Time Is Now for Mobile, Virtual, Distributed Teams
The communications, collaboration, and social silos are starting to crumble, opening the opportunity for integrated suites that better serve worker needs.
For several years I've been harping on the idea of integrating unified communications with collaborative tools, including business-grade social software, to boost worker productivity. I've used names such as "optimized communications" and "collaborative communications" to describe such integration, but none have gelled. Regardless, we're starting to see some movement in this direction.
In a June 2013 UCStrategies article, I described how the next generation of communications needs to focus not on the technologies themselves but on how people use them to achieve their desired results -- be those attending scheduled meetings, inviting business partners to collaborative sessions, helping customers with support issues over video, or working with geographically distributed development teams. The key to success is bringing together these various capabilities, typically in their own silos today, in order to support the mobile, distributed, virtual, collaborative workforce.
Think of this new area as integrating the four "Cs":
- Communications - UC, voice, video, text, messaging, mobility, etc., for real-time and non-real-time conversations
- Collaboration - Audio/Web/video conferencing, team workspaces, and business-grade social software
- Content - Users should be able to search for and share documents, ensuring that the latest version is accessible to team members. Participants should be able to easily access documents and resources before and during collaborative sessions, and to easily search for and connect with the right resources and people as needed
- Context -Being context aware means understanding users, including previous interactions, what teams and work groups they're associated with, geographic location, and other factors that provide valuable insights and information
In a January 2012 post, I advised No Jitter readers that within the next two to three years they should expect to see integrated UC/collaboration/social suites from many vendors. These suites, I said, would include UC tools such as email, voice, text, video, presence, IM, click-to-communicate, mobility, and unified client; collaboration technologies such as shared workspaces, meetings, and conferencing; and social tools such as communities, user profiles, microblogging, and activity feeds. And, I had added, these suites would tie in with email, contacts, and calendars, as well as with APIs and plug-ins to enable business process integration. Further, users would access the tools that make the most sense for their particular needs.
OK, here we are three years later and, while we're not there yet, we are getting closer.
We're seeing good progress made from what my colleague and fellow No Jitter blogger Dave Michels calls "workstream collaboration and communications" (WCC) vendors. Dave defines WCC as "a new form of communications that starts with group messaging and blends in real-time and other asynchronous communications." WCC companies like Slack and Atlassian, with HipChat, are doing a good job integrating some real-time communications capabilities, while solutions like Cisco Spark and Unify Circuit are able to leverage their real-time communications DNA to make good headway in this new market. I agree with Dave when he states that the obvious next generation of applications such as Slack and HipChat "will offer the ability to escalate messages to voice and/or video conversations within the same solution."
To meet the needs of today's workforce, I believe that this next generation of solutions must be:
- Mobile and cloud enabled
- Supportive of real-time and non-real time communications and channels, including voice, IM/chat/SMS, and video
- Secure and reliable, providing business-grade security and reliability while easing collaboration and communication with colleagues and customers outside of the user's organization
- Open and able to leverage plug-ins and APIs to enable integration with CRM and other business applications
- Location and device independent, able not only to work across different types of devices and operating systems but also to switch devices and channels as needed (e.g.; able to continue an interaction when moving from the desktop phone to a mobile device)
- User friendly and intuitive
This is a tall order, but doable, I believe.
Providing all of these capabilities in a secure, user-friendly solution won't be easy. I fully expect to see more mergers and acquisitions in the coming months, bringing together "traditional" UC vendors with WCC vendors and others in order to provide complete solutions that offer the best of both worlds. RingCentral set the pace when it acquired Glip, and I expect others to follow. Several of the UC vendors I've spoken with recently have indicated that they're currently developing these types of solutions (essentially trying to catch up to Cisco and Unify).
Whether the market winners will come from the UC or team collaboration side is yet to be determined. Regardless, enterprise users will be the winners.