Are We Wasting Money on UC?
An emerging class of applications threatens to disrupt the UC market by bringing consumer-like functionality, and more importantly, ease of access, into the business world.
For the last few years establishing a collaboration strategy has been relatively easy. Start with email. Add document storage, telephony, instant messaging, Web conferencing, and maybe even video conferencing. If you really want to live on the cutting edge, incorporate social software for a Facebook-like experience behind the firewall. The largest day-to-day challenges with this approach have been on the operational side: trying to integrate disparate tools into a simpler user interface, and trying to minimize costs via outsourcing or, increasingly, the cloud.
We haven't seen a whole lot of innovation in this environment in recent years. Sure, there's always better/faster/cheaper, and more bells and whistles, but products that change the very nature of collaboration have been slow to materialize. That's rapidly starting to change.
The problem for collaboration architects is one they've known since Skype began to enter corporate networks some 10 years ago: If you don't give employees what they want, they'll find it themselves. Skype entered the business world because it offered connectivity to friends and colleagues who weren't on the corporate IM system (or because there wasn't a corporate IM system). Apps like Dropbox and Google Docs came in to solve the problem of sharing files that were too big to email. Kik, WhatsApp, and many more provided cross-platform texting to mobile devices. It's this last point -- the rapid rise in reliance on mobile devices -- that's threatening rapid disruption of UC.
Anybody Take Notes?
Nemertes research data shows an increasing extension of UC apps like voice and IM out to mobile devices, but those efforts haven't kept up with the increasing reliance on mobile devices for communications. Just 4% of UC endpoints are mobile devices in 2014, a figure projected to climb to 11% by the end of 2015. Employees who want to use their iPhones, Android phones and tablets to communicate must turn to consumer-grade applications such as iMessage or Android SMS (or even traditional SMS).
The challenges inherent in the inability of corporate-provided UC&C applications to meet collaboration demand don't just relate to mobility. UC&C platforms generally don't provide persistence or the integration of document sharing and project workspaces into real-time apps. Today, a project meeting for a remote team usually involves an audio bridge and Web conference that are not in anyway tied to that specific project. Conversations aren't captured. Whiteboards aren't saved. And once the Web conference ends, so does the meeting. Hopefully someone took good notes and will post them to SharePoint!
UC&C vendors are waking up to this new reality. Cisco last month introduced Project Squared, a mobile-focused collaboration app that provides persistent workspaces to maintain active conversations, document sharing, and integrated real-time apps like voice and video chat. More than a year ago Unify (then Siemens) launched a similar effort called Project Ansible, now Circuit. Lotus Notes co-creater and former Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie's latest venture, Talko, is yet another attempt to change the collaboration paradigm. Other startups like Slack continue to generate buzz and new funding, joining an ever increasingly roster of new startups like Asana, Cotap, Glip, HipChat, Sococo, Quip, Wire and Voxer (to name a fraction) that are leveraging the ease of software distribution through mobile app stores to gain a toehold in the enterprise (see the slide show, The Email Killers: 10 Cloud-Based Team Collaboration Tools, for some examples).
Ups & Downs
These new applications represent a challenge and an opportunity for IT. The reality is that they are likely already in your environment. In fact just recently I asked the head of an R&D workgroup within a leading UC vendor how his global team, including external partners, contractors, and interns, collaborated. His response: GitHub.
Increasingly my client calls are shifting from "help me integrate Cisco and Microsoft" to "one of our lines of business is using [insert app here], how do we support it?" Security, specifically retention, and user access management are key concerns given few apps support integration with corporate directories or message archiving. But with risk comes opportunity -- building a capability to quickly evaluate new apps, integrate them with other platforms as much as possible and drive existing vendors to establish their own integrations or to match features only offered by emerging apps will enable IT leaders to avoid having their lines of business go around them.
The bottom line: If your UC&C focus is on voice, video, conferencing, IM, and document storage, then it's time to expand your horizon. Pay special attention to the rapid emergence of mobile-focused, persistent, integrated applications that are already likely out there in your environment and proactively plan to make them part of your go-forward collaboration roadmap. If you don't, your employees will.
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