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Time to ReInvent Collaboration?

It's time to take a fresh look at how we work together. Unified communications features have expanded to now generally include services for voice, messaging, and meetings. More recently, some providers have further expanded their solutions to include features such as whiteboards and video messaging.

But it’s not enough. 

These services are just the basics. Modern collaboration requires more. This is a fact, not an option, backed by the observation that most people install and rely on additional apps to collaborate at work. Modern collaboration is becoming an expanding cluster of incomplete apps.

"ReInventing Collaboration" is the theme of this year's Innovation Showcase at Enterprise Connect. The timing is appropriate as the pandemic profoundly impacted attitudes and requirements regarding the way we work. Each year, the Innovation Showcase introduces new, emerging products and services to the Enterprise Connect audience. It’s often the younger companies that come up first with new approaches to old problems.

Collaboration needs a makeover, and we should start with a blank canvas. The tech has evolved but left a few evolutionary stumps along the way. For example, is in-meeting chat the same as team messaging? Or does one initiate a video call from a calling app or a video app? Is a recorded audio message a voicemail or a message?

How would the modern collaboration suite look if it were invented today? Is suite even the right word? Aren’t app suites just an indication that the apps within are incomplete?

I see some low-hanging opportunities with improved calendaring, project management, and notetaking. These seem obvious to me, but the right solution could come to be entirely different.

Modern calendar apps are just powerful enough to require individuals, rather than assistants, to manage their calendars. I wonder if we came out ahead in this bargain. Scheduling appears to be a major activity of the modern executive assistant. That’s because scheduling external participants for a meeting is a complex, painful dance.

Specialized solutions like Calendly are popular because they address a big gap ignored by calendaring apps and collaboration providers. They provide a simple, elegant solution to a real problem. Scheduling Microsoft 365 has Bookings, which is fine for Microsoft shops, but solutions need to be inter-organizational and multi-platform.

Another low-hanging fruit opportunity for collaboration is in project management. Collaboration is about multiple people working toward a shared objective, yet most so-called collaboration suites don't address project management — at least not very well. Instead, we rely on separate tools like Trello, Asana, and Monday to fill these gaps.

Lastly, collaboration services need to better address shared notes. While there have been some interesting developments related to automated notes powered by conversational AI, there’s still a need to address manual note-taking. You can see in most meetings that the participants either take notes or pretend to do so, so why not promote notetaking? Like meetings, documents, drives, and calendars, note-taking should be a native service within collaboration.

There are a few UCaaS providers with integrated notes, like Microsoft Teams and OneNote, but they are the exception, not the rule. Instead, users turn to personal apps for notetaking which then creates incompatibilities and security vulnerabilities. Evernote and Notion see an opportunity and recently announced plans to upgrade their personal apps into enterprise plays that share and secure notes.

Those are three obvious areas, but the timing and conditions are right for a far bigger reimagination of collaboration. Consider all the breakthroughs in AI that are occurring. We are seeing innovative uses of AI within specific areas such as meetings, but we need to think bigger with collaboration. For example, AI that suggests ways to optimize schedules or propose other changes that shorten project timelines.

I also wonder if it’s time to get rid of collaboration clients. Solutions such as those from 8x8, Google, RingCentral, and Vonage do well with the browser. Cisco, Microsoft, and Zoom still rely on clients. That increases time and complexity in deployments and also limits collaboration with external users. Are desktop clients still necessary? Or is it better to stick with clients and assume mobile-first?

The companies we include in the Innovation Showcase must apply for consideration. I’ve listed a few ideas above, but if you are collaborating in new ways, please encourage your provider(s) to submit an application for the Innovation Showcase (it’s free).

The companies that apply are evaluated by a panel of judges. This year, the judges are Jon Arnold, Venkat Kandhari, and Dominic Kent. They will be evaluating each application for innovation, enterprise fit, and business value. We will select about five companies for the showcase, and you can learn more about them during a session on Wednesday morning on March 29. 

The basic communication functions like chat, meetings, and voice are maturing, so we need some new, fresh ideas. The next wave of collaboration solutions will prioritize better work across organizations and offer a more comprehensive range of services. And, you will likely see them at the Innovation Showcase.

Many of the Innovation Showcase alums thrive and return to the show. To learn more about the Innovation Showcase for 2023, including how to apply, click here. The deadline to apply is March 1, 2023. 

Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.