Tom Brannen
Tom Brannen is the President of Wassaw Consulting LLC, an independent consulting firm based in Atlanta. With 20 years of...
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Tom Brannen | October 05, 2016 |


Say 'Allo' to Un-Unified Communications

Say 'Allo' to Un-Unified Communications Perhaps the growing chasm between the consumer and business communications experience isn't such a bad thing.

Perhaps the growing chasm between the consumer and business communications experience isn't such a bad thing.


We talk about the effect of consumerization on the business communications market so much that we tire of it and sometimes miss the long-term implications. We do a great job of looking at the impact consumerization has had on the past, but what about the future?

For example, when Apple's iPhone emerged, it became clear that these consumer-targeted devices were going to disrupt enterprise mobility and the way in which work gets done, in a big way. After all, business end users are consumers, too, and it's not easy for business end users to understand why they wouldn't be able to take advantage of shiny new technology like the iPhone. This pressure has been frustrating for IT at times, but overall has resulted in devices and services that the folks out there actually want to use.

But in the end, IT and end users are two separate worlds with different and often competing interests. Users want to use personal apps on a business device and the ability to customize their Android experience. Users want an $850 iPhone, not multifactor authentication. None of these things align with the priorities of the business or IT.

The greatest difference between these worlds, and the thing that has had the most impact, is the evolution of the consumer as they shift from a PC-centric experience to a mobile-centric experience. The home computer is no longer the center of our daily digital lives. In the business world, we are still fairly computer centric -- take away my phone and I can still work; take away my computer, however, and I am very limited in what I can accomplish. The opposite is true at home -- take away my home computer and I might not even notice for several days; take away my iPhone and I can barely function.

In May of this year, Google announced it would be releasing new messaging and video applications, as No Jitter editor Beth Schultz covered in the article, "Google Ups Its Messaging Game." And just in the last few weeks, Google's messaging app Allo and video calling app Duo have been formally released for iOS and Android.

Allo is basically a messaging app with a virtual assistant built in. The assistant reads the content of the messages and can provide recommendations based on the content as part of the messaging stream. Duo is a one-to-one party video communication app (think of it as a cross-platform version of Facetime).

Un-Unified Communications

The most glaring thing about these apps, other than the fact that Google already has a successful unified messaging and video app, Hangouts, is that they are indeed separate apps. After two decades of hearing about unified communications, why would Google produce two new separate apps when it already has a unified messaging app? And why would Google support Android and iOS from the get-go, but not support a desktop experience?

The answer is simple: Google is building apps for a mobile (read consumer) world.

The word "unified" can mean different things depending on what we are talking about. In a way, the smartphone is a unified communications device in and of itself. Sure, the same thing could be said about a computer, but the smartphone pulls it off in a way that just seems to work better. And because of the nature of the experience, we are used to dealing with a plethora of apps for different uses. So using separate apps for messaging and video isn't that big of a deal on a smartphone for the average user. On the iOS side of things, Apple has always maintained separate apps for messaging and video calling, and doesn't seem to be in a hurry to mix them together.

But in the PC-centric business world, unified apps are a bigger deal. We don't want multiple apps, multiple windows, and multiple experiences for our interactions. We strive to unify communications applications into a single, unified view.

Let's go back to why Google didn't modify Hangouts with the type of functionality Allo brings to the table. It seems to me that Google could accomplish the same goals it has with Allo -- not to mention more easily do so -- by bolting intelligence onto the already mature Hangouts app. But everyone has learned the hard way what happens when you try to make an application do something it wasn't originally designed to do. That is why Google started from scratch with Allo -- creating a very specific consumer application designed for a mobile-first (and right now, mobile-only) experience. We saw the same thing from Cisco as it started from scratch with its Spark solution rather than trying to mash Jabber and WebEx together to form a communications app of tomorrow.

As Beth Schultz concluded in her original article mentioned earlier, "[T]hese new apps contain some captivating functionality -- not necessarily the stuff that makes for enterprise-grade tools, but interesting nonetheless. So now, I wonder, what's in store relative to all this for Google Apps for Work?"

What a great question. What if you could take the virtual assistant idea and integrate it into Google Apps for Work solutions set (recently renamed as G Suite)? What if it were integral to Hangouts and the other applications? I could see that resulting in a scenario where you mention a meeting in an interaction and the virtual assistant could automatically send invites and schedule the conference room. Or it could assign tasks and reminders straight out of a chat session or even a phone call if its voice recognition capabilities are up to snuff. Really, the possibilities are limitless.

The short answer to Beth's question though is there is likely nothing in store for Google Apps for Work anytime soon other than its recent rebranding to G Suite.

But maybe this time that is a good thing. Since Allo saves and reads every message you send and receive as part of its core functionality, maybe it will never make its way into the business world. I don't make a habit of quoting Edward Snowden, but he recently referred to Allo as "Google Surveillance" because of the fact that it saves all messages, reads all messages, and seems happy to share this information with groups like the NSA and who knows who else.

In our personal lives, we often trade privacy for convenience whether we know it or not. In the business world, we don't have that luxury.

So in the end, maybe Google's refocus on apps just for consumers is a good thing. We have been operating with quasi-business and consumer products for some time now. Maybe it is time for some separation so that app developers can focus on either businesses or consumers, rather than trying to create applications that can be all things to both segments.

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.


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