Users to benefit from collaboration market growth

Jack Loftus, News Writer

The worldwide enterprise collaboration market -- encompassing real-time applications like Web conferencing, chat applications and shared whiteboards -- is on fire, and according to a new market forecast, potential customers will benefit from more feature-rich, easier-to-use products.

According to Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., new license revenue rose 19.7% in 2003, largely due to gains made by industry bellwethers like San Jose, Calif.-based WebEx Communications Inc., the market share leader in hosted collaboration services revenue, and Microsoft subsidiary PlaceWare Inc., whose software is now part of the Office Live Meeting suite of Web conferencing products.

The increase represented a growth of nearly $83 million over the previous year. According to Tom Eid, a principal analyst with Gartner, more gains are likely in 2004 and 2005, with a 17.1% annual growth rate forecasted until 2008. This translates into more than $1 billion in new license revenue over the next four years.

Eid said that enterprise collaboration technology is growing -- and will continue to grow -- at such a strong rate, because it allows groups of people to interact in real-time, even over low-speed network connections. He said team-based products will also grow in popularity through increased use of time and distance-based group collaborations.

Collaboration technology is provided either as licensed software or as a hosted service, and Gartner divides the market into two specific groups:

  • Real-time collaboration products are synchronous in nature and support live communication between participants. They include Web conferencing, application-sharing and shared whiteboard software.

  • Team-based products are asynchronous in nature and primarily are provided for threaded discussions and document-based collaboration. Examples include Documentum's eRoom Enterprise and IBM Lotus Team Workplace (QuickPlace).

    Over the next few years, Eid said real-time and team-based collaboration will become more mainstream technology as performance improves, capabilities broaden and features become easier to use. As a result, end-user interest will increase and the market will continue to gain momentum.

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    As overlap among portal, collaboration and document management marketplaces increases, Eid said, there will be less chance for application errors and lost files. Additionally, in the near future the major content and document management companies will begin to enter the collaboration market and add real-time Web conferencing to their existing application offerings.

    "Anytime you can make the creation process easier, or streamline the process … the better for end users," Eid said. "[These companies] are really good with documents and content, and can improve on that by making collaboration a lot easier to use; better performance, more scalable, better integrated … overall it will make it easier to use the tools."

    Confirma Inc., a medical workflow vendor based in Kirkland, Wash., recently implemented WebEx for sales, marketing, operations and clinical applications.

    Dan Bickford, director of sales and marketing for Confirma, said his company uses WebEx to help sell its application for breast MRI processing to radiology clinics. He said WebEx is crucial in showing the clinics' doctors how the application works and letting them see example results first hand, without face-to-face meetings with them.

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