Going Beyond UC: Understanding The New Collaboration Paradigm Shift
March 23, 2016
Author: David Mario Smith
There is a new collaboration paradigm shift that is occurring. This shift requires business planners responsible for workplace collaboration to forsake traditional methods and develop people-centric collaboration strategies focused on business outcomes.
- Adoption of collaboration tools stall in enterprises from limitations in supporting how people work.
- Collaboration PaaS platforms are emerging to embed collaboration into business processes and apps.
- There is new focus on Mobile Collaboration solutions to support a new dynamic mobile workforce.
- Intelligent Collaboration is emerging, leveraging artificial intelligence for collaborative interactions.
- Collaboration technology buyers have shifted to lines of business leaders.
- Focus collaboration strategies on people requirements for getting their work done.
- Leverage a cross functioning team of lines of business leaders to lead collaboration strategy initiatives.
- Demand roadmaps from your incumbent collaboration provider for collaboration PaaS and mobile.
As the workplace of the future presents itself now, time is of the essence for organizations to develop effective strategies around workplace collaboration. Strategies have to be holistic and factor in multiple collaboration and communications modalities. It has to encompass devices that people use every day. It must account for the extended team of collaborators people interact with on a daily basis. Managing the content of collaborative interactions has to be a priority as well as establishing roles and responsibilities for internal and external collaborators. Business success hinges on this being done right and effectively.
Unified Communications (UC) and the growing Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) market, have been mired by what seems like legacy technology and an old school way of looking at communications and collaboration. Better yet, a dated way at looking at how people collaborate and interact. At the center of UC or UCC is the people that are actually doing the interacting. Traditionally, too much focus was placed on the session, endpoints and technology at the expense of actually supporting how people really work. Communications sessions begin and end. Gone are the artifacts of that interaction that may be valuable and provide needed context or information for a business process.
The Dilemma of Proprietary Platforms
With that said, the emphasis on technology improvement led to many great innovations, but the offerings fell short of providing full contextual collaboration support for users in the workplace. The major drawback was that we developed proprietary platforms that didn’t provide much native integration or interoperability with other platforms and systems. We came up with Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP) to address this but the brick walls of proprietary systems didn’t allow rich integration with enterprise business applications.
For example, in speaking with business leaders in specific lines of business, they would lament the fact that their collaboration tools were separate from their business aplications. To explain further, who an individual was in his/her SAP application for instance, was different from who they were in their collaboration application. The user had to leave his business application to get access to collaboration capabilities. This is a major barrier and caused too much context switching to be truly effective.
The Emergence of Social Networking
Social networking introduced a form of collaboration that held the promise of being more people-centric and could potentially increase engagement and contribution from a wider network of collaborators. Buzz words such as social business and social collaboration emerged as the potential for more effective collaboration was promised. However, the problem with many of the initial social networking platforms was that they never came down into the flow of how people actually worked. If I live in my Salesforce, Oracle or SAP application all day, what’s going to come down into the flow of my business process and support collaborative interactions with people within that process? So we have yet another collaboration tool, that while good, was limited in providing full context.
The Need for a New Collaboration Paradigm
As we look back on the generations of communications and collaboration throughout the years, with the phone, email, IM/Presence, UCC and social, there are a myriad of technologies that in many cases have not been integrated or put together in an elegant way. We still have way too many technology and applications silos. What’s needed is an elegant aggregation of social, business applications, video, analytics, traditional voice communications and collaboration tools with effective user experience that can be accessed in a seamless way from any device.
Cloud and mobile is the convergence point for this new collaboration paradigm. From a consumer perspective, cloud and mobile have democratized access to collaboration technology. Technology providers have had to change business strategies due to this disruption. The technology convergence is also feeding the growing market consolidation we are witnessing. Mergers and acquisitions have become commonplace as the market reacts to the disruption.
The Move to Collaboration Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Collaboration technology is evolving from proprietary stacks to PaaS platforms, where capabilities become services via APIs and can be embedded into other business applications. The platforms themselves can be extended to provide even more functionality by developers. The key is making the platform open and building the developer ecosystem around it. This developer community and ecosystem should include systems integrators, a diverse set of developers and cloud integration service providers.
We are in an API and algorithm based economy, where business leaders are looking for specific capabilities to support specific business functions. Collaboration has to be outcome based and focused on intended business processes. Application services in specific areas such as sales, marketing and HR will become commonplace as PaaS offerings evolve.
There are several indications of this move toward collaboration PaaS offerings. Unify, who was recently acquired by Atos has opened up its Circuit Collaboration PaaS to developers. Unify has a growing ecosystem of over 300 developers building apps on Circuit.
Cisco bought Tropo in 2015, as a move to enter the collaboration PaaS space. We anticipate further direct outcomes of that acquisition. At Enterprise Connect 2016, Cisco announced a $150M investment in its new Cisco Spark Innovation Fund to invest in developers who use Spark APIs to build custom applications for business processes. This is a move to build a large developer ecosystem around the Spark platform.
Avaya bought Esna and entered even deeper into the PaaS and embedded communications space with the goal of communications enabling web browsers and cloud-based business applications such as Google Apps, Office 365, Salesforce and Jive Software. Avaya announced Zang at the 2016 Enterprise Connect conference, which is a wholly owned subsidiary and new company branding for a cloud-based communications and collaboration PaaS offering. Developers can utilize Zang tools to communications and collaboration enable mobile and web business applications, services and processes. Zang combines a cloud-enabled communication platform, communication applications and communications APIs – all as a service.
