What's After UC?
As UC spending flattens or falls, IT leaders are increasingly looking for other approaches to improve collaboration.
The Nemertes's 2014-15 Enterprise Technology Benchmark notes that while 74% of companies have a formal UC initiative, overall spending on UC is flat for 54% of participants, and down for another 8%. This indicates that UC is maturing technology; a further indicator is the expectation among corporate IT buyers that any voice solution they acquire will have integrated instant messaging, Web conferencing, and even video conferencing.
Despite the growing availability, and deployment, of UC solutions, most of the IT leaders, and especially line-of-business personnel that I consult with, tell me that they aren't really satisfied with their collaboration environment. Meetings still take too long to set up. Documents aren't readily available. It's difficult to pick up from where the last meeting ended. Creating team spaces means relying on difficult-to-use document repositories. Those not in the conference rooms have a second-class citizen experience. And it's difficult to continue to collaborate after the conference call or Web conference ends. Thus, it's becoming increasing obvious that while UC can go a long way to improving collaboration, it isn't the panacea – more work must be done to integrate UC's benefits with the need for non-real time collaboration capabilities.
Unify, then Siemens, attempted to attack this problem last fall with its Project Ansible, a product designed to integrate (or unify?) voice, video, instant messaging, screen sharing, and document. More recently, Microsoft introduced something called "Office Delve" that leverages heuristics to allow workers to stay on top of projects by easily finding documents related to a call or meeting. Cisco, through its Project Spring Roll has established the vision for a next generation workspace that adds whiteboard sharing across locations. And just last month, Ray Ozzie's latest startup, Talko, attacked the collaboration market with a mobile communicator combining text and voice.
As a result, IT leaders need to broaden their view when they think about employee collaboration. UC, video conferencing, Web conferencing, and SharePoint aren't the be-all end-all! IT leaders should keep their eye on the following trends:
The idea of being able to step in and out of a collaboration session isn't new. Parlano, acquired by Microsoft, first delivered persistent chat rooms that enabled hoot-and-holler IM services to the enterprise over ten years ago. Startups like Flowdock broaden the experience to include email. In an ideal future workspace, project spaces exist that store all collaboration history, enable real-time updates, and enable people to come and go from a meeting spot, either in real time or non-real time, to work on projects or team activities.
First popularized via Google Wave, now available in Google Docs and Microsoft Office, co-authoring allows two or more people the ability to edit documents in real-time, seeing what the other is typing. When joined to a Web conferencing session or audio conferencing, co-authoring/editing adds a powerful tool for group document development and eliminates the need for document check-in/check-out and the time waste of sending the latest copy to meeting participants.
Shared whiteboards enable remote participants to see what is being written on a whiteboard in a conference, or even write on the board themselves. Shared whiteboards go beyond the annotation/white boarding capabilities in Web conferencing to enable meeting participants to use a real white board. Here again the concept isn't new – shared whiteboards have existed for more than 10 years as well. What is new is the ability to integrate shared whiteboards into Web conferencing apps, extend them to mobile devices, and save white board sessions for future editing.
It might seem odd to think about social collaboration as a future technology given it too has been around a while. But social collaboration, when integrated with UC, offers additional value to improve collaboration. Cisco tried this approach a few years ago with Quad, later rebranded to WebEx Social. It's now partnering with Jive to build real-time hooks into Jive's social platform. Microsoft's acquisition of Yammer, and it's subsequent announcement that it was ending social development for SharePoint while increasing Yammer integration into Office 365, highlights another move toward Social / UC unification. Social platforms can enable persistence, document sharing, and context around collaboration sessions, ending the practice of scheduling a conference call with no way to link it to shared workspace.
The bottom line for those focused around IT is to expand your thinking to focus on the broader collaboration picture. Even if you deliver the world's best, most integrated, most easy to use UC environment, you're still missing a large part of the collaboration puzzle.