Why Collaboration Now?
We have conquered mobility, remoteness, and even productivity--now we need interaction, as that's the key to the best ideas.
Technology conversations are frequently about the technologies--speeds and feeds. Take televisions for instance: We can talk about screen size, contrast ratios, inputs, and screen thickness. But at some point, the conversation shifts to what’s actually on to watch. That is the shift from specs to the actual application, and that's what’s happening with the shift to collaboration.
Over the past decade, the communications conversation has shifted three times. First it was the shift from TDM to VoIP and convergence. VoIP eliminated distance barriers, and convergence offered the benefits of a single infrastructure. At first, that infrastructure was the physical network, but it expanded as we converged departments and roles too. Convergence opened the door for teleworking and SIP trunks.
Then came the shift to Unified Communications, which formally acknowledged that communications is more than voice. UC referred to a collection of technologies that included voice, video, and presence, and frequently CEBP, social networking, conferencing, and mobility. The broader use of communications enabled new types of communications and improved productivity in a variety of ways. UC set new standards for desktop clients, and changed our expectations and definitions of a communications solution.
Now we are shifting the dialogue again, to collaboration, and this time it is different. It isn't as much about the technology as it about how we communicate. The whole reason we invest in our communications systems is to enable and enhance human interaction. We need experts and we are experts that others need. It’s become a core focus because our communication needs have changed dramatically.
For the first time in modern history, location isn't significant to our work. Most of us have always associated our location with our task. If you want to go to school, go to a school. If you want to go to work, go to the office. If you want to be social, go to a social venue. Suddenly, the rules changed--and now we are doing all these things remotely. It is an amazing change; how we (as a society) interact and communicate has fundamentally changed. For the most part, this has been a good thing, but it has introduced new challenges.
Distributed teams didn't become normal overnight, so the significance and impact was diffused, but generations of social cues and corrections became obsolete. Satellites in space have multiple firing rockets that ground control uses to control a craft's orbit. These little sparks correct a craft’s on course. At the office, there were similar types of sparks that ensured course correction such as meetings, peer reactions, break room conversations, overheard hallway conversations, etc. It's become clear the water cooler did more than cool water.
The modern enterprise needs to update its approach to and tools for communications, to ensure teams are on course. This requires multiple forms of two way interactions. It is more than a technical problem--the (UC) tools exist, but how to best use them takes discovery. At a time when we need to learn the most from our peers, we find ourselves isolated from them. Many age old office concepts, like work hours, "open doors", and birthday Friday were suddenly ineffective. What is the proper way to ask for help, or air new ideas? Over the past few years, we've been tweaking how we work together apart—screen-sharing, presence/IM, SMS, and even social networking all play a role.
Also, over the past ten years the Internet flourished. Dial-up modems were replaced with broadband connections. Corporate networks that were generally closed to just about any communication other than voice calls and email--opened. Organizations connected their computers to the Internet, enabling all kinds of new solutions and data accessibility. For example, when to order new inventory--traditionally an internal problem--was solved by allowing suppliers access to inventory levels. With APIs, SDKs, cloud services, and various standards, our computers started collaborating across time zones and languages--"collaborate" in this case meaning two or more computers working together to achieve a goal. If machines can collaborate over networks, so can we! The technologies used to connect colleagues also apply externally--to customers, partners, and suppliers. Collaboration is a dish best served with others.
Earlier this year, the technology conference Enterprise Connect wasn't about technology. It wasn't about VoIP, convergence, FMC, codec , wireless, or SIP. It was actually about making all that technology transparent. This year the conversation was about conversations, getting things done, finding resources, getting answers, sharing information, and doing so internally, externally, and while on the go. Every keynote highlighted how to better interact with customers and get answers. Repeatedly, we heard words like context, presence, collaborate, and share.
The ability to collaborate with each other makes or breaks business innovation and competitiveness. Our communication boundaries were stifling us. The conversation is about collaboration because that’s where the opportunity lies. We have conquered mobility, remoteness, and even productivity--now we need interaction, as that's the key to the best ideas.
Dave Michels is Contributing Editor and Independent Analyst at TalkingPointz.com