The company that came in from the cold

Collaboration firm wants to expand beyond spy agencies

CollabraSpace, a maker of Web-based collaboration tools with a traditional market in the intelligence community, wants to expand its reach. With a former FBI official onboard to chart the course, CollabraSpace executives are seeking the attention of the Homeland Security Department and law enforcement organizations.

The company, founded in 1998, counts the National Security Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency among its customers. CollabraSpace’s products let organizations deploy virtual workplaces in which employees can interact via instant messaging, share documents and conduct audio and video conferences. The company has not yet extended security standards to its audio and video conferencing.

CollabraSpace already works with customers outside the intelligence sector, such as the Defense Department and organizations in the commercial sector. However, company officials believe untapped potential exists in homeland security and law enforcement.

In January, CollabraSpace hired Mark Tanner to direct the company’s business in those markets. Tanner was director of the FBI’s foreign terrorist tracking task force before retiring and joining the company.

The company’s push into the new niches may help it prosper, said Erica Rugullies, principal analyst at Forrester Research. Like their intelligence counterparts, homeland security agencies “have [a] budget to spend…and have business problems that collaboration tools can help solve,” she said.

The trick for CollabraSpace has been to find markets that require secure collaboration features, which found an early audience among intelligence agencies. The company’s software uses Secure Sockets Layer encryption and X.509 certificate encryption, a level of security applied to audio and video communications and text messages. That level is secure enough for intelligence agencies, but the company had feared it might limit the product’s potential in other settings.

“In 1998 and 1999, we weren’t sure that some of the security things we did to the product would be relevant to other industries,” said Shawn Davis, CollabraSpace’s chief operating officer. But the company has found other intelligence organizations that desire the same level of security, particularly in light of regulatory compliance efforts.

Tanner said CollabraSpace’s security emphasis makes the products especially suitable for homeland security and law enforcement applications.

“There’s a huge demand for, and expectation for, information sharing,” Tanner said. “The means by which agencies are sharing information today is not as effective or efficient as it probably could be.”

Tanner said CollabraSpace’s products can be layered in joint operations.

Those products range from commercial software to tools for building custom solutions. CollabraSpace’s original offering — Rooms — combines features such as instant messaging, shared whiteboarding and audio and video conferencing in one product. The company also markets CollabraSuite, a collection of graphical components that organizations can use to assemble a collaboration system. In addition, CollabraSpace’s J-Foundry product lets developers build applications in the Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition environment.

CollabraSpace works with integrator partners in its traditional markets and plans to tap those partners to introduce the company to new customers.

“We rely very heavily on our partnerships,” Davis said, adding that integrators such as Booz Allen Hamilton and Computer Sciences Corp. have contract awards in which CollabraSpace provides one part of a broader solution.

The need to build collaboration features into more extensive solutions has created an environment ripe for acquisition and partnering.

“The collaboration tools market has undergone considerable consolidation in the past few years,” Rugullies said. Infrastructure vendors such as Microsoft and enterprise content management vendors such as EMC have acquired or developed collaboration tools that are part of a larger platform or suite of applications, she added.

“Independent collaboration software vendors like CollabraSpace are acquisition targets for infrastructure vendors, [enterprise content management] vendors and others,” she said. The suitors haven’t knocked on CollabraSpace’s door yet, which leaves the company free to mine its niches.

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