'Big News,' Big Questions in Collaboration
Enterprises looking to create better collaborative work experiences have a growing slate of platforms to pick among, including from Cisco, IBM and, apparently, Facebook.
As one vendor after another rolls out products aimed at creating better collaborative work experiences, the big questions of the day are: Will people actually adopt these things? And, if so, will they adopt one or multiple platforms?
The latest companies to take aim at creating tools for the "way workers work," as UCStrategies.com co-founder Marty Parker discussed last week in his No Jitter post, are Cisco, IBM, and Facebook. Cisco launched its long-awaited collaboration platform, Project Squared; IBM took the wraps off of Verse, a social and analytics tool integrated with e-mail; and Facebook is working on an enterprise-focused offering slated for release in early January, according to published reports.
Getting Squared Away on Collaboration
As No Jitter editor Eric Krapf posted yesterday, Cisco introduced Project Squared, along with several other products and upgrades including the IX5000 immersive telepresence series, at its Collaboration Summit 2014 in Los Angeles. Among the new products, Project Squared moves farthest out of Cisco's traditional comfort zone.
At first glance, Project Squared looks like a first-generation social offering much like Unify's Circuit (formerly Project Ansible). Shared workspaces give users the ability to share documents and other files, as well as to initiate communications in real time or not. Where Unify refers to these workspaces as "conversations," Cisco calls them "rooms." In both cases, these workspaces appear in a stacked list on the screen's left side. Frankly, they look rather sparse when compared to Microsoft's Yammer, IBM Connections, or any of the consumer offerings, and the idea of rooting through a list of these collaboration spaces seems a bit 1980ish to me.
Project Squared is available for iOS and Android mobile clients, while Unify says it will offer both but hasn't yet delivered its Android version. Both are accessible via browser as well, though only Chrome for now in Unify's case.
As I've written previously, despite their failure to gain any meaningful traction with mobile clients, the unified communications (UC) vendors continue to flaunt the importance of mobility. Unfortunately, traditional mobile UC clients didn't do much that the smartphone couldn't do on its own. However, if the overall concept of collaboration tools catches on, a mobile client will likely be a key part of the offering -- that's still a big "if," though.
Tuning Up With Verse
While most of these "new way to work" tools, as Unify has labeled Circuit, look to move beyond e-mail, IBM looks to reinvent it with Verse by incorporating social collaboration and built-in analytics (see video below). With its Connections experience, IBM is further along than the others in applying social networking concepts to the business context. Verse will give users an at-a-glance view of their schedules and, through the embedded analytics, will learn user preferences and priorities over time. The company also plans to add a feature later on that will allow users to query its Watson cognitive computing system on a topic and receive answers ranked by a degree of confidence.
Clearly IBM is not thrilled with e-mail either, noting that analysts estimate that of the 108 million business e-mails sent daily only 14% are critical. But while e-mail remains a necessary evil, Verse adds intelligent task prioritization and allows information that was previously scattered among e-mail, calendar, to-dos, social networks, chats, online meetings, and documents to be organized in one collaborative space. Oh, and Verse has mobile clients, too.
IBM said a Verse beta release will be available to select clients and partners this month, and a freemium version is due out first-quarter 2015.
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