An email alternative, Qontext retools internal social networking

The company’s offerings include document sharing, video streaming and wikis, which users can edit through their activity feed. Part 3 of our series on enterprise social media.

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Qontext‘s name didn’t come out of nowhere. According to Samir Ghosh, vice president of business and strategy for the company, about half the company’s clients use its enterprise social media tools as a free-standing intranet, while the other half have fit the suite into the context of their existing intranets.

Likewise, the company aims to remove workflow from email to its activity feed—an interface that is somewhat similar to Facebook’s, but which includes document sharing and other features.

“A lot of the other social offerings out there are focused on people, content and tools. We believe they’re missing, in business, the most important part, which is applications,” Ghosh says.

The tools

Qontext’s platform for what Ghosh calls “social contextual collaboration” includes some features of a traditional intranet, such as news and featured content, which can be “pushed out centrally.”

To create profiles, users can enter all their information or import an existing profile from LinkedIn.

However, the crux of Qontext’s suite of tools is the activity feed, which shows employees all the posts from colleagues they follow. The feed is slightly different from Facebook, in that the posting window is a little more like email, with a subject line and body text.

“Not everybody’s used to social apps like Facebook,” Ghosh says. “We cater to what we call the email generation.”

Users can post messages that are visible to everyone, visible only to certain groups, or visible only to one or two other people. They can also “alert” certain co-workers so that, rather than having the message get lost somewhere down in their feeds, a bug at the top of the screen tells them they have an important message waiting.

When an employee is alerted on a message, they also get an email notice.

Similar to LinkedIn, the messaging is largely organized by groups. Users have the option of creating public groups that anyone can join, private groups that require invitations, and secret groups that only invited members can see. Group members can also temporarily invite external users, such as clients or consultants, to join a particular discussion.

Qontext includes what Ghosh calls “true document management.” From within the activity feed, users can open and edit Word or PowerPoint documents and save them in new versions. The system saves each version so users can see how the document has changed over time.

Users can leave comments on documents, rate them and search within them.

Users can also create wikis, which also include the same sorts of version histories. Other features include photos, video streaming, quizzes and blog posts.

When Qontext is linked to an already-existing intranet, each page includes the platform’s collaborative tools. For instance, employees can leave comments and notes on a customer record, link that record to a group or create a document related to it. Employees who follow that record see any changes made to it in their activity feeds.

What’s different?

Ghosh presented Qontext as a solution for companies that currently use email for collaboration. The company’s software-as-a-service tool sends email notices when someone is mentioned or tagged in a message, but unlike using email directly, those notices can be easily deleted without any worry about losing important information. All that data is in the activity feed.

However, users can reply to the email notices they get, and their replies will show up in their activity feeds.

Similar to how Facebook users can choose what email notices they get, Qontext users can select what actions will result in an email notice.

Qontext’s toolset can integrate into NetSuite and other intranet tools through a tab or a popup. It’s useful for internal and external comms, Ghosh says, as well as collaborations with customers, partners and vendors.

Who’s it for?

Qontext’s clients range from very small companies to large organizations with upward of 50,000 users, says Ghosh. A company that can really benefit from Qontext’s tools is one looking to stop using email for collaboration, he says.

“Any company that is doing a lot of collaboration with email can benefit enormously,” Ghosh says.

What a client says

A Qontext case study outlines the challenges that a “leading, Middle East-based, international, low-cost airline” faced and solved using Qontext. The airline was growing fast, bringing on employees from other companies at a rapid clip. Those new employees were used to other corporate cultures. Likewise, most of the airlines employees didn’t sit at desks. However, email was the main communications tool.

Adding Qontext has virtually eliminated email use. Employees use Qontext for all their self-service requests. Human resources and corporate communications use the tools to post featured news and managers use wikis to develop messages. They turn those messages into Web pages they publish to specific departments.

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