Future of Productivity Software Part 1: The Tortoise and the Hare

Blog post contributed by Chris Marsh, Research Director - Workforce Productivity & Compliance

As the tale goes, the hare races off leaving the tortoise in its tracks, only to slow down and allow the tortoise to triumph. The fable reminds me of the productivity software category. Growing innovation across collaboration, content and work management, workspaces, in assert creation tools and other segments has made a once dull category exciting again. It has heralded new rising stars to become the new incumbents, and some have even pushed the ‘best of breed will determine the future of IT’ narrative as part of the excitement. The narrative typically states that a few winners across the product categories emerge and play nicely with each other to serve future enterprise needs. We think this is premature:

  • With enterprises scrambling to give effect to their digital transformations, the term ‘best of breed’ has in fact been the path of least resistance – a better way to doing something everyone already understands. In this instance, a better way to manage content collaborate or provide access to applications.
  • The opportunity to disrupt within their segment to drive market share has downplayed the need to disrupt beyond their segment to position for the future of work that will look very different from the way it does now.
  • These vendors risk being the hare in the fable by not understanding the tortoise. The “tortoise” isn’t the legacy players, but rather is the vendors tooling the proverbial category “white space” that best of breed vendors have left wide open.
Existing product segments largely reflect the symbiosis of legacy tools, ways of organizing and existing buyers and buying rationales that must now be recast due to the imperative need to digitally transform. Productivity software will, as a result, have more opportunities to evolve from intersections across the category, segments catalyzed by new technologies such as AI and machine learning, than it will from innovations within each alone. Significant white space is defined by bringing together the reach across the spectrum of work scenarios with the ability to manage them with sophistication, whereas most tooling has historically traded off one for the other. We at 451 Research believe this white space will be inhabited by a new archetype software we term the ‘Workforce Intelligence Platform’ (WIP).

Catalyzed by intelligence, hybrid integration, decentralized workflow automation and likely the growing attention from the mega caps the WIP will have a strong gravitational pull on the entire category. This doesn’t have to imply the pendulum swings to all-in-one solutions, the way we currently conceptualize the WIP entertains several enablers of what we term transversal WorkOps, the subject of the second blog in this series. The inference is, though, that where we are now – legacy vendors disrupted by better alternatives within the same segment – just marks the beginning of even more innovation yet to come.

In the “The Future of Productivity Software” Technology & Business Insight (TBI) report, we:

  • Highlight the chronic challenges enterprises face with their workforce productivity, which the SaaS and best of breed explosion hasn’t done much to alleviate.
  • Provide a schema showing value across the tooling pyramid is inverting.
  • Propose a technical architecture for the WIP, map the positions of each productivity software segment relative to the white space it inhabits and outline in detail the directional travel of each towards or away from that space.
We will continue to discuss the future of productivity software and the corresponding TBI report in a three-part series. In the next blog, we will outline what we call “new WorkOps behaviors” that will support the emergence of what we term the ‘liquid enterprise’ – new digital native businesses, that will define future business competitiveness.
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