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Making Enterprise Comms More Than 'Unified'

Something wicked this way comes to enterprise communications. It's a new form of communication that starts with group messaging and blends in real-time and other asynchronous communications. I've previously labeled these apps "any-time communications," but along with fellow UC analyst Zeus Kerravala I am now referring to them as workstream collaboration and communications, or WCC.

While some insist WCC is merely a twist on UC, we believe these applications are much more than that. At best we could consider them an evolution from UC, but we find many reasons to suggest they represent a whole new category with several distinctions.

The challenge for UC has always been that while it augments other collaborative applications, it has never delivered on the "unified" part. UC enables multimodal communications, but conversations are scattered across email, SMS, instant messaging, documents, telephone, and audio and video conferences. Tracking these apps and managing conversation history is a chore.

Most UC solutions evolved from voice, and although most now support IM/presence, too, that capability is typically limited to internal participants. WCC solutions, on the other hand, center on messaging that's similar to SMS or persistent group chats. Messaging applications such as WhatsApp and WeChat represent six of the 10 most-used apps globally. They are simple, inexpensive, and reliable. More importantly, they are better adapted for an always-connected world than are UC solutions.

Out of the Voicemail Abyss
A ringing phone can be an interruption; it can be intrusive, and often comes at inopportune times. When we are unavailable, calls often go into voicemail, often never to be heard. The alternative is messaging, which can be near real-time -- or not -- and encourages more responsiveness from recipients than voicemail does today. Since text messages are easy to review, responses tend to come faster. Messaging is generally considered more polite, respectful, and effective than ringing somebody's phone.

Simple text messages have been around for ages in the form of SMS, Twitter, and so on. Next month, Twitter will facilitate messaging by allowing longer-form direct messages. WCC solutions go further by adding the crucial elements of content and context -- documents, pictures, URLs, sound, even video. WCC solutions organize personal and group conversations into one tool, across devices. WCC users often cite reduced email as a key benefit (something that is never said about UC). Moving conversations from email to WCC may not seem like a win, but WCC solutions are self-organizing, and facilitate searching and sharing.

Cisco Spark

Popular applications such as Slack and HipChat have proven the value of near real-time messaging in business environments. But messaging alone is too limiting -- sometimes longer conversations are necessary. The obvious next generation will offer the ability to escalate messages to voice and/or video conversations within the same solution. Slack and HipChat have made recent acquisitions that indicate their intents to add real-time modalities -- and this is where things get interesting.

Point of Convergence
Messaging-based pioneers are trying to figure out real-time communications while UC veterans are expanding into messaging. Real-time is a much steeper hill to climb. Consider that Slack (estimated annual revenue approaching $20 million and a $2.8 billion valuation) is yet to introduce real-time features. Compare that to Cisco's plan for integrating Cisco Spark with its installed base of video and UC systems, or Interactive Intelligence's plan to complement its PureCloud Collaborate messaging with expertise in cloud-based telephony and contact centers.

WCC solutions sit at the intersection of UC, enterprise social, shared drives, and conferencing. New WCC solutions are coming from all of these sectors including enterprise UC companies like Acano, Biba, Cisco, Interactive Intelligence, and Unify. More will come in the next 18 months, as I've heard from several other UC vendors prepping their own WCC solutions.

The WCC landscape is changing quickly. Just recently, video conferencing provider Fuze acquired LiveMinutes with the plan of merging persistent messaging with rich video. RingCentral just announced its acquisition of Glip to extend collaboration capabilities to group messaging and tasks under the re-branded app, RingCentral Teams.

WCC solutions represent the next generation of enterprise communications in several ways. The vast majority are native cloud services optimized for a mobile experience. The Acano products are the primary exception, though many of the company's customers are providers that in turn sell services. All of the solutions heavily leverage WebRTC, though that's a broad canvas that includes browsers, clients and multiple codecs.

WCC solutions are designed for distributed, agile, multi-organizational teams that need to complete tasks or make decisions quickly. Most organizations are increasing their use of external participants including customers, partners, suppliers, and contractors. WCC solutions foster decentralized flexibility and autonomy by centralizing conversations and content with improved controls.

One Way or Another
Many WCC solutions share attributes, yet offer very different approaches and benefits. Cisco is working to leverage its installed base of video and UC technology as part of the Cisco Spark solution. Interactive Intelligence intends to supplement its Collaborate solution with complimentary hosted services such as telephony and contact center services. Acano is using its vast video interoperability capabilities to strengthen its proposition, and Biba offers a comprehensive service that natively includes robust voice and video conferencing capabilities.

All of these companies are featured in research that Zeus and I are compiling, and frankly the more we learn about WCC, the more disruptive we believe the solutions will be to enterprise communications.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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