What the Trello Deal Tells Us About the State of Collaboration and Enterprise Software Stacks

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Trello, an app considered indispensable by many software developers, has joined the Atlassian family, announced last week, in a deal worth $425 million. As Wired said in its coverage, Trello was developed basically as a niche to-do list app for a specialized purpose and audience (software developers) that 95% of the population has never heard of. Over time, its audience has grown to other niches while Jira, Alassian’s product, has maintained appeal primarily with the dev community.

This exemplifies how the broader market for “collaboration apps” is one of the oldest, most continually convulsive, and most frustrating for investors. Unified communications, after nearly twenty years, is becoming more complicated as channels proliferate. The single inbox is an ever more elusive dream. Slack, the billion dollar team communication startup, gained enormous popularity for doing something slightly better than dozens of apps conceived since the early 2000s. It solved the problem of communication, prioritization, organization and task management in teamwork, but it’s one of the very few enterprise startup products introduced recently with mass functional appeal.

Why has so little progress been made? There’s been little progress on a mass basis, but significant progress on a niche basis. In the world of B2B, a world of industry niches, it’s becoming apparent that very few tools have truly cross-industry application and fit. Who are the biggest players in enterprise social media management? HootSuite, a company a lot of people have heard of, and Sprinklr, a larger and more pervasive presence across B2B enterprises, and another billion dollar company that far fewer outside the industry have heard of. There are dozens of smaller players carving out niches in not-for-profit, financial services (Hearsay Social), just as social management (and digital for that matter) seems increasingly to be folded into larger enterprise marcom management initiatives.

Collaboration itself has varying definitions and requirements that are entirely dependent on the function, structure and goals of the team. A distributed team, for example, will have very different needs from collaboration tools than one that works on the same office day in and day out.

Most enterprise operating systems, the practices and technologies that govern how a business operates, are highly dependent on effective collaboration, but enterprises are finding managing these OSs, essentially business practices wrapped around evolving software stacks, increasingly challenging to govern given BYOD, distributed teams, and software proliferation.

So what does the Atlassian/Trello deal tell us about the state of collaboration in the enterprise? That highly nichified technology stacks are beginning to consistently develop across verticals, and in some cases horizontally (by function). In B2B MarTech we’ve seen that much anticipated consolidation has been very slow to occur, largely because a wide cross section of tools are creating niche markets as CIOs CTOs and CMOs put their functional tech stacks together. The average MarTech stack has 8 different platforms in it today. Vertical and horizontal tech stacks, many with overlapping elements, are supporting enterprise functions like:

  • Collaboration
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Management
  • Analytics
  • Finance/ERP
  • Ecommerce
  • Development/Operations
  • Enterprise Information and knowledge management

A sample B2B MarTech stack might include:

  • Digital content management
  • Social publishing
  • SEM management
  • Email management including permissions
  • Lead management and marketing automation for inbound/outbound customer relationship management and communication
  • Online community and customer support
  • Customer analytics
  • Digital performance analytics including web analytics
  • Team communication management
  • Project management

If each stack includes 8-10 discrete pieces of technology that’s 90 different applications, likely from different vendors, within a single enterprise. If combinations like Trello and Jira can work,it gives a vendor like Atlassian significant control over one horizontal part of that stack. As Wired said of the deal, “Atlassian’s existing products, including Jira, sell mostly to software developers and IT departments. Trello, on the other hand, is popular not just with coders, but with marketers, HR departments, sales teams, media companies, and other non-technical groups.”

Maybe the future of the software stack is not owning the vertical stack, but dominating the horizontal function.

 

Feature image source: Stadnik

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Jennifer Evans

Jennifer Evans

President at B2B News Network
President, @B2BNewsnetwork (launched Nov 2014). Content, community and analytics obsessed. Inventor @squeezecmm. Past chair, @itac_online @whiteribbon