Overcoming UC Limitations
A new breed of tools aims to take the pain out of enterprise communications -- inside and outside the company, across modalities, and in real time.
While reading a PDF file recently, I wanted to follow a reference to something on page 132. Unfortunately, typing that number into the go-to page function took me to page 116 instead. This is because the software counts net pages, including the ones before the start of page numbering.
We are regularly working around ridiculous limitations of our productivity tools. If I can read the page numbers on the bottom of each page, why can't the reader software do the same?
I spend too much time working around software limitations. Despite the fact that we all have online calendars, for example, we endure a ridiculous mating dance when trying to find a time across organizations, as I wrote in an earlier post, Time to Schedule Calendar Upgrades. The same is true when working with UC tools. Sometimes I can't find the app that's ringing on my PC. I can click-to-dial, but I can't click a PIN code. I can start and stop recording, but can't restart. Rejecting a call on one device just sends it to another device... and so on.
As I've mentioned previously on No Jitter, lately I've been working with several emerging workstream communications and collaboration (WCC) solutions, tools that support real-time and asynchronous communications. While I've written about how WCC integrates into workflow, today I'm tackling how these tools address common UC limitations.
Clientless: Generally speaking, software clients are getting better at synchronizing across devices. This enables something like redial to behave identically across devices. But why bother? With clientless solutions, the need to synchronize is replaced with one entity. Most WCC solutions were born in a browser. Most support WebRTC, but some use browser plugins. WCC solutions will lead the revolution toward clientless communications.
Mobile-First/Cloud-First: As most WCC solutions are designed as cloud services, mobility is an inherent feature as opposed to an add-on. VPN connectivity is not needed. WCC solutions are typically as robust on mobile devices as they are on desktops, and they include encryption.
Native Video Conferencing: To this day, the UC suite is voice, instant messaging, and sometimes video. Video shouldn't be an add-on. UC and video has always been something of a shotgun marriage. The video industry never fully embraced voice, and UC vendors have kind of done so with video -- just not multipoint control units and room systems. Because WCC solutions tend to leverage WebRTC, they tend to start with video. In some cases, audio-only is supported by turning off the camera.
Federation: The UC pitch is that IM will increase communications and collaboration -- and it does as long as it's within the empire. Teams increasingly comprise individuals across multiple organizations. Too often dialing "9" to get an outside line also activates a collaborative time machine, even if involved organizations all use the same high-quality UC platform (hat tip to Microsoft and its Skype for Business federation). Many video vendors were quick to support click-to-join, but collaboration must extend beyond scheduled meetings. WCC solutions are inherently designed to operate across organizations.
Messaging: Frustration is growing with email and voicemail. Being always connected has propelled messaging to the preferred means of communication. Business professionals often consider messaging to be a more polite, effective, and responsive way to communicate than alternative modalities. Messaging options have proliferated; we have consumer-class services such as Apple FaceTime, mobile services such as WhatsApp, prosumer options such as Skype, carrier SMS, and enterprise IM solutions. Though WCC solutions are far from universal, they are more so than the other messaging islands as they work on desks and mobiles, and consolidate conversations with content.
Search: Despite the size of the Internet, searching for content is usually easier than searching an email inbox. Many aspects of our conversations and conversation histories are associated with the device (and disappear forever when we change them). WCC solutions bring our real-time and asynchronous conversations together into a single, shareable repository. Two key features make this repository extremely valuable -- persistence and search.
Discovery: Search works best for the content we know exists, but discovery of new content -- such as finding other people with expertise on a given subject -- is trickier. Enterprises can fill this gap with various tools such as social platforms, intranets, and wikis. Unfortunately, most organizations utilize broadcast email and reply-all as a means of sharing information that could be relevant. UC focuses more on exclusive communications -- a conversation between two people excludes everyone else. Inclusive communications allows open, shareable, and discoverable conversations.
Today, several WCC solutions support real-time and asynchronous communications suitable for individual and team collaboration, as discussed in this white paper that I recently co-authored with fellow No Jitter blogger Zeus Kerravala. These include Acano coSpaces, Biba, Cisco Spark, Interactive Intelligence's PureCloud, RingCentral Glip, and Unify Circuit. No doubt, many more solutions will be launched in the next 12 months -- and I'll be watching.