LiquidPlanner, Inspired by Social and Mobile Computing, Aims to Make Business Software Sexier

The explosion of faster networks, connected crowds and mobile computing has made millions of Americans into astonishingly fast and efficient consumers. But when the weekend’s over, too many of us walk back into a technological time-warp of email chains, conference calls and endless meetings.

Bellevue-based LiquidPlanner is among the companies trying to break down that wall. Founded in 2006 by two veterans of Expedia and Microsoft, the startup is trying to make productivity software sexier—and just plain better—by incorporating elements of social networks and app-based computing.

It’s one example of an emerging trend in business software. Author and venture capitalist Geoffrey Moore, the guy behind the classic business text “Crossing the Chasm,” describes the change as a migration from “systems of record” like databases to “systems of engagement,” allowing workers to collaborate and share more information.

“The next big wave of investment in enterprise IT will be around this consumerization of enterprise IT,” Moore told us in an interview last month. “And it’ll be around, in particular, helping companies communicate, coordinate, and collaborate across company boundaries.”

Charles Seybold, the co-founder and CEO at LiquidPlanner, couldn’t agree more. The company is trying to overhaul boring old business software by including the features and visual language that people already use in their private lives—and that younger workers will increasingly demand.

“Our whole design was built around this concept of social management. It’s about people working together to get things done,” Seybold says. And he says that is a big change in the world of project management, a multibillion-dollar market where software has traditionally focused on technical rather than social solutions.

“A lot of our competitors are involved in what I like to call the kitchen sink wars—they’re trying to add more features. But it’s not really about adding more features. It’s about making them easier to use,” Seybold says.

LiquidPlanner’s story is a classic: Techies frustrated by the bureaucracy of a larger company set out to solve a nagging problem. Seybold and co-founder Jason Carlson both worked at Expedia before it spun out of Microsoft, and were with the company as it grew into “one of the Four Horsemen of the Internet,” as Seybold puts it.

“From an insider’s perspective, this was a company that grew really fast,” Seybold says. “And its process, inside the company, became quite a challenge.” Seybold got to see that firsthand as he worked to set up Expedia’s first project management system. After spending millions on consultants and … Next Page »

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