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Are enterprise collaboration tools all the rage?

Talk to Dan Schoenbaum, the newly announced CEO of enterprise collaboration company Teambox, and he'll tell you the market for applications that let workers share files using cloud-based tools, collaborate instantaneously and access the software anywhere is ripe to take off.

Need proof? How about Microsoft's $1 billion-plus purchase of Yammer a few months ago? Further proof is in the list of customers Teambox has signed on, from Southwest Airlines to Groupon, Lego, Dannon and Penn State. In the last seven months the company has grown its customer base by 350%, and that's without any Teambox doing any marketing.

Still though, email remains the dominant communications platform in the enterprise and many Teambox clients use the software on a department level, not enterprisewide. Interest is widespread, Schoenbaum says, but deployments of social collaboration tools still seem nascent. "We're in the first inning of this market," says Schoenbaum, who most recently was COO at security firm TripWire before taking over Teambox.

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Teambox today announced a variety of new features to its enterprise collaboration tool, which now integrates with Dropbox, Box and Google Docs cloud-based storage systems. That means users can access files stored in a Dropbox account through the Teambox software. Whereas Yammer's user interface displays as a conversation stream for projects, Schoenbaum says Teambox is a collaboration platform that includes live chat, file sharing and task management, with plans to offer VoIP and video calling soon. It also added, as of today, an open application program interface (API) to allow integrations with existing applications.

Founded in 2010 in Spain, Teambox has since expanded into the U.S. and has become a top-rated application in the iOS store, which has fueled the company's 10x increase in user activity in the last year to 300,000 users, including 900 paying customers, Schoenbaum says. The company is playing in a crowded field, though. Jive Software is a heavy hitter, while Microsoft's Yammer purchase immediately provides some backing for that product. Part of the reason Microsoft was interested in Yammer is because adoption of these tools is beginning to pick up, says Vanessa Thompson, an IDC researcher who covers the space.

IDC breaks the industry up into two groups: Enterprise social software, which would include Yammer, Jive, IBM Connection; and team collaboration or content collaborators, which would include Teambox and components of Microsoft SharePoint. While there is significant convergence of these markets, and more to come, Thompson predicts but the enterprise social software seem to have a leg up on startups.

Many enterprises have previous business relationships with Microsoft or IBM, so those may be the first-choice option for enterprises. Plus, the inherent perceived security benefits that come along with on-premise deployments may give an edge to the enterprise software tools over the cloud-based products like Teambox. Schoenbaum says Teambox is PCI (payment card industry) DSS Level 1 compliant. 

But, Thompson says, even with the features offered by Teambox, that won't be enough to truly attract enterprises. Further integrations with business process and enterprise applications will be key to driving adoption in the enterprise. "The initial install base will be targeting the Box and Dropbox users, but to move beyond that they're going to have to switch to a more enterprise-grade conversation," she says.

The good news is that there seems to be plenty of potential in the market; the question is which players will make the play to the enterprise.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at [email protected] and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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