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A Modality with No Name

Workstream products and services have familiar names such as Cisco Spark, Interactive Intelligence PureCloud, RingCentral Glip, Fuze Topics, Mitel MiTeam, Unify Circuit, Avaya Zang Spaces, and many more -- and even more from the UC community will emerge later this year.

We refer to the category by many names. I've been using WCC, for Workstream Communications and Collaboration (that stops now). Others have been using team collaboration (redundant and repetitive), mobile collaboration (what isn't mobile these days?), group messaging (clarifies nothing), and messaging-based collaboration (is that email?).

The better name is "workstream messaging" -- succinct and accurate.

It's hard to say where it all started - SMS? IM? WhatsApp? It doesn't really matter where it came from, but it's here. Its characteristics include persistent (and searchable) communications between small and large groups. It's close enough to real-time to be conversational, yet polite enough not to insist.

What Zeus Kerravala, of ZK Research, and I tried to capture with WCC was the messaging component plus the additional requirement of real-time communications. Clearly, the messaging solutions and UC industry are moving toward each other. WCC was a simple way to describe solutions that combine asynchronous and real-time services.

Asynchronous interactions often build to real-time communications, so the native capability for audible or visual interactions were a distinction among several solutions. However, that distinction is fading. Most of these new messaging solutions either do or will soon support real-time modalities.

Workstream messaging is not just another feature, it's rapidly becoming the preferred means of communications. It frequently competes and beats email because it is self-organizing, particularly when compared to an unwieldy catch-all email inbox. Also, messages are more collaborative because they tend to drive more frequent, concise interactions.

Messaging is better than IM because, like workgroups and teams, it extends beyond organizational boundaries. In the consumer world, messaging -based apps now dominate communications, but those services do not suitably address enterprise requirements regarding security and integration.

Modern messaging didn't just appear for no reason. The catalyst or significant change that occurred was the fact that we are now always connected. Prior to the smartphone revolution, we were only connected at our desks. If you went to a meeting, your calls went to voicemail. Today, our calls follow and interrupt us. IM status, or presence, is equally a dated concept because desktop activity has little to do with availability. (See related post, The Death of Presence.)

Messaging evolved out of SMS, which offered immediacy without the intrusion. But SMS came with several problems, including no desktop access, high costs, length restrictions, and lack of conversation history (mostly resolved now at the device level). These restrictions allowed a slew of new OTT messaging solutions to thrive, eating away at SMS and virtually every other mode of communication. (See related post, OTT Messaging Apps Chew Away at SMS.)

Workstream Messaging solutions are conceptually similar, but better address the modern needs of business environments. They self-organize conversations into containers (known as spaces, rooms, streams, etc. depending on the tool). The messages are archived, and thus both searchable and shareable. They can include rich content such as documents, photos, and code snippets. They can also be integrated with other corporate services, including corporate directory and identity systems.

Workstream messaging solutions become central to workflow by consolidating real-time and asynchronous communications, corporate directories and access, shared content, and the notion of federation, into a single desktop and mobile experience. They also overlap with key enterprise trends including cloud, mobility, and extensible integrations.

Workstream messaging solutions are far from perfect. We are in the beginning of their evolution, but they are here to stay and are already impacting UC and enterprise communications. The "conversations" about workstream messaging are just beginning.

Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz.

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