Unified Communications and Collaboration – still missing a vital ingredient?
Communications technologies are definitely improving markedly and offer many new and exciting ways for people to connect and share. Rarely a day goes by without a new announcement of some innovation or improvement, often wrapped up in marketing terms about ‘improving collaboration’.
But successful and effective collaboration requires much more than just technology. Mainly it requires more emphasis on people, especially the user experience, and the processes that intelligently connect them to the rest of their team.
Too much choice?
The individual user experience from applications and devices has been improving, but part of the challenge is that there are now just too many options and people have their own personal preferences. What works for one person in one circumstance might not work in a different situation or for a different person. Hence the backstop is often the lowest common denominator. Once it was written memos, then phone calls, now it is email.
Email is generally the most used but also most hated communications tool. It is not the ideal tool for collaboration or the coordination of activities, despite often being used for these purposes. Many individuals and organisations would like to get rid of email. Some are even having a go by switching to alternative messaging platforms with more of a social feel.
This rarely solves the issue, which is generally not about the medium of communication, but about getting to a beneficial result from people working together – collaborating – and being better organised.
Too much flexibility?
Ironic then that the most influential technologies of late seem to have been about liberation and flexibility. Mobile, removing the ties of desk and working in, or having to return to, specific locations to access IT. Social, which has given individuals new incentives to share information (sometimes too much) and build communities of common interest. Finally, cloud, which gives more freedom at the points of access yet shifts resources and their management to a virtual ‘central’ location, enabling a multiplicity of use cases, users and modes of access.
Individuals have so much easy to use communication power at their fingertips, eyes, mouth and ears, so they surely must be collaborating better, right?
No. The problem is actually more one of control, or to sound less big-brother-ish or give the impression of needing top-down management, the problem is one of orchestration.
The term orchestration often pops up when referring to managing diverse and ad hoc technology resources to get a desired output. It also fits well when related to getting people to work together towards a common goal – i.e. collaborating.
At a recent communication and collaboration event this summer hosted by Dennis publishing, it was pretty clear that this was a common thread emerging from the various presentations from speakers from companies including Cisco, IBM, Arkadin, Plantronics as well as echoing Quocirca’s own thoughts. There is plenty of communication, but not enough collaboration.
What to do about it?
A good first level of orchestration is sorting out presence, i.e. the awareness of who is doing what, where and when will they be free. Even this is challenging; diverse platforms have different indications of ‘availability’ and relying on people to flag their own is equally problematic – most people struggle to keep out of office or voicemail messages up to date.
No, this is a problem crying out for more intelligent automation of unified communications. Unfortunately, solutions to this are often only demonstrated in the glossy marketing videos showing a utopian communications future. Here calendar entries are intelligently harvested along with public transport timetables to redirect a desk bound phone call about a team meeting into a message on a smartphone which then pops up at just the right time and reminds you to pick up your shopping en route. (which your smart fridge has probably ordered knowing a business dinner engagement has been postponed).
It looks great in the marketing futures, but will do little to help the dispersed team meet its goals today.
So when a unified communications vendor next tells you about how great its tools are for getting your people communicating and collaborating, ask it to explain its approach to orchestration, control and co-ordination. Unifying comms is no longer about adding more and more flexibility, openness and options, but about allowing both user and the organisation (at a democratic team level), to be more in control.
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