June 04, 2013, 3:54 PM — Long considered old-school tools with no place in shiny corporate social collaboration suites, to-do software is making a comeback with a new air of cool about it and renewed appreciation from enterprise IT.
The reason? It's now clear that enterprise social networking (ESN) software helps people collaborate on projects, but is not particularly good for assigning and tracking who is responsible for doing what by a specific date.
As a result, in the past two years demand has risen for a new type of collaboration software that combines enterprise social features with functions for leaders to plan and supervise projects and for team members to track their tasks -- it's known as social task management (STM).
"Yes, there's definitely a trend there. It's an emerging category," said Rob Koplowitz, a Forrester Research analyst.
ESN products have hogged the collaboration market spotlight for the past eight years. Vendors promise improved productivity via Facebook- and Twitter-like capabilities adapted for workplaces, arguing with increasing success that email is overused and inefficient for many tasks that their products are better suited for.
Consequently, more and more CIOs get persuaded every day that their employees will work better together with ESN suites that let them set up profiles, microblog, share files, co-edit documents, participate in discussion forums, launch wikis and comment on and rate corporate content.
But when ESN software first emerged and started gaining traction in enterprises, many vendors rejected the idea of including in their suites an application to identify and structure project tasks, saying that such a component would introduce complexity and dilute the core value of ESN: facilitating free form, ad hoc collaboration.
"Now people are turning around and saying: 'Hey, a bit of structure isn't a bad thing," Koplowitz said.
In most projects, leaders must sketch a blueprint and assign tasks to team members, and some of those tasks may be very social in nature, like collaborating on a presentation to the board of directors. But it's usually necessary to do structured tracking of deliverables and deadlines.
"So teams move among structured and social activities as they work on a project," Koplowitz said.
Historically, there have been sophisticated project management applications designed for team leaders, and, on the other end of the spectrum, there have been lightweight, simple to-do applications aimed at individuals to track their work tasks. STM products aim to bridge that gap.
Although they aren't homogenous in their feature sets, STM products generally are designed to serve both team leaders and project participants in a way that is more intuitive and friendlier than legacy project management tools and more powerful and collaborative than traditional stand-alone to-do applications.