FRAMINGHAM (04/10/2000) - Good collaboration tools are tough to find, and they're even tougher for large projects to live without. The founders of MS2 Inc. learned that the hard way while shepherding product development themselves.
The collaboration tools they tried failed to facilitate a smooth, efficient workgroup environment. So they built MS2 Accelerate, a Web-based groupware portal for coordinating collaborative functions.
Successful product launches turn on rapid execution and follow-through, which depend on tight communication among all members of a launch team, inside and outside a company.
The engineering and marketing departments, for example, must be in sync to avoid Dilbertian foul-ups. And everything has to be turned around within development cycles that are now measured in months rather than years.
MS2 spent a couple of years building MS2 Accelerate and quietly installed it at several customer sites last fall, including 3Com Corp.'s home-networking division. Now the venture-funded start-up, flush from a recent $20 million round of financing, is sitting pretty with a purportedly out-of-the-box Internet application. The product solves a daunting problem for rapidly developing companies that together make up a $22 billion worldwide market, according to MS2.
Getting on the Same Page
Though similar to groupware and other generic collaboration tools, MS2 Accelerate has a vertical appeal that makes it a new animal on the software scene. "We've built an application from the ground up specifically for product teams," says Michael Maciag, MS2's vice president of marketing and business development.
MS2 Accelerate encapsulates much of its creators' knowledge of product development. It comes with hundreds of customizable "best practices" templates that outline procedures for performing important tasks well, such as validating product concepts with customers.
It also automates many project management tasks, such as document approval and scheduling, so managers aren't forced to create automated collaborative systems piecemeal using existing office applications and e-mail or groupware like Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange.
Team members stay apprised of a project's progress by visiting Accelerate's Web site. It dynamically lists deliverables and deadlines and links key documents.
E-mail is built-in, so users don't have to go outside the application to communicate.
"Usually, they have a live Web site within a day of the start," says company President and Chief Operating Officer Brett Bachman. That claim is largely confirmed by customers. "One of the key benefits they've been getting is everyone on the team is on the same page - literally," Bachman says.
While information technology isn't MS2 Accelerate's primary market, Bachman and Maciag say corporations will find the software useful in creating e-commerce sites and in managing large, in-house development projects.
Much of the organizational friction that MS2 Accelerate was designed to lubricate is a direct result of the tight labor market, which causes personnel churn that requires frequent retraining, makes teams that are already in place work less effectively and often drives up salaries.
Ironically, it may also be MS2's thorniest challenge as a company. Located in Mountain View, California, in Silicon Valley, the company is doubling its workforce annually - no easy task. The main prerequisite is product management know-how, and Bachman interviews almost every potential candidate. "Every job offer that goes out from MS2 is going to be contested by three or four other companies," Maciag laments.
Competitive threats could develop if existing groupware and marketing software vendors try to grab a piece of MS2's action. "We operated our company for about two years in stealth mode," Maciag says. "Now that we've come out publicly, we expect more competition."
If that happens, creativity, rapid response and sure-handed execution will be called for, and MS2 has a weapon that's no longer so secret that can help.
Essex is a freelance writer in Antrim, N.H.
Location: 2440 W. El Camino Real, Suite 601, Mountain View, Calif. 94040-1400Telephone: (650) 967-7300Web: www.ms2.comThe technology: MS2 Accelerate, a Web application for managing product development cycles through a corporate portalGrowth potential: MS2 estimates the worldwide annual market for its product is $22 billion.
Why it's worth watching: MS2 Accelerate could be a godsend to any group that has a major software project to build in Internet time with a series of deadlines.
Company officers:- Jeff Hudson, co-founder, chairman and CEO- Brett Bachman, co-founder, president and chief operating officer- Michael Maciag, co-founder and vice president of marketing and business developmentMilestones:- 1998: Company is founded.- Feb. 7, 2000: MS2 Accelerate is unveiled at the Demo 2000 show.
Burn money: $33 million backing from Hummer Winblad Venture Partners and others, plus a $20 million mezzanine round in FebruaryCustomers: 3Com Corp., Aspect Communications Corp., Net Perceptions Inc. and Centigram Communications Corp.
Red flags for IT:- Vendors of existing marketing and groupware tools could try to mimic MS2 Accelerate by adding product development modules.- The Silicon Valley labor crunch could hamper MS2's ability to grow.