Mobile, social, video, and cloud collaboration services are quickly becoming four technology legs of a stool supporting what I call the workplace experience. Enterprise investment in these technologies continues to outpace the overall IT market.

Yet taken alone, I'd argue these technologies offer little to no competitive advantage to firms.

Why? One reason: Thanks to the likes of Apple, Google, Microsoft,IBM, Cisco, and a broad array of technology suppliers, virtually every company in the world can now access them. Consider the facts:

  1. Cloud collaboration services: Evidence suggests small companies can put these technologies to use faster than their larger counterparts. Basic business collaboration services can now cost less than a daily cup of coffee to run for employees when provisioned via the cloud. What it means: Barriers to use are low.
  2. Enterprise mobile technologies: Individual employees are able to put the latest mobile devices and apps to productive business use faster than their employers can. Our data suggests the most highly mobile (and highly paid) employee segments (33% of the information workforce) already embrace these tools to make themselves more productive from work, from home, and from the road. What it means: Companies have little control over who uses these.
  3. Enterprise social tools: The current adoption barriers social technologies face in enterprises (by the numbers, it truly is dismal) appear to have more to do with cultural ambivalence and organizational complexity than they do with technology complexity. What it means: Many IT shops have overcome the tech complexity and are now scratching their heads on these other factors.
  4. Enterprise video: Our data shows enterprise video has already gained strong acceptance among employers' most senior  executives. I expect broader acceptance will follow enterprises swiping the dust off old enterprise network infrastructure, and supplier improvements to the user experience. What it means: These will get fixed in the near-term . . . again, for all firms.
I can already feel the virtual spears of discontent sticking out of my back from the Enterprise 2.0 pundits of the
world. Bear with me.
So if the aggregate effect of these raw technologies is a leveling of the competitive playing field, rather than increased
competitiveness of one company over another, why the strong technology market growth? I'm working on a couple of theories for Forrester's upcoming Content & Collaboration Forum I'm hosting in Boston this September. Here's my early thinking:
  • Workforce technologies help catalyze workforce engagement. "Employee engagement" is a top priority among organizational development professionals these days. Lots of great academic work behind this term I won't go into now. But in a nutshell, my thesis is employers who support their employees with the technology tools, effective leadership, information, and human networks perform better than those who don't. I'll share our first ever data (from about 5,000 US information workers) on this  at the event.
  • Mobile, social, video, and cloud enable the disaggregation of work activities, an untapped source of value.  Particularly among highly paid information workers in service economies, these tools let us better optimize job descriptions and distribute work more effectively. Have you ever wondered why an executive paid over a quarter million dollars per year is sitting at her desk taping expense receipts to a piece of paper? Or why one person who is highly skilled at one activity — like sales — is forced to do an activity he stinks at, simply to meet a job performance metric designed by some far disconnected HR pro? I do. And I think these tools make it easier to redistribute work for better business outcomes.
  • In aggregate, these tools create a marketplace for ideas. There isn't a single IT or business leader I've met with that feels certain about their business, or their own future employability for that matter. Maybe it has something to do with a decade that included a debt crisis, financial crisis, the recession, or the wave of outsourcing that occured right after the first recession. Maybe there's just comfort in the added connectivity these tools provide. But my sense is, it's about more than the proverbial corporate "group hug." Instead, I think a rising generation of business teachnology managers now accepts that these new technologies offer a conduit for ideas to better manage the uncertainty we all face.

Share thoughts and I'll mention a few in  my opening remarks. Thanks and hope to see you at what's shaping up to be a truely unique event!