The biggest sentiment on social media last couple of days has been — “Thank God, it’s over”. No year in living memory has been so hard for almost everyone in the world, across nations, races, languages, and economic conditions. The world collectively heaved a sigh of relief as Dec 31, 2020 passed and welcomed January 1,2021 with collective hope of being vaccinated, safe, and indeed human again.
The one silver lining of the COVID pandemic-affected 2020 has been the acceleration of remote work and the velocity with which every human, organisation, and leader understood the power of digital technologies to connect, collaborate, and accomplish “work” in the new normal. Companies big and small, across the world, from every stage of tech-maturity were forced to go “100% remote” and rely on cloud-based collaboration software to perform their business functions. And having experienced the resilience of networks and technology, and the benefits of remote workers, nearly every business leader is re-evaluating their fixed office work model of pre-COVID era and looking at finding new flexible ways to work in the future.
Most employees through 2020 (February to December) started work from their homes and accomplished nearly all “office work” thru a variety of software tools and networking gear. From remote attendance to remote “on-boarding” and “exiting” processes, companies learnt to manage all aspects of HR remotely. Office meetings were replaced by video and audio conferencing cadence; calendars became a habit; instant communication via chat platforms went big; and collaboration using both old-style email and new-style cloud based software became the norm. Large enterprises used VPN to securely offer access to critical business functions and business data to employees, partners, and even customers. Self-service to remote approvals became the new normal. The #ConnectedEnterprise had arrived.
What made this massive, near-instant switch to remote work possible? It’s the investment in collaborative software development, cloud, mobility, and networks that has been at the heart of enterprise computing for at least 10 years. Software providers have been working hard to support collaborative workflows, move business processes to platforms, build rights-based secure access, notify and escalate for productivity, and scale with cloud-based storage and computation. Previously, enterprises were slow to adopt technology because of conventional cultures, budget constraints, and other situational aspects. But the fears and obstacles are gone now, and global enterprises are on an adapt-or-adopt mission like never. As far as possible, enterprise are now looking to “transform” themselves and move to distributed, remote and hybrid models for talent acquisition and regular work.
Clearly this opens up big opportunity for a new enterprise software leadership to evolve- one that powers the #FutureOfWork . Owning the “knowledge worker desktop (KWD)” is the new battleground today after the database wars, middleware wars, and browser wars. Where will the typical office worker spend most of her time in a work day? Where will they send & receive communication, chat and call/conference with their co-workers and customers, and how will they accomplish both business processes/tasks and personal productivity tasks/processes is the key contest!
Large enterprise software players are aligning their offerings to control this new “front-end”. Microsoft has seen significant adoption of its “Teams” product which was relatively unknown at the beginning of 2020. To their credit, they fixed its bugs, simplified user experience, and improved collaboration rapidly in response to the rising demand. With deep integration with Microsoft Office, Outlook, calendar, and SharePoint, it now becomes a serious competitor in taking large share of the KWD space. Salesforce threw its hat in the ring by acquiring the fast-growing Slack. Slack has been reporting 40% growth year-over-year, giving Salesforce a key weapon to compete with Microsoft for the KWD space. Google has been also eyeing this market but under-performing with its “Meet” product — not evolving rapidly enough to take on a dominant position competing with Teams & WebEx on the enterprise side and Zoom on the SME side. IBM has also made noises about #FutureOfWork along with other traditional enterprise players but has not made any serious dent in the space yet.
As the KWD space heats up and evolves over the next decade, there is going to be great activity on the back end of technology stack as well. Niche players offering databases are already feeling the pressure from cloud provider and their own database offerings (Aurora comes to mind). Virtualisation is moving to containers as cloud adoption accelerates. Middleware will suffer the same fate as cloud environments standardise. It’s also an opportunity for niche business software providers — document management, content services providers, BPM providers, RPA vendors, storage vendors, etc. to integrate their offerings with the evolving KWD front ends to make work seamless and streamlined.
As KWD powers the #FutureOfWork trends, enterprises will aim to bring all stakeholders — employees, contractors, partners and more importantly, customers onto a unified digital platform. I am sure we will see some significant innovations, evolutions, M&As, churns and decays in the enterprise software category in the coming decade. Tighten your belts.