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'WCC' Makes Communications Strategic Again

Categories make products easy to understand. Bicycles are different than vacuum cleaners despite the fact that bikes come in so many varieties. In our industry, we generally understand product categories such as UC, email, and Wi-Fi, but we're having a hard time agreeing on how to categorize the newfangled types of collaboration tools like Cisco Spark, Acano coSpace, Unify Circuit, Interactive Intelligence PureCloud, and several more.

These solutions sit at the intersection of several established categories including collaboration, conferencing, telephony, messaging, and social networking. That's the short version. The extended version is much broader and can include note taking, presentation, task management, and content management. So referring to them as "collaboration apps" is too general and "UC" too narrow.

Some folks lump these tools into a category called "team collaboration," while others use the label "continuous communications." But, as I've written previously, I (along with fellow No Jitter blogger Zeus Kerravala, with ZK Research) prefer the category label "workstream communications and collaboration," or WCC.

A few of the common characteristics of WCC tools are persistent messaging for asynchronous communications; video conferencing and often voice capabilities for real-time communications; and rich content-sharing capabilities. These tools tend to offer native support for multi-organizational use, powerful search, and mobility, and most services use a freemium model. Some of the offerings today don't have all of these in place yet, but their developers are generally working toward them.

But rather than focus on the products and services, I'd like to focus on the name of the general category, and why I prefer WCC.

Team Collaboration
Look up collaboration in the dictionary and you'll find it defined as two or more people taking action to create something. That's a broad definition, often used to describe efforts outside of communications, such as musicians collaborating on a new album. We either work independently or collaboratively, and the latter case involves at least one other person. The term "team" often implies a group of more than two, but two people can make up a team -- consider beach volleyball as an example. All communications and all collaboration directly or indirectly involves two or more participants.

Team collaboration attempts to distinguish against one-to-one communications such as traditional IM and phone calls. The problem is most IM solutions already support group chat, and all phone systems support conferencing. The "team" in team collaboration does not emphasize anything different than UC, video conferencing, or social network applications.

Unless we interpret team to imply larger groups, of course all of these new tools are just as effective with small groups or two-person teams. The distinguishing value-add of team in team collaboration is effectively meaningless. At best, team collaboration is a redundant and repetitive term. Use team collaboration to describe people working on two-wheeled bicycles.

Continuous Collaboration
I like this term better because it is collaboration with a twist. The twist, or emphasis, is immediacy.

In the past, real-time communications were fast (instant), and asynchronous communications were slow. One hundred years ago, people sent messages to each other via ship, covered wagon, and even pony, knowing they would take weeks or months for delivery. Messages were used for communications, but not particularly for conversations.

Today we converse with messaging across multiple locations and devices without skipping a beat. In fact, messaging is often the preferred means of communication. For the past decade we have been happy with IM, but that is a narrowly defined modality. It is now increasingly common to converse across multiple modalities including messaging, voice, video, and content across devices regardless of location.

The problem with continuous collaboration is it puts too much focus on communications. Too often, communications technologies, such as UC, sit on the periphery of where the work gets done. For knowledge workers, that's usually email or line-of-business applications.

Email has been a critical application in the enterprise for decades. Email is our to-do list and our filing system. It is where we ask and answer questions and how we share content. UC is important, like copiers and printers, but not mission critical (many exceptions exist including contact centers). The power of these solutions lies in combining communications and collaboration with job workflow.

Workstream Communications and Collaboration
While email has been an important tool for decades, frustration with it is increasing. There's a fine line between a productivity tool and a burden, and email has crossed it. One of the most consistently cited benefits of these new systems is a reduction in email messages. Email isn't going away, but the flow of work is moving out of it. That's because these new solutions are far better at organization, and bind conversations and content in one place -- effectively delivering on the UC promise of contextual communications.

UC, messaging, and content in one place becomes a place where work gets done. There is no need to scatter conversations (and conversation history) across multiple apps. There's no reason to use different tools for one-to-one and group interactions. There's no reason to switch to different apps based on location or device. There's no reason to switch tools for internal and external use cases. These new solutions enable current interactions, archive past conversations, and facilitate ongoing collaboration.

In some cases, WCC also facilitates work getting done quicker through shared task management and tracking. At the same time, it reduces email traffic and the associated time in processing it. Some customers report the drop as high as 50%.

Zeus and I have been using the term WCC, and we are glad to see its use expanding. Redbooth (selected for Innovation Showcase at Enterprise Connect 2015 and as a Cool Vendor by Gartner, writes on its site that WCC is: "Maximizing team productivity and accountability at work." Glip, now a part of RingCentral, posted that WCC is "a better way for employees to keep in constant communication within the flow of their work."

A sample Redbooth workstream

The space is growing rapidly -- many familiar brands are moving toward it, new names are emerging, and solutions are coming from other established categories. These solutions are highly innovative with new features being introduced rapidly. The differences between offers are significant. For example, Interactive is leveraging contact center expertise with PureCloud and Biba is leveraging its expertise in Web conferencing. Regardless of the approach, customers are being wowed by this category of solutions.

WCC is making communications strategic again.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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