Emergent Collaboration Vendor Review: ThoughtFarmer |

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Emergent Collaboration Vendor Review: ThoughtFarmer


Posted by on January 20, 2012

On Friday’s I’ll be reviewing a vendor in the emergent collaboration space and will provide an overview on that vendor which includes aspects from leadership and vision to technology and market focus. If you are vendor that would like to participate, please contact me (email is in the sidebar as is the twitter link). The goal of these posts is not to bash or praise vendors but to simply offer an objective view on what various vendors offer so that YOU can decide if they are a good fit for your business. Every post will cover the same elements for different vendors. If you have ideas or recommendations for other items to be covered in these posts then please let me know and I will consider them.

This week I’m taking a look at ThoughtFarmer which is based in Vancouver, Canada.  The parent company OpenRoad has been around for 15 years and ThoughtFarmer is the product that appeared five years ago.  Currently there are around 30 employees total for the parent company and around 8 people are on ThoughtFarmer.  ThoughtFarmer describes itself as social intranet software; a marriage of traditional intranet software blended with everything we have come to expect in social media.  I spoke with Chris McGrath the co-creator of ThoughtFarmer.

Integration capabilities

ThoughtFarmer has two-way active directory integration on a field-by-field basis.  Customers can bring in employees’ profile page data from Active Directory and use Active Directory Security Groups to control who has access to what pages of the intranet.  There is also a Sharepoint connector but many people actually want to stop using it because they are disappointed with it (not with the connector but with Sharepoint as a platform).  Finally there is a ThoughtFarmer Integration Kit (based on a very robust, easy-to-use REST API) that allows you to build your own internal applications.  This allows customers to integrate with pretty much anything they need including creating single-sign-on to other enterprise applications.

Support

ThoughtFarmer uses Zendesk for customer support.  This is a community of customers and/or prospects that are interested in ThoughtFarmer.  Here people are able to ask questions, submit ideas, find instructions for basic and administrative use and ideas for how to use their social intranets, or file a formal request.  There is also 1-800 number for customers during business hours and 24/7 emergency support for around $1,500 for the year.  Platinum support is also available for $6,000 for 50 hours of work.  This goes beyond just regular ThouhtFarmer functionality and is used for customization’s such as data migration.

Pricing

ThoughtFarmer has a very simple price breakdown which you can see here.

Maintenance & Upgrades

Software maintenance is included in the software purchase for the first 12 months.  This includes support and upgrades.  There is never an upgrade fee.  After the first 12 months customers pay 22-35% of the annual license fee but this is only for on-premise deployments.  If it is cloud based then it is all included.  85-90% of customers are using the self-hosted version with only a small percentage using the cloud.  For on-premise clients the ThoughtFarmer team actually does the upgrade themselves – clients just need to provide VPN access to ThoughtFarmer’s tech team.

Overall direction/strategic vision for the company

ThoughtFarmer as a company is committed to the intranet and believe the future of this is the “social intranet.”  Half of the people that come to ThoughtFarmer have nothing in place except for a basic file share and email system so there is in fact still a need for even a 1.0 type of intranet let alone a “social intranet.”  Their mission as a company is to make work better and they believe in a work-life balance. Employees at ThoughtFarmer work 40 hours/week and are actually paid overtime.

The upper limits of who ThoughtFarmer supports will gradually and organically grow upwards but they are still going to be focused on the medium size companies.  ThoughtFarmer is also committed to making companies a better place to work and is so committed to that that they have even made significant strides to becoming a sustainable company themselves. ThoughtFarmer as a company is doubling in revenue every year so they are also expanding the team.

As far the industry goes ThoughtFarmer believes that every company will one day have a “social intranet.”  They are also firm believers that organizations can’t have bottom-up adoption of corporate wide-intranet, this works only for small teams but senior management must be a part of it.  ThoughtFarmer also believes that we will see this perhaps becoming an HR initiative or perhaps come directly from the office of the CEO in the future.  On vendors Chris told me that we will see some consolidation in the space but never full consolidation, there are too many little differences.

Key differentiating factors from competition

  • In the case of the on-premise version it’s built on a Microsoft platform (.net application written in C Sharp).
  • Very easy to use and intuitive, do a lot of usability testing.
  • Hierarchical in nature
  • Multi-lingual including localized interface and page translations
  • Edit directly from the intranet
  • Unlike most “collaboration platforms” or out-of-the-box intranet solutions that offer default navigations (usually organizing content by type, such as Blogs, Forums, Documents, etc.), ThoughtFarmer allows you to build a complete navigation structure. You can implement standard web usability best practices such as card sorting and task testing to create a user-centered navigation.

Customization

Full skinning console that allows customers to change everything from branding to colors to CSS to the navigation.  Customers can even replace built-in interface terms with custom terms that better fit their culture and lexicon.

Time to go live

For on-premise it can be deployed as quickly as 24 hours but is more typically a week or so and sometimes a few weeks if customers need to get more coordinated internally.  In the cloud instance they can be up and running in around an hour.

Overall technology

Dot Net application that runs completely on the Microsoft stack.

Industry/vertical focus

Has a lot of clients in financial serices, non profit, design, architecture and engineering.  Focused on 50-5000 employee size companies (ideally mid-size).

Capabilities (customer, partner, employee collaboration)

Employee side of collaboration, internal communities.

My take

I think the best way to describe my impressions after talking with Chris it that ThoughtFarmer is “comfortable” with where they are.  We discussed some interesting strategic directions which I’m not allowed to disclose but I think the team is proud of where they are and they should be with revenue doubling every year.  Still the team behind ThoughtFarmer is tiny by any comparison to most other vendors but the good thing for ThoughtFarmer is they established a nice spot among smaller and some mid size companies as being their intranet provider.

The product itself looks good and has a lot of the features you would expect from a collaboration vendor such as groups, internal blogs, calendar integration, and mobile access.  Their pricing and support models are very straightforward which makes things much easier on the buyer.  I found it interesting to hear that most of their deployments are on-premise especially if many of the companies are smaller and mid-size organizations but that goes to show how paranoid or restricted some companies are when it comes to housing their own data on-site.  I can’t say that anything particularly stood out from ThoughtFarmer that I haven’t seen elsewhere but I can say that the product is what I would call “solid.”  It’s kind of like going to a restaurant where you know you can get consistent good food.  One thing that I didn’t recall seeing though was anything around task management.

The screenshots below show how the platform can be customized to match the look and feel of any particular company.  One of the things that I found most impressive about ThoughtFarmer though was their company culture of sustainability and making work a better place.   They practice what they preach and strive to maintain a work-life balance which is an interesting part of their story that I haven’t heard any other vendor address.

Overall if you are a small or medium size business looking for a collaboration platform that delivers the core features with a few extras then ThoughtFarmer should be on your short list.

To find out more visit their site at ThoughtFarmer.com

Screenshots

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  • Sam

    On-premises!!!! A premise is not a premises. Big difference.  Sorry, a bit of a personal pet peeve.

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