to find the files that are likely most important to you more quickly when you access the mobile app.

Finally you can now drag and drop a file from an email into a Dropbox folder in a mobile context.

While none of these individual updates are earth shattering changes by any means, they do make it easier for users to access, share and work with files in Dropbox on a mobile device. “All the features are to help teams collaborate and be efficient on mobile,” Loi said.

Mar
06
2018
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Data.world introduces enterprise data collaboration platform

 Imagine a tool that’s a kind of Facebook for data inside large organizations. You could build data projects and teams, upload and share data sets, then discuss your raw data and findings with colleagues in a community setting. That’s precisely what Data.world, an Austin startup, released today. Data is the lifeblood of most modern organizations and Data.world has tried to build a… Read More

Sep
26
2017
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Workplace, Facebook’s enterprise edition, snaps up Walmart as a customer

 Workplace — Facebook’s bid to take on the Slack, Microsoft and the rest of the players in the market of business chat and collaboration — is getting a big push today by way of a significant customer win. The company has signed on Walmart, the retailing giant and the world’s biggest employer with 2.2 million employees on its books. Walmart is rolling out Workplace to… Read More

Sep
15
2017
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A typical day for researchers on Google’s Brain Team

 What do you and researchers on Google’s Brain Team have most in common? You both probably spend a lot of time triaging email. In a Reddit AMA, 11 Google AI researchers took time to share the activities that consume the greatest chunks of their days. Email was a frequent topic of conversation, in addition to less banal activities like skimming academic papers and brainstorming with… Read More

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