Will Emerging Tech Change the Future of Collaboration?

I don’t think anyone would disagree with the premise that communications and collaboration has evolved more in the past five years than in the previous 50. When I think about what communications will become over the next three to four years, I’m reminded of a song by the great Canadian rock band, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, that blasted out the lyrics, “B-b-b-baby, you just ain't seen n-n-nothin' yet.” Innovation in this industry is about to explode, but not in the way most people think.
When talking about tech innovation, one often thinks of new products like the iPhone, self-driving car, or the latest wearable. In UC, we have enough products and features and functions. What people need are systems that are easier to use. By this, I don’t mean one click versus two clicks, or making meetings start faster. Those are all incremental improvements of what we already have. I believe by 2022 there will be a step function improvement in usability driven by the following three factors:
  • Personalization -- The way one person uses UC is different than the way another person does. The UC solution should be constantly learning about who is in my network, how I like to work, what are the latest versions of content, etc. A personalized system would greatly streamline many tasks such as setting up meetings, booking resources, searching for contacts, and other things that are manually intensive. The key is the UC system should orient itself around each individual instead of treating everyone the same.
  • Predictive -- In the future, UC systems will have the ability to predict what we need. For example, if a meeting ends with the organizer saying, “we’ll meet again in two weeks” the UC system should know to find a time that’s open on everyone’s calendar and automatically book it. Many vendors today are working on providing meeting transcripts, but those are useless unless I have someone willing to read it and pick out the important parts. It’s more important that the UC system use artificial intelligence to analyze the transcript and pull out important information and then act on it without requiring intervention.
  • Intelligent -- One of the problems with AI-based systems is that they often recommend nonsensical things because they don’t have enough data to be intelligent. It’s like if you ask a bot about something with your credit card and it constantly sends you links to check your balance. In the context of collaboration, this will manifest itself in many ways. For example, if I’m trying to book a conference room and I always book the same one, the system should recognize that pattern and prioritize that room in the list. If I include certain people at specific times, like a regular Monday morning touch-base meeting, then the system should recommend those participants without me having to think about it.
One of the interesting things to ponder about communications and collaboration in 2022 is where all the sources of data will come from to fuel the AI systems that will personalize, predict, and become more intelligent. One obvious answer is that the user’s activity itself will become an input, but that’s such a small amount of data that it would never lead to the desired results.
Another source is likely to be external data feeds such as LinkedIn or Accompany, the relationship intelligence company Cisco acquired in May 2018. Accompany is the data source that’s fueling Cisco’s "Cognitive Collaboration" vision that Collaboration chief Amy Chang will highlight at Enterprise Connect in her Wednesday morning keynote.
Beyond 2022
Looking past 2022, we will live in a world where the majority of our connected devices are always watching or listening to us, building a massive amount of data in the process. This includes your phones, wearables, cars, computers, appliances, and anything else you can think of. This may sound creepy, but it opens the door to amazing possibilities. Imagine an environment where you’re in a hallway having a discussion and you tell someone something in passing, like you’ve always wanted to work in marketing. Six months from now, a marketing position opens up in your company and without having to go look, a notification is sent to your phone informing you. I believe the creepy factor disappears once tangible value is created and our lives become simpler.
Another interesting point to ponder is the role of digital assistants. This is a device you can ask to complete tasks for you, but I would argue a digital assistant isn’t sufficient. Think of a real assistant. You ask them to book you a flight and they ask you “Do you want the noon, 4 p.m. or 6 p.m. flight?” You ask them to make a restaurant reservation and they ask, “Steak or seafood?” The problem is that the digital assistant still isn’t you. They might eventually learn some of your preferences, but they’re not you. I’ve been toying with the concept that UC eventually needs a digital twin, essentially a digital version of you, but that’s a topic for a post-Enterprise Connect post.
Living and Learning
If you’re interested in what communications and collaboration will look like in 2022 and beyond, please attend my session on this topic at Enterprise Connect. The session, “Communications & Collaboration 2022: Emerging Technologies Realizing Their Promise?”, will be held on Monday, March 18, at 1:00 p.m. in room Sun A. I’ll be doing a short presentation and then roll into a discussion with a panel of experts comprised of:
  • David Chavez, Vice President, Architecture & Innovation, Avaya
  • Dan Thompson, Vice President of Enterprise Strategy, Dialpad
  • Adam Champy, Senior Product Manager, Google Cloud
  • Kira Makagon, Executive Vice President of Innovation, RingCentral
We will discuss how the panelists see communications and collaboration in 2022, what emerging technologies are required to fulfill on this vision, and what IT professionals should be doing now to prepare themselves for this future. So please attend and come armed with your toughest questions!
Hear more from Zeus Kerravala in this No Jitter On Air podcast. In this short interview, Zeus talks about the challenges enterprises face in migrating to team collaboration systems and previews one of his other Enterprise Connect sessions. Listen below:

If you haven’t yet gotten your pass for Enterprise Connect, taking place March 18 to 21 in Orlando, Fla., there’s still time! Register now using the code NJPOSTS to save an extra $200!