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Humanizing UC

No question, the corporate workspace is becoming more and more digital, which leads to greater communications and information agility. The business climate is changing rapidly, faster than most organizations realize, and competitive advantage is now based on being able to make decisions quickly -- with the best people regardless of device, location, or preference of collaboration tool. This should make UC an absolute no-brainer, must-have technology for all companies but yet it's not. So, why is that?

This is the question that started off Tuesday's Enterprise Connect 2015 lineup for me, as I participated in a thought leadership roundtable organized by Unify. The session included a number of analysts, consultants, Unify customers, and company executives. This is something Unify hosts every year and the topics have ranged from mobility to the new way to work. This year's topic, which I found particularly interesting, was "Humanizing the Digital Workspace."

The Broader the Better -- Not
One of the challenges is that the corporate UC tools are excellent technology products but haven't been "humanized." They're built for broad use cases and assume a very high level of technology prowess to use effectively. In response, more and more workers have started to find alternative collaboration tools that are easier to use.

As an example, I work extensively with a company that has a contract in place with one of the corporate Web-sharing platforms. However, almost every salesperson uses when sharing slides with customers. I asked one of the salespeople once why he does that, and his answer was that it was easy to use, required no downloads, and provides a great experience. Shadow IT has now gone from the business unit level down to the individual.

While I'm certainly all for workers using tools they are comfortable with, adding consumer-grade alternatives to the worker tool kit comes with a danger. The constant switching between IT-provided applications and the ones the worker brings can be very disruptive. Instead of focusing on innovation, workers can spend a large percentage of time moving information between the mediums, effectively breaking any kind of work momentum they might have. In fact, Unify CMO Bill Hurley cited a study showing that the human brain just isn't meant to continually be switching among applications. In other words, we're dehumanizing the way people work because of tools that aren't designed to fit into people's work styles.

While I lay much of the problem on the vendor community, IT isn't without blame. The IT individuals in the session described the way their organizations procure technology. IT issues RFPs and then uses certain criteria to select a vendor. The most heavily weighted factors are things like the cost of the solution, deployment simplicity, ease of ongoing management. None of these addresses the experience that a worker will have with the tool. So, if the primary buying center doesn't push to improve the user interface, how does the vendor know it needs improvement? Seems like a catch-22.

Humanizing the UI
Solving the user adoption problem is critical to UC's success, and during the roundtable we discussed three ways of humanizing the solutions. The first way is to try and make the new stuff look like the old stuff. An example of this is an early softphone. PC-based phones intimidated most workers so manufacturers designed the softphone to look like a picture of a hard phone. I always felt this was ridiculous, but it did make less technically advanced users comfortable with the technology.

The second approach is to enable workers to do what they've done before, only faster. Instead of having three clicks to do something, make it one click. Amazon's one-click shopping is a good example of this. Amazon changed the online shopping game long before one click, but that little innovation has caused more people to buy more stuff (myself included) because it's so easy.

The last approach is to give workers a tool that is not only dead easy to use but enables a process to completely redefine creating a step function in productivity. It's not enough to make things simple but create a purpose-built product to solve a certain problem.

Much of the innovation we have seen in UC over the past decade has been interesting technology that's looking for a problem to solve. This is one of the aspects I like most about Unify's Circuit product. Unify didn't design Circuit as a way of showing off the cool capabilities of WebRTC or the power of the cloud (although it does that). It designed Circuit to help workers organize information and conversations in a more logical way rather that having the email system be the organizational system. Circuit doesn't determine the organizational structure; the worker does in the way that makes the most sense to him or her. In other words, Circuit is attempting to humanize the digital enterprise.

It was good to see humanizing the workplace come up as a thought leadership topic at the 2015 edition of Enterprise Connect, and I certainly expect to see it be bigger part of future shows. After all, if the solutions aren't designed with humans in mind, why would we expect them to ever be adopted broadly?

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