Podio, Citrix, Collab, and UC

by Dave Michels

Last week, Citrix announced it struck an arrangement to acquire Podio. I thinks this is interesting, and here’s why. 

The UC space is moving toward “Collaboration” – you can see it in all the vendor literature and websites. The conferencing space is also moving toward Collaboration as a means to convey more than just audio or even video. The social enterprise space is also moving toward Collaboration – social networking is often associated with time wasting gossip, so putting a collaboration spin on it makes it more suitable for  business.

So what does this mean? Well, that depends a lot on where you sit. As a end user, it’s great – it means lots of vendors, in seemingly different industries, are aligning in clever ways to help improve productivity. If you are a vendor or channel partner, it means (like all other things in UC), that the competitive landscape is rapidly changing, and that companies that were partners or complimentary are rapidly becoming competitors. Either way, it means the ‘horizon of interesting things’ is expanding. 

Citrix is primarily known for its impressive VDI solutions. In the virtual world, there’s virtual servers and virtual desktops – the big players are Microsoft, VMware, and Citrix. VMware is the market share leader in server virtualization and Citrix is the market share leader in desktop virtualization or VDI – both are rapidly working to unseat the other. Virtual desktops are not particularly new, but in a post PC era, they become much more interesting. So much so that Dell just acquired Wyse for its impressive non PC desktop device for virtual desktops.  VDI solutions are expanding to tablets and smartphones – and offer an interesting solution for BYOD by not putting any corporate content on the employee device.

Back to Citrix. In terms of UC, Avaya’s been a good partner for Citrix – virtualizing many of its apps. But Citrix also has a branch of services called Citrix Online that offers several real time collaboration services including:  GoToMeeting, GoToMyPC,  GoToAssist, GoToWebinar, GoToTraining, GoToManager, HiDefCorporate (audio), and VoView (screenscasting). Effectively, Citrix and just about every UC vendor (hosted and premises) offer solutions for real time conferencing and collaboration yet because they are not core solutions, they typically aren’t associated as competitors. Based on personal observations, Citrix has some strong market share in the conferencing and collaboration space.

If you were at Enterprise Connect – and checked out the Innovation Showcase – you no doubt saw Wrike. Podio and Wrike are similar – though unlikely head-to-head competitors based on each being fairly small. Both companies offer tools for multi-organizational collaboration. Wrike positions itself around project management and Podio is more around structured forms created via drag and drop templates. The Project Management approach makes more sense to me, but a quick visit to Podio.com reveals the page tab title is “project management software” and the word “project” appears four times in the home page text. There are a lot of similarities and differences between Podio and Wrike, I only this up because I evaluated Wrike for the Innovation Showcase – Podio I know by reputation only (they did not apply for the showcase).

But the key thing here is that Citrix is now moving into asynchronous communications – they have virtualization, real time tools, and now tools to facilitate non-real time collaboration communications. Sounds a lot like the UC vendors that are positioning around real time communications, collaboration, and virtualization.

Lets think about that for a moment. The last big boom in IT was around MRP, ERP, HRIS, and CRM – different TLAs and some preceded the others, but effectively the same things. They were all solutions that helped organizations become vertically integrated, From sales to manufacturing they (aimed to) align departments. Now, the trend is shifting to horizontal – the big opportunities lie in aligning internal operations with external entities such as customers and partners (AKA collaboration). This isn’t easy – we can’t even agree on things internally with the same CIO. Therefore, the integration has to take place with accepted standards such as phone numbers, email addresses, and APIs. These social integration tools collectively known as work hubs won’t replace ERP and CRM, but will extend them and reach many more people  very quickly and cheaply. Sometimes this gets lumped into “social business” and “Enterprise 2.0”.

Wrike uses email. It is simple, requires no customization – add members and they collaborate on projects and tasks via an email interface. Email remains a very powerful tool and is subject to little to no interoperability issues. Wrike offers a simple “work graph” as a one stop place to connect tasks, people, projects, files, discussions, time logs, etc. Podio offers similar tools, but creates multiple workspaces instead of one and prides itself more on its structured database with APIs and an app market place.

Presumably Citrix thinks these lightweight, social, flexible, scalable, cloud based work hubs, which can be integrated into more complicated systems (ERP, CRM, etc.) could be the next big wave. It aligns nicely with current trends and attitudes around cloud, mobile, and collaboration; and could effectively extend an ERP or CRM down to a field resource at a different company. It’s a big vision, but realistically a small bet as Citrix bought-in early.

I think it is a great vision, the only thing that surprises me is the Citrix part.

Thin client computing makes a lot of sense. It solves a lot of problems and a much lower TCO. It’s been viable for about a decade, but not mainstream. The Citrix solution is probably one of the best, but a few months ago Mitel announced it could process voice over a VMware thin client desktop. We know the UC vendors are racing toward virtualization, but I didn’t think the virtualization players were racing toward UC. With GoToMeeting – Citrix customers can share content, and conference over the IP data stream and/or phones, they can also IM each other.  Now, with Podio, they can collaborate and share tasks – effectively business process tools. Citrix is in an awful lot of data centers and positioned as a post pc infrastructure leader.