Why Team Collaboration Is On the Rise

I've been in this industry for quite some time, and I've seen how it's evolved.

For the past 15-plus years I've in some way or another been a part of what we refer to as collaboration. I witnessed the rise of "UC," with all its various definitions. I've seen video conferencing get hot, and then cold, and then get hot again. And I've seen conferencing go from 43 cents a minute to nearly free. In general, this industry has aimed to do one main thing (besides make money), and that's to create better experiences that help get our jobs done -- such as reduction in travel, or increased efficiency in business communications.

Over the past couple of years, a shift in the way we work has occurred. We've moved from individual siloed work to agile methodologies and "teams." Now the concept of teams isn't anything new; however, the number of teams we all must now be a part of has risen. A recent Microsoft report found that we're on twice the number of teams today than we were just five years ago. If you take that, plus the fact that there's been a 4x increase in people working remotely over the past decade, according to the same report, then you start seeing challenges for all of these disparate teams and people trying to work together.

Enter team collaboration. Whether you call it business chat, workflow communication, or team collaboration, the concept is the same: a central application, regardless of device, where people chat, post, and edit documents; launch audio and videos calls; and do all of this as part of any number of teams or groups. Products like Slack, Cisco Spark, and Microsoft Teams seem to be leading the charge; however, it seems like every week others are entering this space to try to take a bite out of this emerging market.

Many times, when we talk to customers we typically get into the conversation of how team collaboration differs vs. traditional instant messaging, UC, and even email. Team collaboration finally allows the people we work with on a daily basis to have a place to keep a conversation going. While email gave us email threads, which can be a pain to follow and hard to keep up with in real time. Instant messaging gave us one-on-one conversations but falls short when someone joins in the mix. On top of that, IM conversations typically stop with the device or app, meaning if I start my IM conversation on my PC, when I move to my iPhone, the conversation isn't completely there. Although this has gotten better, in a culture where we've become mobile first, continuity becomes crucial. So that leads us to UC... this is where things get tricky and where the industry is headed.

Many large enterprises still rely on traditional PBX systems for enterprise-class features, such as call parking, call transfers, logging, etc. -- and this is where UC/PBX stand out. UC gave us those features and enabled them on our softphones/IM clients. Now that we're beginning to make this switch to team collaboration, how do our UC features become a part of this new world? Is it all or nothing or can we live with both?

We've seen Microsoft announce that Skype for Business will now become a part of Teams, and Cisco has made efforts to integrate its UC Manager with Spark as well as deliver voice in the cloud (HCS and now via BroadSoft) with Spark. For businesses that have workflows and users already invested/hooked on UC (IM/p, voice, etc.), moving to this new mode of team collaboration can be daunting. In addition, navigating the sea of team collaboration vendors can be a very tedious task. Many of these technologies are being delivered via the cloud and SaaS. This can pose challenges for any industry that tends to have strict compliance and security standards and must always be accounted for when evaluating the vendors.

When we talk to customers about their options, we try to understand their employees and their workflows. What are they trying to accomplish? Who are they talking to? Are the conversations just internal or are they teamed with their vendors or partners? What type of integrations are required? Depending on the role, maybe a CRM or ticketing system workflow can be optimized by team collaboration integration. How important is content storage and creation? Where does the information need to reside? All of these questions and more need to be addressed when looking at deploying a team collaboration strategy and understanding the vendors that make it up. And don't forget security... oh, security.

So, will team collaboration finally be the email-killing, fully integrated app that UC promised us years ago? Time will tell. Let's just hope we figure it out before the next wave of collaboration tools comes to market.

If you're at Enterprise Connect 2018 this week, I'll be participating in the session "Managing Team Collaboration in a Multi-App Environment," taking place tomorrow, March 14, from 4:00 to 4:45 p.m. ET. Join me!