Emerging providers such as Genband, Twilio and Moxtra are also offering collaboration PaaS. Twilio has amassed an impressive list of customers such as IBM and HP. Other UCC providers such as BroadSoft have a play in this space as well. As traditional UCC players get deeper into this space, we anticipate this will be the new collaboration battleground. More than collaboration products themselves, we have come to a point where it’s about enabling applications and processes with communications and collaboration capabilities. The shift to outcome based collaboration is the driver here.
The Emergence of Mobile Collaboration Platforms
As the platform play among collaboration technology providers intensifies, Mobile Collaboration is emerging as a pivotal offering to combine traditional asynchronous and real-time collaboration with the concept of persistent spaces. Persistent group chat is a popular capability that is widely used in industries such as financial services and defense. New mobile collaboration offerings merge this capability with other collaboration features such as social and content to support contextual collaboration.
While mobile collaboration providers distinctly focus on mobile user experiences, it is more than just supporting mobile devices. The workforce is now extremely dynamic and mobile. People and processes are not static and require context as people move in and out of interaction modes. We switch from asynchronous to real-time work throughout our workdays constantly. Mobile collaboration provides support for flexible workflows and workstyles.
We spoke to the head of global marketing for a large consumer packaged goods organization, who explained that mobile collaboration is instrumental in all their marketing events. For most marketing campaigns, which include events, the team spans internal and external constituents. Having everyone collaborating and communicating on the same platform, reduced barriers that internal proprietary collaboration systems usually pose. This marketing executive intimated that in the past, consumer tools were used to facilitate this kind of external collaboration with outside parties. Mobile collaboration was critical to coordinate the entire marketing event with the external event team and other partners involved in the campaign.
While mobile collaboration is promising for supporting flexible workflows and workstyles, some of the issues we needed to deal with around traditional collaboration tools and platforms still must be addressed. Interoperability is still lacking among some offerings. We believe the move to collaboration PaaS is one way to deal with the integration issues. We were briefed on an interesting offering from NextPlane called nCore that sets out to deal with the interoperability issues. nCore supports mobile collaboration, content sharing and integration with business and communications applications from Cisco, IBM and Microsoft among others. nCore will be free to NextPlane’s UC Federation and Collaboration Service customers.
There has been a very focused move in the collaboration space towards visual collaboration. This is more than just video conferencing, albeit, providers such as Polycom have made moves here with new offerings such as RealPresence Centro.
Visual collaboration includes in context, real-time collaboration, collaborative content sharing and editing with multiple users across companies, geographies and devices. Visual collaboration is focused on supporting how people naturally collaborate with each other.
Collaboration happens regardless of geography and includes a continuum of participants that include colleagues, partners, customers and the whole extended workforce. Visual collaboration is born from what we used to refer to as contextual collaboration. Conversations become visual and tied to business applications and processes.
Traditional UC and UCC platforms were never able to support a unified contextual collaboration experience. Having visual cues between all participants in collaborative interactions via video along with the ability to work with content or information related to specific business processes can lead to better business outcomes.
Introducing Intelligent Collaboration
Collaboration is critical for any organization to succeed. Businesses need efficient collaboration with both internal and external parties and constituents. Fostering a culture of collaboration and engagement is the most effective way to nurture a collaborative workplace. Intelligent Collaboration is collaborative interactions with applied intelligence to get to deeper insights for better decisions from all inputs. It is also machine and voice assisted to make tasks easier and more automated. Examples of voice assistance are Siri and Cortana. Bots are also utilized to assist in automating tasks. Bots are at the heart of Microsoft's foray into this space with its Bot Framework. We expect other providers will bring similar capabilities to the market.
Machine learning algorithms are leveraged to provide filters to help in prioritizing and tagging actions for users. Your collaboration and workplace productivity tools essentially become smart about how you work and with whom you work. Early examples we have seen so far are Microsoft Delve and IBM Verse.
Intelligence is being applied to make your inbox smarter with analytics about your work habits, contacts and calendar. In the case of IBM Verse, it’s being fused with social and user design innovation. In all of these cases the learning algorithms get smarter over time about how you work and how you collaborate with your contacts.
The Shift to Business Buyers and Better Analytics
As the buying centers for collaboration technology switches to lines of business leaders, there needs to be an ever tighter synergy between all lines of business including IT. When video is introduced to this mix, there is a critical need for strategic network and bandwidth planning. Managing the content assets of collaboration is also very important and must be a part of the overall collaboration strategy.
This overall shift to business buyers means a sharper focus on business outcomes. Collaboration has to be applied to specific business needs and outcomes. Therefore, it has to be measured against key performance indicators (KPIs).
We are seeing specific tools being introduced in targeted business areas to bring collaboration capabilities to critical use cases such as emergency response management. Tools like Veoci (www.veoci.com), cater to emergency response management use cases, while at its core, supports collaboration. Targeted tools will expand to be a part of the enterprise collaboration fabric.
The focus on measurable collaboration focused on outcomes, will lead to an increased need for analytics. Insight from analytics about people, data, relationships and behaviors can lead to better decisions in the context of a business process. Leveraging algorithms to automate recommendations for better decisions and actions will see collaboration applications get smarter over time.