The UC Red Letter Opportunity
Calendaring is one area that doesn't get enough (any?) attention when it comes to interoperability.
Calendaring is one area that doesn't get enough (any?) attention when it comes to interoperability. We accept that it is possible and reasonable to book airplane travel complete with various options and a specific seat assignment without the need to make a call, but scheduling a meeting with an external colleague or even a dentist is beyond our technology.
UC tools and features generally mature first within organizations, and slowly extend beyond the walls. At one time, multiple phones were necessary in order to reach multiple exchanges. Voice, email, and fax have been the mainstay of intercompany communications, but that's rapidly broadening. Most of the UC interoperability conversation centers around video, wideband audio, and federated presence. But what good are these tools if we can't agree on a time that everyone can use them?
It was actually the calendar appointment that was one of the first big improvements in inter-organizational communications. iCal (.ICS)-formatted messages allow users to send meeting requests via email across most platforms including Exchange/Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar, Notes, Thunderbird, GroupWise, and many others. It was an underrated accomplishment. Appointments support multiple devices (mobile, desktop/laptop computers, tablets), multiple time-zones (after all, mobile users keep moving), multiple fields (who, when, where, why, confirmed, tentative), and multiple operating systems and applications. (Oddly, Google Android phones still can't accept appointments--even from Google Calendar users).
Appointment invites/accepts work great as long as the proposed time is agreeable. At best, the appointment is just a confirmation of a meeting previously agreed. At worst, it's received as a dictated non-negotiable summons. What's missing is the ability to mutually agree or negotiate an inter-organization time via online tools.
Other iCal limitations include incomplete support for recurring and repeating meetings and non- Gregorian calendar support. But by far the biggest is its inability to automate or assist the selection of agreeable times for people among multiple organizations.
A young firm named Tungle solved this problem for me. Tungle accessed my calendar and offered a public means for others to view free/busy periods and to request a time. My interaction was strictly with my calendar (and email). It was a powerful solution. RIM agreed, and so acquired Tungle, likely intending to further leverage its email and calendaring capabilities. But RIM became distracted with survival, and neglected the Tungle service. RIM recently notified me and others that the service will be shuttered in December.
I've been disappointed to learn that little progress has been made in the rest of the industry while I was using Tungle. Meanwhile, UC vendors sing the praises of collaboration--especially across organizational boundaries with customers, partners, and suppliers. Modern collaboration technologies truly improve communication and interaction among dispersed individuals; but agreeing on a time to use them remains inherently manual.
It looks like the problem will need to be resolved by younger startup firms. Here are some I've discovered (excerpts taken from websites):
* Book'd--Currently in closed beta, Book'd is an online scheduling platform that can be used to manage your personal schedule, professional schedule or both. It can also be used for groups and organizations.
* Doodle--Doodle is an online scheduling tool that can be used quickly and easily to find a date and time to meet with multiple people. Doodle aggregates responses and tells you which option works best for everyone.
* Lizibot--Currently in closed beta, Lizi automatically selects the optimal time and place for all of the attendees at a meeting and cuts down unnecessary communication.
* Schedule Once--ScheduleOnce provides affordable and professional scheduling software to individuals, small businesses and enterprises.
Do these vendors (or others I missed) have what it takes? It's an interesting business challenge, as they are addressing the gaps between very large enterprise vendors including Microsoft, IBM, Google, and Apple. The market opportunity would seem to be huge, as most of us use some form of online calendaring. Is the best path to success through the individual user, corporate IT, or as an acquisition for a larger firm? Inter-organizational conferencing and collaboration will continue to grow as more firms discover the effectiveness of these tools.
These are the kinds of vendors we seek for the Innovation Showcase at Enterprise Connect. The purpose of the Showcase it to identify and recognize innovations in enterprise communications. We seek young companies that are improving enterprise communications, that fill gaps and eliminate obstacles to productivity with innovative new technologies and approaches.
Watch NoJitter for upcoming details of the 2013 Innovation Showcase to be announced soon.