Collaborative Communications Revisited
Collaborative communications is highly promising, but don't expect to see a critical mass of integrated applications or customer adoption for some time.
In the beginning, there was unified communications. Then came unified communications and collaboration (UCC), solutions that emphasize collaboration and the benefits of this technology's use for teams and workgroups. Around the same time, we saw the rise of business-grade social software and increasing prominence of team and workspace tools such as Slack and Atlassian's HipChat.
The next step is integrating these capabilities together, as well as with business applications. I call this "collaborative communications," which I consider the next stage of UCC. As No Jitter managing editor Beth Schultz pointed out yesterday in a post, "Integration is the name of the game." Whether with business applications or between various communication tools and capabilities such as social software or team collaboration applications, it's all about integration.
I've been writing about this for a while, but recently I've been seeing more and more activity from a variety of vendors moving in this direction. While Cisco and Unify were first movers in the area, others are following suit. In the past few weeks I've had briefings with multiple vendors focused on bringing together UCC, social, and team collaboration capabilities.
My quest for the Holy Grail of collaborative communications began a few years ago when I attended UBM's Enterprise 2.0 conference, which focused on enterprise collaboration and social software. I was struck by the absence of real-time voice communications in the solutions I encountered there. Whenever I asked a vendor about real-time communications, I would be pointed to a product's chat capabilities. Chat is great, but it's not enough.
As I explained in a new Esna Technologies white paper, social software tools are great for providing content (information) and connections, or people and resources, with the expertise needed throughout an organization. What's missing is the ability to engage in real-time interactions, including voice. Add UC to the mix and you can view someone's presence and availability, and then communicate directly from the social software client via IM, voice (using click to call), or have a Web or video conference.
When users have an integrated UC/collaboration/social solution, they can access the tools they need from whatever application they're using, without having to switch between them. Using Esna technology, for example, Thomson Reuters has integrated its Jive social software platform with its Cisco UCC solution so users can click on information in the Jive profiles to start a conversation or meeting.
Avaya clearly saw the value of embedding communications into business applications, which is why it acquired Esna last month. The new Avaya Communicator for Web lets customers embed real-time communications and collaboration capabilities into cloud-based applications like Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365, and move from one communication mode to another from within that application.
Other companies are moving in the same direction, and I expect to see a slew of announcements around communications-enabling applications.
One example is RingCentral's acquisition of Glip, which provides team collaboration software, earlier this month. Glip provides shared calendars, distributed task and project management, video conferencing, and file sharing, all built right into the stream. Based on Glip, RingCentral will offer RingCentral Teams, providing collaboration capabilities as well as messaging (chat, integrated corporate directory and presence), with the ability to promote chat sessions to calls, videos, and Web conferences.
The company took its strength in cloud communications and combined it "with a cool team collaboration tool to provide the industry's first integrated cloud communications and team collaboration software," said Niel Levonius, RingCentral's director of product marketing.
Other companies that are heading down the path of collaborative communications are phone system provider Telzio and Atlassian, which offers the HipChat team communication platform that includes group and private chat, file sharing, and various integrations. The Telzio-HipChat integration shows all of the user's important phone activity in one place for ease of management. The integration doesn't currently provide some of the real-time communications capabilities that I'd like to see, but they're on the roadmap and should be available shortly. In addition, I expect to see Telzio integrate with Atlassian's other applications, such as Jira issue tracking software.
I have high hopes for collaborative communications, but I know that it will take some time before we see a critical mass of integrated applications or customer adoption. I expect to see companies like Microsoft and Google, as well as the hosted UCC providers, become more active in this area, introducing innovative and integrated offerings over the next few months.