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How to Navigate the Path to a More Collaborative Future

In my many conversations with organizations both large and small, currently no question seems to conjure a greater variety of responses than: “What’s your strategy for collaboration?”

As technologists, answering in technological terms is tempting. Collaboration is UC, plus some bells and whistles. Or, collaboration is our productivity software, with added pizzazz.

However, ask your end users and you get a different answer. Collaboration isn’t a technology. It isn’t really even a solution. What it boils down to is workflows -- evolved specifically to get work done -- and everyone involved is motivated to reduce friction between the moving parts and individual contributors. These can include clients and customers, who are often spread across geographies and time zones.


To these people, any collaboration solution worth its salt needs to improve the workflows that most challenge them. It should eliminate bottlenecks, reduce human errors, remove complexity or shorten processes, and boost both transparency and flexibility. Better still if the tech gets out of the way, leaving the people with each other and the work. I’m giving away no secrets by pointing out that traditional UC and productivity vendors -- now doggedly positioning themselves as collaboration players -- are struggling to live up to those expectations.


For true inspiration, enterprise users look instead to consumer tech and the new collaboration entrants -- solutions that are easy-to-use, adaptable, quick to evaluate, simple to deploy, and cost effective. Their magic is in streamlining a workflow within a consistently beautiful user experience. Two or three apps with ready-made integrations can be genuinely transformational -- say, online co-authoring plus workgroup messaging and instant conferencing. Once everyone has experienced “better,” there’s no going back. That bar has been permanently raised.


Caught in the middle between warring incumbent vendors and resourceful, demanding end users is you -- the technical decision makers, architects, and service providers within enterprises. So, let’s look at some of the common collaboration dilemmas and some possible solutions -- informally crowd-sourced from folks like you.


My UC and enterprise productivity vendors have a collaboration app for everything, but aren’t great at anything. When and how do I embrace better alternatives?
Alright -- let’s not be ungenerous. Chances are your vendors are very good at their traditional solutions. You’re also clear about their enterprise credentials, in terms of availability, scale, compliance, and so on. There’s a lot to like. And you and they are keenly aware of the investment you’ve got tied up in them. But the state of the art is shifting faster than they can adapt. Their latest collaboration solution elements are more likely to be bought than built in-house, and may be no better integrated than a third-party application. That process of integration -- assimilation might be more accurate -- is painfully slow, and there are lots of examples where the simple and compelling purpose of the original application is lost en route.


Many large organizations have reached a tipping point and have created clear demarcation lines – “this far, and no further” -- for their traditional vendors. This in turn creates space for more agile and innovative cloud-enabled collaboration solutions. It’s pretty obvious to most new entrants that they need to integrate at that practical, workflow level with the big players and many do a good job of it. I know of one major U.S. retail chain that’s chosen Slack over Microsoft Teams for its workgroup messaging solution. And there are APIs that you can leverage to create further integrations of your own. In the best case though, your new-generation vendor will be willing and able to collaborate with you on the integrations that will make the biggest difference to your workflows.
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