Smartphone business

As enterprise employees untether, BYOD (bring your their own devices), telecommute, and pursue any number of other work structure related buzzwords, tools for powering collaboration and communication have become increasingly mission critical. The best of these tools must work equally effectively across devices, platforms, networks, and a variety of other physical and conceptual barriers standing in the way of worker productivity.

It is a hotly contested space including the likes of Yammer (Microsoft), Chatter (Salesforce), Jive, Asana, Hall, and numerous others. One of those others, Tibbr, has quietly become a major force in the category, amassing more than 1.5 million paid users in just two years, from more than 157 customers in over 100 countries, including, Apache, KPMG and Macy’s, among other Fortune 1,000 brands.

By comparison, Yammer had just 800,000 paid customers after four years at the time of its June 2012 sale to Microsoft. More interestingly, 75 percent of all Tibbr users switch from Yammer, according to the company – a strong vote of confidence by any measure.

Today, realtime infrastructure software company and Tibbr parent TIBCO launched a full redesign of the Tibbr mobile applications for iOS, Android, and Blackberry. The company claims to offer “ubiquitous support for all devices across all three major platforms,” according to TIBCO Vice President, Products and Engineering Sriram Chakravarthy. (A mobile-optimized Web version brings the product to Window Phone and other platforms.)

“We need to support the dock worker in China on a low-priced Android device, as well as the warehouse worker in Kansas City on an Android tablet, and the C-level exec who carries both a Blackberry and an iPad,” Chakravarthy says.

Each of the new apps was built from the ground to make more information accessible within a limited number of swipes. Notably, with today’s launch Tibbr believes it’s the first enterprise social platform to offer support for the new Blackberry 10 platform – and as much as it may have died long ago among consumers, the Blackberry platform lives on in the enterprise.

“Our user data indicates the as much as 35 percent of enterprise information exchange is now taking place via mobile,” TIBCO President, Social Computing Ram Menon says.

The Tibbr platform connects to an organization’s other SaaS apps, such as CRM and ERP. The goal is that users can move beyond simply communicating and sharing files within their enterprise social platform, to discovering and taking action on new information without switching applications. This means that a sales exec can review and adjust a forecast that lives within the company’s CRM and a supply chain manager can adjust inventory data and purchase orders on the go, and without leaving a communication thread.

“On mobile platforms, we are always guided by how fast we can get our users to accomplish real work,” Menon says. The executive notes that for 50 percent of its users, Tibbr mobile is the first place they interact with the platform each morning.

A new categorization system within the apps allows users to organize information into “Subjects,” which are akin to advanced hashtags. All content or information tagged under a Subject can be easily discovered within a dashboard-like interface, which organizes, posts, likes, links, and files, as well as participating users. Users can search according to keyword, and view analytics for the discussion around a particular subject. All functionality is available in both the smartphone and tablet versions of the Tibbr apps, however the visual layout is tailored to each platform and device.

Tibbr, which is localized in 12 languages, is available under a free 60 day trial, but there is no ongoing free product. Accounts start at $12 per user per month, for either the on-premise or cloud-based version of the product, with per seat pricing declining with volume. Given the rate at which it’s picking up customers from its freemium competitors, the company sees no reason to change this model.

“We find that for most companies, the first inning in the social enterprise is about kicking tires.” Menon says. “The later innings are about security, scale, breadth of support, access, control, etc. I don’t have a freemium model because Yammer does that for me.”

Tibbr is in a hotly contested market alongside against several extremely well-funded competitors. At $3.9 billion in market cap, TIBCO is no under-funded startup, but it still pales in scale and brand credibility to Salesforce and Microsoft. For the company to win the space, it will need to do so through innovation and marketing savvy. It’s likely the latter in which the company needs to step up its game.

Having personally used Yammer, Chatter, Jive, Hall, Asana, and Tibbr among others, all within the last 12 months – you might say PandoDaily has had “social collaboration issues” – I’m inclined to choose Tibbr as my favorite among them. But despite this, ask the average enterprise worker or even the head of procurement at many companies whether they’ve heard of Tibbr, and the results are likely to underwhelm. Combine this with the fact that the lack of a freemium option and the customer acquisition machine is bound to move more slowly.

TIBCO isn’t worried about any of this. The company seems confident, possibly overly so, that the quality of its product will continue to win customers away from the competition.

“Our thesis is that in order for a broad enterprise social platform to succeed, it needs to bring content, applications, business process, activity streams, project and activity management on a single platform,” Menon says. The social computing president pointed out that other companies in the category have focused on one piece of this ambitious list, or tried to address multiple without the reliability demanded by the enterprise. “Our philosophy is: Make it beautiful; make it mobile; make it intelligent: make it easy to use; but couple it with reliability.”