Many Ways to Work

A more realistic approach to work is the one being used by vendors that design solutions – software or hardware – to match the goals, measurements and workflows of vertical industries.

Consumerism seems to have gone to our heads, blinding marketing departments everywhere to the real purposes and goals of organizations who actually employ people – you know, businesses and public sector enterprises.

One dominant term for this consumerism rage is "way to work." You can find examples on the websites of Unify Circuit ("A New Way to Work"), IBM Connections ("The Way Work Works"), Jive Software ("The New Way to Business" [sic]), and Microsoft Yammer ("Transform the Way You Work"). The theory on most of these websites, usually supported by sponsored marketing studies, is that if you just give employees the same wonderful tools they have as consumers, work will magically get better for everybody.

Sure, employees like it when they have a lot of freedom and flexibility in the workplace, but there are only a specific set of jobs where the ability to work anywhere or any time is practical. For just one example, most decision makers know that a retail store clerk or a bank teller or a food server or the outpatient clinical staff need to be at their work location at certain hours and working with the customers, clients or patients in certain ways. If they need a mobile device, it will most likely be a company-provided, special-purpose device. The employee may still use their own mobile device for email, the HR portal, and other activities, but probably not as part of their daily role.

A more realistic approach to work is the one being used by vendors that design solutions – software or hardware – to match the goals, measurements and workflows of vertical industries. Examples include the logistics applications from SAP and its partners, the mobile field applications from Salesforce.com and its partners, radio communications for first responders, and similar cases everywhere. Many of these applications already run on the user's consumer device; others need specialized products.

Contact center vendors are a visible example of this approach in the communications industry. They produce highly sophisticated software applications and user interfaces to maximize the value while minimizing the cost of customer services of all types. This begs the question of why there are not more job-specific communications product designs, marketing campaigns, and sales-channel specializations.

The answer can't be that it is too hard to figure out; there are plenty of visible examples of defining communications requirements by type of job, such as the third post in my recent series on InformationWeek, "Secrets to Unified Communications and Collaboration Success." The post shows that seven Usage Profiles – patterns of communications technologies and methodologies – define the vast majority of the ways in which communications is used in the value chains of organizations, by vertical industry.

The primary answer we observe seems to be that designing and marketing solutions to match the workflows would be too costly and too risky, since it diverts precious resources from designing, producing and selling more IP-PBXs, and since it would be costly to train channels for this more complex, longer sales cycle (even though each sale would have more revenue and margin). But that blindness to the "fit for purpose" nature of software-based products puts the IP-PBX industry increasingly at risk with each year that passes.

A secondary answer is that "our partners will do it." The communications system producers trust that their channel partners will figure out that vertical markets are important and will create an abundance of new applications based on the APIs, SDKs, and other tools built into the communication platform. Certainly there will be some instances of such applications. But the heavy lifting needs to be done by the system manufacturer that goes to the leading vertical industry application software producers and makes a deal to embed that communications manufacturer's software into the vertical industry application product. An integration is not enough – success requires building the communications services into the applications. Vidyo is an example of a communications systems company that seems to see the opportunity and is moving quickly with that vision.

Unfortunately, time is running out. SAP now owns its own contact center software and is redefining the way that contact centers work. IBM has pulled back on Unified Communications, but still has a very functional UC product (Sametime) to build into their IBM Connections social for business solutions on the WebSphere platform. Oracle has been assembling a very rich suite of capabilities (Acme Packet, [email protected], et al.) and can deliver CEBP to their customers without an IP-PBX. Salesforce.com continues to enhance Chatter, which now includes both text-based and real-time peer-to-peer communications. And Microsoft, well they have Lync and Skype, right?

Let's close with a reminder of the UCStrategies definition of Unified Communications, since 2006: "Communications integrated to optimize business processes." It does not say, "All of the communications tools that our company makes unified onto a single pane of glass." Nope, not at all. Let's hope the communications systems producers can begin to deliver their communications capabilities actually integrated into the way workers work, differentiated by jobs and industries.