From UC to Team Collaboration to Digital Work Hub?

With Microsoft's annual user conference, Ignite, set to begin on Monday, speculation is mounting about what the company is plotting for its longtime communications mainstay, Skype for Business. More specifically, I should say, the curious are getting "curiouser and curiouser!" about the UC platform's role in a teams-oriented future.

While the question of the moment is Skype for Business vis-à-vis Microsoft Teams, the issue of how UC and team collaboration tools come together is universal. As Irwin Lazar, a VP at Nemertes Research, pointed out today in a No Jitter post, "team chat has jumped the shark," moving from the siloed deployments of years past into enterprise-wide distribution (read "Team Chat Is Dead, Long Live Team Collaboration!"). And that trend is one of the factors sending UC providers in search of ways to diversify their solutions portfolios, as Elka Popova, a program director with Frost & Sullivan, explored earlier this week in her No Jitter post, "The Search for Sustainable Growth in the UCaaS Market").

The Name Game

In his post, Lazar summed up the rising importance of a team orientation rather nicely (and although he started from a team chat perspective, the idea is applicable to a UC starting point, as well). "Team chat is no longer just chat. Rather, it's the basis for digital workplace, combining chat and contextual text with voice, video, project management, and an increasing array of application integrations." Popova said it more succinctly when she called this concept "productivity UC."

I think that's a suitable phrase, but we are likely headed into a naming game, once again. "Communications" and "collaboration" -- alone, or even together -- do seem to increasingly fall short as descriptors of where we're headed with our user interfaces.

Two more industry watchers, Kevin Kieller and Tim Banting, have taken up the topic, more or less, in conversing via the No Jitter comments stream about Kevin's recent post proposing that Teams is the future of Skype for Business. Both agree a mashup of Skype for Business and Teams would be great, with some caveats -- seamless integration being chief among them.

In terms of a naming convention, Banting, who is a principal analyst with Current Analysis, wrote that he sees Teams as "integrated collaboration" and Skype for Business as "unified communications." UC isn't collaborating, unless you're screen sharing and working on a document, he added, in a separate thread. "UC seemed to only unify clients so multiple modalities (voice, video, IM) were in one place."

Distinguishing between "integrated" and "unified" would be like splitting hairs to Kieller, a partner with enableUC, who said he views those terms as synonymous. But yes, he agreed, being able to communicate is not the same as being able to collaborate. "... collaboration is much more powerful than communications. Collaboration is a positive business outcome whereas communications is just a task, Kieller wrote. His catchphrase of choice? "Unified collaboration."

Where Work Gets Done

And where do users do that collaboration, be it "integrated" or "unified?" That would be in a digital workplace, as Lazar noted in today's post (and as his Nemertes colleague, Robin Gareiss, wrote about earlier this year in her No Jitter post, "Digital Workplace: Moving Ahead One Step at a Time"). I think Banting can get on board with that idea, too. As he commented on No Jitter, "With team collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams, you can bring in third-party services so it's a true platform -- a work hub" -- as well as automation services, like Microsoft Flow, IFTTT, and Zapier, for workflow customization.

Microsoft -- with its roots in office productivity tools, experience in architecting shared collaboration spaces, and leadership position in the unified communications market -- will undoubtedly have a thing or two to say on the matter next week at Ignite. What do you think? Will Teams supplant Skype for Business as the user interface of choice and ultimately morph into a digital workplace? Jump into the conversation!

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