The Coming Communications Omniverse
Teams should be able to adopt freemium communications clients for project-based work, while IT picks a platform for broader-based communications.
If you haven't checked it out yet, Brian Riggs has another one of his fabulous Slideshows, with the usual comprehensive, in-depth, well-illustrated deep dive into a particular topic --in this case, it's a rundown of collaboration tools that he bills as "email killers." It's a product category that industry heavyweights would associate with Unify (via Circuit) and Cisco (via Squared), but Brian demonstrates that this has been a lively, active category brimming with startups for at least the last four years. Unify and Cisco are the newcomers here.
These startup-based tools have all the hallmarks of freemium driven apps: Names based on twee misspellings of onomatopoetic words; rosters of early adopters in tech-savvy fields like software development; and, in most cases, a strong mobile-first approach. These factors might make enterprise managers, and their strategic vendors, dismiss these team collaboration apps as unimportant or nichey. That could be a mistake.
Instead, I think this could be one part of the next generation of BYOD/OTT. I recently wrote about how the proliferation of these types of freemium communications/collaboration tools gives the legacy vendors an advantage: They can make a better case for being the standard or default system across an enterprise in which different groups might otherwise be going their own way with a panoply of different freemium clients. And indeed, from the freemium vendors' perspective, each new competitor cuts into its opportunity to capture the critical mass that would give it a Metcalfe's Law-driven case for dominance.
So the more likely scenario might be a shakeout, where a handful of the earliest/best freemium tools survive--too many for any one to dominate, but enough of them so that the survivors can claim a meaningful amount of mindshare among people who use the tools for business tasks. At that point, maybe individual enterprise teams should be free to pick the freemium client that their members like best--perhaps there's no need for a common client across the enterprise, at least for those teams' project work.
As Irwin Lazar points out, users already seem to be moving in this direction--which makes sense, because it's what they do in the rest of their lives. People have tons of apps, tons of clients on their phones that they use in different contexts now. Maybe it's actually easier to wall off your team-specific work from your external and more general internal work if you have a whole separate app that you use just for that specific context--an app that you chose because the team members agreed it was the most functional for the work at hand.
Inconvenient for IT? Maybe so. But maybe not so bad. Maybe there's a zone of compromise similar to the one that enterprises are gravitating towards for BYOD devices: You can't have just anything you want, but there's a pretty extensive list of approved choices from which you can make your selection. Then maybe the enterprise can standardize on another client--presumably associated with your core UC platform--that's available to all users as a cross-organizational platform.
Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't enterprise IT pick a standard UC/collaboration platform, and only let teams use something different if they really have a good reason to? That's what many in IT would be inclined to say, but just stating the proposition that way explains why it might not work: People nowadays simply don't feel bound to obey IT's edicts about what applications to use, and one of the major points of Brian's Slideshow is that these freemium guys have already beaten the enterprise heavyweights to the market with their apps.
Waiting for IT to standardize on a strategic vendor's client means...well, waiting. And users tend not to be willing to do that anymore.