Rethinking Collaboration, Part 1

Rethinking Communications

Rethinking Collaboration, Part 1

By Jon Arnold, Principal, J Arnold & Associates  |  September 16, 2015

The namesake of this column – Rethinking Communications – is rooted in telephony, but with the evolution of unified communications. It has come to embrace a broader range of modes, all of which give rise to new value propositions for business decision-makers to consider. Nothing stands still any more, and increasingly, the worlds of communication and collaboration overlap, with the result being the ever-widening UC&C umbrella.

The differences are more than semantic, as each provides distinct forms of value. Not all forms of communication involve collaboration, and when the focus is collaboration, communication is just one element. Sometimes it’s a major element, but in other cases it serves only to enable processes that drive the desired outcome.

Regardless of how you look at these variations, changes in how we communicate are having a major impact on how we collaborate, and that’s causing a lot of rethinking, both among vendors in the UC&C space and IT circles inside businesses. I’m going to touch on why this is happening here, and in my follow-on column, I’ll delve further into why offerings such as Slack are so disruptive.

Root Cause – Email and Telephony Aren’t Working

These two applications have long been the cornerstones for getting things done at work. They are indispensible tools for communicating, but these days, not so much for collaborating. Desk-based telephony is no longer the hub of communication, and with the rise of mobility, text-based modes are gaining favor over voice. For today’s workers, the convenience of near real-time short form messaging seems to carry more weight than the intimacy of real-time voice. Despite its many virtues, email is a drag on productivity for many end users, as the vast majority of messages are either unrelated to work or unnecessary messages.

Since these are core elements of conventional UC offerings, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that this is a key reason why UC has been slow to gain adoption. Not only is the UC value proposition difficult to define, but these building blocks aren’t the tools of choice for today’s knowledge workers. As the workforce trends younger and Millennials become the dominant demographic, these issues will become more pronounced. They communicate differently than their predecessors, and being digital natives, their concept of collaboration is also very different.

To adapt, UC&C vendors are incorporating more social elements into their platforms, with the most notable examples being Cisco (News - Alert) with Spark and Unify with Circuit. These solutions are largely homegrown, and need to rely on the freemium model to build traction, so it’s hard to say how successful they will be beyond retaining their customers.

Another approach is to acquire a platform built around collaboration and social business. There are a slew of third-party vendors out there doing this, and I’ll explore that further in my next column. The main idea here is that many vendors and UC providers are built around voice and don’t have the expertise to develop these other pieces. Again, it’s not clear how effectively they can monetize these moves, but things are changing quickly, and it’s too risky to stand pat and hope that voice continues carrying the business. A prime example is the recent acquisition of Glip by rising star RingCentral (News - Alert), and to a lesser extent the move by Vonage Holdings to buy gUnify for its fast-growing Vonage Business division.

The common denominator is the need to integrate voice and other communications modes with business-based applications. This is where the higher-order value comes from UC, especially in terms of streamlining and even automating processes. At minimum, the goal is to integrate communications with directory and calendaring functions, as this powers presence, the real driver for UC. Once that is in place, the next layer is tying communications applications to collaboration tools such as conferencing, screen sharing, document storage, and file sharing. Finally, there are the business applications such as (News - Alert), and more broadly, CRM for supporting the contact center and ERP or WFM to better manage workflows.

Building a Better UC Platform for Collaboration

Pulling all these pieces together is complex, but the established UC vendors can do so to varying degrees. If this was the complete solution for collaboration, I wouldn’t be writing this post, and we wouldn’t all be wondering if Slack is going to re-invent this space. Technophiles will gladly see this as the Uberizing of UC, and because it’s happening so quickly in the taxi world, UC players can’t afford to dismiss the potential.

Furthermore, the fundamental nature of collaboration is changing, and that has a direct bearing on those cornerstones of email and telephony. More importantly, these changes have a direct bearing on our readers here, as collaboration is a strategic driver of competitive advantage. When thinking about how best to invest your IT dollars, it’s crucial to understand the relationship between communication and collaboration. If employees aren’t using the right tools to communicate, their collaboration outcomes will suffer. You may need to take a closer look at the tools your employees are really using to get work done, and if email and telephony are barely there, it’s time to rethink collaboration.

Jon Arnold (News - Alert) is the principal at J Arnold & Associates.

Jon Arnold is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy with a focus on IP communications, and writes the Analyst 2.0 blog. Previously, he was the VoIP program leader at Frost & Sullivan.

Edited by Maurice Nagle