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How Will Vendors Drive ‘“Anywhere’” Unified Communications and Collaboration?

Next time you’re buying a car, don’t let the salesperson talk you into the undercoating or the extended warranty. But what if unified communications (UC) and collaboration is one of the options?


Anywhere Collaboration in the Driver’s Seat

Cisco last week announced a partnership with Audi to integrate Webex into the “infotainment” system of some of the carmaker’s models. Not surprisingly, the companies took pains to emphasize the safety features of this integration, which lets the car’s system automatically switch the media stream to voice-only while the vehicle is driving; video works only when the car is parked. In addition to safety, the announcement also stressed the system’s AI-driven background noise suppression as a way to make communications clearer, aiming to avoid the standard, “I’m in the car so it may not sound too good” announcement at the start of the call.

As someone who drives a 17-year-old Camry whose cutting-edge infotainment feature is its 6-CD player, I highly doubt that the Audi partnership is the harbinger of a large-scale transition to full-fledged in-car collaborative meetings. To me, the car here is a stand-in for the idea of anywhere. If collaboration platforms can use AI to reduce background noise and implement sophisticated voice-activated controls, while delivering useful meeting summaries, end users can move more freely through their day—wherever they are—without losing the ability to participate with their colleagues. And this vision isn’t just for high-powered knowledge workers and road warriors.


Webex Go Enables Deeper Integration with AT&T’s Network

You could almost see this Audi partnership as a high-end version of another Cisco announcement this week, its partnership with AT&T for a more tightly integrated mobility offering for Webex Go. This partnership promises to make the mobile UC experience more seamless for end users than previous methods of integrating the UC platform/app with the mobile phone. The integration with AT&T’s IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) infrastructure makes today’s most common “anywhere” communications—the mobile phone—easier to use with collaboration technology.

For more detail on this announcement, you should definitely check out this No Jitter post from Tim Banting, Adam Holtby, Prachi Nema, and Brent Kelly of Omdia (which shares a parent company with Enterprise Connect and No Jitter). The Omdia team notes that this more seamless integration of UC and mobility should advance not only hybrid working for mobile knowledge workers, but also communications for frontline employees.


Anywhere Communications Adds Value

And to me, that’s what connects the niche-y Audi partnership with the more immediate AT&T deal. Technology that lets users collaborate anywhere ought to be especially beneficial to frontline workers, who are often in noisy environments where they need support from the application itself to provide information and document what they’re doing, with as easy an interface as possible.

Removing friction from communications and collaboration makes everyone’s life easier and their workday more efficient. As the basic communications functions become more and more commoditized, these may be areas where we see vendors attempting to differentiate.