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Let’s Talk Interoperability … Again

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A network graphic
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On an Enterprise Connect panel a few years ago, one of the panelists responded to a question about multi-vendor interoperability by coining a phrase: “Ease of use is the new interoperability.” What he meant was that if it’s easy enough to access and switch between applications, those apps don’t need to talk to each other because everyone can just have every application and use whichever one the parties decide on.
 
His model was the smartphone running messaging apps. Maybe, you communicate with a group of friends over WhatsApp, while you might use Skype for family and SMS for general purposes. The main thing was the effort of switching between apps and groups was trivial, a problem not worth solving.
 
Fast forward to today, and we have a similar problem that in fact likely does need solving. Few knowledge workers can get through a day — certainly not a week — without using more than one collaboration platform to communicate with colleagues, partners, and customers. And, as analyst Jim Burton of C-T Link pointed out in the opening session of last month’s Enterprise Connect 2021 virtual event, many users struggle with this scenario. Many collaboration apps, he noted, take control of the user’s camera and microphone when the app is in use, but then don’t reliably relinquish that control at the end of the session. Then, when the user tries to join a meeting on another platform, they can’t access these resources and often end up having to reboot.
 
So, here’s a situation where, if all the platforms played nice all the time, you could have the same kind of “interoperability” that users live with when it comes to mobile messaging. For that matter, collaboration platforms make it even easier by letting users join meetings via WebRTC-enabled websites if they don’t have the app on their computer.
 
To me, this looks like we’re positioned for good-enough interoperability. We don’t really need Teams clients to talk directly to Zoom clients, which don’t have to talk directly to Webex clients, and all that. An enterprise can standardize on one platform for internal use and allow one or two other clients to run on users’ computers to make it easier to join meetings with external parties. Anything outside of that can use the web browser.
 
The problem with cameras and microphones needs to be solved, though. If people had to restart their smartphones every time they changed messaging apps, you can bet there’d be an outcry.
 
Burton is going to lead a session on interoperability at Enterprise Connect 2022 next March, and he’s promised to hold the vendors’ feet to the fire on whether this problem is getting solved. In the meantime, our program committee is looking into some other interoperability scenarios that seem to be thornier. We’ll have details when the Enterprise Connect 2022 conference program launches early next month. I hope you’ll keep an eye out for that — and if you’re ready to sign up now, registration is open. I hope to see you in Orlando!

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