Organizations looking to enhance their unified communications and collaboration capabilities have an abundance of technological innovations at their disposal, but many UC&C vendors aren't unifying their collaborative tools in ways that fit with users' accustomed ways of working. How much should users adapt to these developing applications? Which UC&C vendors provide the most convenient collaborative tools?
To find the answers to these and other questions, SearchUnifiedCommunications.com talked with Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research. He has more than 10 years of experience as analyst, senior analyst and expert in the networking and UC&C technology space.
What are unified communication and collaboration application vendors doing to enable better collaboration?
Zeus Kerravala: The problem with [UC&C] has been that it's not unified. Part of the problem is that all of the UC&C vendor portfolios were built through acquisitions.
The best collaborative session is sitting with someone in a conference room. So, the closer you can get to that type of interaction, the more effective the collaboration tool is. Companies today don't give us that type of user experience. In the UC&C industry, there are several collaborative tools to choose from, but those tools often force users to adjust their work styles.
For example, let's say two people wanted to share data and video chat; they would want to use Web conferencing, like WebEx to collaborate. In a utopian world, if we were sitting in the same conference room, I would hand you a document and say, 'Let me show you what I wrote.' In a WebEx session I would need to pass you the ball for you to share with me what you've done, and then I would have to wait for you to pass the session control back to me so that I could share with you what I've done.
Video conferencing also changes the way we work. If you're not sitting in exactly the right spot or if you have too many people, you have to rely on active switching technology to see the active speaker. But if a sales manager wants to observe someone who isn't speaking, to gage a customer's reactions, they're not going to see them unless they ask that person to cough or tap the table to direct the camera toward them. The problem with a lot of these technologies is that the system determines what you see or you have to adjust your work style to make those tools effective.
If we're going to create better virtual collaborative tools, they need to fit into the way we work and be more natural than they are today. Instead of fiddling with a WebEx URL or figuring out how to connect on a video session, workers go back to the most common denominator, which is email and voice. You can work with those, but you can't really collaborate with them.
How should the collaboration market evolve to incorporate mobile devices?
Kerravala: If we're really going to use these collaborative tools better, then the nature of these apps needs to be better. The worker becomes the integration point for many of these collaboration technologies. For example, if I'm using a smartphone and I'm in a fixed location with a lot of bandwidth, I have the ability to hold a video call. If I'm driving, I should probably voice or chat. But collaboration applications have a lot of information about your location, and the user shouldn't be the one picking the best method to communicate in a mobile scenario. Instead, the system should be smart enough to know whether each device is in motion and what the best connectivity type is.
The technology to do this is there, but it's a matter of putting it all together. Here's where the evolution has to be. Right now, we've been creating these siloed applications and dropping them in one at a time. We haven't thought about really making this a unified experience. There's too much work on the user front end to make effective virtual collaboration tools. They need a lot more integration and automation by the vendors to make this happen.
How can enterprises get on board with using collaborative software?
Kerravala: Enterprises have little incentive to change. Employees work a certain way with the processes they know, and they typically work well. But just because people get comfortable working with a certain process doesn't mean that they don't want to improve that process. There's a lack of awareness of what could be done.
Call centers have been the early adopters of collaborative technology. Call center managers understand that if you shave X seconds off a call, it improves productivity. In any organization, you have someone who understands how these applications could help your processes. A high-level manager needs to understand how these collaborative products can be inserted and improved.
There's nobody who's really looking at how the technology can improve business processes and therefore, nobody who's really driving UC collaborative technology. IT operations don't want to do it because they don't want to deploy more tools than they can manage.
What are UC&C vendors giving organizations to better collaborate?
Kerravala: People would rather have more functionality in the apps they're already using. Embedding elements into one interface makes applications better. Take click-to-call functionalities in phones, for example. If I leave an app I'm in, in order to dial somebody, I'm probably not going to make that call. Lots of times, I sit at my desk and call from my mobile phone because I can scroll down and dial.
I've been disappointed with current UC&C apps. There is a little visual collaboration startup in Ottawa called Magor, though, [that's moving in the direction of unifying applications]. The product is a desktop sharing application that gives you a 1080p screen to add as many video sessions as you need. It's a completely flexible workspace that allows you to customize your screen as you want. I can have as many apps as I want, share with whom I want and then put the emphasis on what I want. Collaboration applications need to let users decide how to present UC&C information.
This was first published in January 2013