Team Collaboration Brings a New Wave of Truly Unified Communications

Convergence Corner

Team Collaboration Brings a New Wave of Truly Unified Communications

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  May 05, 2017

We, as an industry, have spent the past several years talking about how and why collaboration is key to better and faster business success. It was at the heart of the Unified Communications (News - Alert) conversation, with the idea being you need to be able to reach all your colleagues on a single platform, regardless of where they are or what devices they may be using, in order to facilitate better collaboration.

But, while that’s all true, and there have been countless studies espousing the business benefits of UC, the term Collaboration has taken a twist more recently, moving away from the more traditional communications platforms and, instead, spawning a new category of software as much aligned with today’s consumer social messaging phenomenon as it is with business communications. In fact, you could spend much of the day counting all the team collaboration suites, services, and applications available today.

“The consumer messaging space is wild with all the innovation and experimentation going on,” says Oji Udezue, Head of Product at HipChat. “We have to catch up in the enterprise space – we have to bring the same creativity to businesses.”

There are a couple of key trends that continue to drive the adoption of these applications, including the need for businesses to become more agile, especially in light of increased mobility among workers, along with the emergence of a millennial workforce. 

Mobility has taken a back seat to terms like collaboration; in fact, it’s fair to say that mobility is merely table stakes, thanks to cloud computing, APIs,  mobile processor power, and perpetual connectivity. If you aren’t making your capabilities mobile-ready – even mobile-first, in many cases – you’re not likely to see any major uptake. 

What the proliferation of mobility in the workforce has created is a critical need to do more than just communicate. Teams and businesses now need to be able to work effectively with colleagues and partners who may be sitting in other corporate locations, home offices, hotels, airports, effectively anywhere.  And they need to be able to share ideas, brainstorm, review documents and other materials, and to save those collaborative exercises for future reference, both as a means of recordkeeping as well as for jumping off points for the recurring sessions.

There’s also the challenge of the millennial workforce, which is very app- and mobile-centric, and effectively shuns more traditional communications options, like email. One of the problems with email, of course, is it is long-entrenched into the business process, to the degree that a high percentage of emails we receive are from machines, not people. That inherently works against the notion of team collaboration.

“As the workforce that uses Snapchat gets into the workforce, how are you as abusiness going to handle it?” asks Udezue. “Are you going to give them email, when messaging has become the dominant metaphor for communications?”

The younger side of the workforce has already grown up on messaging apps – and most use more of them than their parents even know exist, which has help drive the number of business collaboration products available. They represent a more dispersed team environment, which requires software to allow them to be productive, and which reinforces the notion of a team, despite working in a virtual environment.

Udezue says Hipchat users are in the application four to six hours per day, because it provides exactly the kinds of tools to which today’s workforce wants to have access. It creates an environment where team members are visible and accessible to one another without extraneous clutter, and it focuses attention on the project at hand, enabling collaboration using whichever tools are appropriate for each interaction – and the ability to move between communications modalities within the collaborative experience.

Still a market in its infancy, the collaboration space already boasts more than 10 million users between the top several collaboration solutions, including Hipchat, Slack, and Teams, which could easily grow to 20 times that figure in just five years.

One key will likely be a demand for interoperability, as teams look to extend collaboration to other constituencies that may be using alternative applications. Video conferencing has already had to address that requirement, and with the continued growth of WebRTC, and with every application developer building out APIs for easy integration, it’s not hard to imagine a world where collaboration will become vendor-agnostic and eliminate the fragmentation that is inherent in most new technology trends.

It’s the new Unified Communications for a modern workforce.

Edited by Alicia Young