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What Will the Next UX Look Like?
After you turn on your computer in the morning, you probably spend most of your time in one or two applications -- in Outlook, on Salesforce.com, within a vertical market application for your specific job, or even in social software business tool, for example. If you want to communicate and collaborate with colleagues, then you most likely have to leave the application you're in and head over to another interface.
If you're like most users, you probably spend several times a day, if not an hour, moving between one user interface and another. There's currently no single or seamless user experience (UX) as we navigate among multiple clients and interfaces in order to do our jobs.
Creating the Ideal User Experience
The UX has been gaining attention recently as vendors focus on increasing end user adoption for their unified communications and collaboration solutions. The ideal UX should be a place where workers can collaborate and share information, as well as communicate in real time and non-real time. As my colleague Michael Finneran pointed out in a recent UCStrategies post, new platforms such as Unify's Circuit and Cisco's Project Squared "draw on essential ideas from social media and apply them to a business context." One of these ideas, he went on to say, involves the collaborative workspace "where all of the communications and documentation involved in a particular task are stored and all team members can get access to them."
IBM Connections is the poster child, with IBM being one of the first companies to provide this kind of capability, tying in various social, collaboration, and UC capabilities as well as integration with business processes. Other companies have solutions that provide a collaborative workspace, but not an integrated UX -- yet. In time, I expect to see Microsoft bring together Lync, Yammer, SharePoint, Exchange, and the Office Suite, leveraging the new Skype for Business user interface. Google also can bring together its various assets, as well as the communications capabilities from Switch.co (read Switch.co Intends to Complete Google Apps).
Will the collaborative workspaces provide a unified UX or will they add yet another interface? Unify talks about Circuit providing a "single pane of glass," pulling together the communication tools and access to the applications users need from a single user interface. I'm a big proponent of this type of platform and interface, although I'd like to see it go a step further. As I wrote for No Jitter in 2012: "In the next two-to-three years, expect to see a large portion of vendors offering integrated suites of UC/Collaboration/Social solutions, which are also tied in with email, contacts and calendars, and with APIs and plug-ins to enable business process integration. Users will be able to access the tools that make the most sense for their particular needs, and these tools will be socially-aware and connected."
Circuit and Project Squared are steps in the right direction, providing collaborative workspaces that integrate communication capabilities. However, they may be adding yet another client and UX rather than consolidating several interfaces. While everyone loves to make fun of email as outmoded, email integration must be part of the unified interface.
Powering the Communications
Other companies are approaching the UX from different angles. I recently asked Mitel CEO Rich McBee whether the company has plans to offer a "single pane of glass" similar to Unify's Circuit, and received an emphatic, "No." Mitel will "power the communications" by integrating to and providing the communications capabilities for the applications that people use, he told me. So, rather than having a Mitel user interface, expect to see "Powered by Mitel" on the user interfaces of Salesforce.com and vertical applications.
While I'd like to see a single user interface that ties together all of the capabilities mentioned above, that wish may not be realistic. Does having a single unified client mean having too many features in one place? If tools such as messaging, meetings, social, and so on are all in one interface, does it add too much complexity?
I've been grappling with the question of whether it makes more sense for users to have different interfaces for different needs or to have a single interface that provides access to contacts, calendars, and communications tools through tabs or drop-down menus.
What will the UX of choice look like? Will it be a single collaboration workspace that ties in multiple capabilities in one place, or will it be a communications-enabled business application or collaborative workspace? Most likely, it will be all of the above. Do you agree? Which approach makes the most sense to you?
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