UC predictions for the New Year: Collaboration technology trends

Tim Banting, principal analyst for Current Analysis, weighs in on what collaboration technology trends enterprises can expect in 2014.

Efficient employee collaboration requires tightly integrated unified communications and content-sharing tools that are readily available to users wherever they are. Until recently, integrated collaboration capabilities have been more of an exception than the rule.

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The impending ratification of WebRTC could enable flexible collaboration deployment options -- such as easy-to-launch browser-based tools. With cloud and browser-based platforms and services drawing interest from business users, traditional, hardware-based collaboration tools -- such as desk phones and video-conferencing equipment -- are being edged out. Tim Banting, principal analyst of collaboration and communication for Washington, D.C.-based Current Analysis Inc., shared his insights into what collaboration technology trends enterprises can expect in 2014 as part of SearchUnifiedCommunications' series of UC predictions for the New Year.

Collaboration technology trends: Will 2014 be the year of the cloud?

Many enterprises give employees access to multiple modes of communication and collaboration, but many of those tools go unused. Employees will use collaboration tools more effectively if they are conveniently located in one place.

Users want their collaboration tools -- like voice, instant messaging and file sharing -- to be more closely integrated in 2014. Collaboration as a Service offerings -- such as Microsoft Office 365 and Google Hangouts -- offer that integration right through the browser. These services are becoming more appealing because they don't require businesses to invest in hardware, and IT won't have to maintain the applications, Banting said.

Interest will grow in 2014 for cloud-based collaboration services, especially for businesses with temporary staff. "For enterprises with a contingent staff, they are noticing it's much easier to pay $20 per person, per month, to get a new employee on board without having to buy them a PC, desk phone or mobile device," he said.

Cloud-based services also offer disaster recovery benefits. "Employees don't have to deal with a potentially risky commute to come into the office and sit by a dusty desk phone -- they can work just as effectively from home via collaboration tools that can be accessed anywhere," Banting said.

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With many try-before-you-buy cloud collaboration services to choose from, enterprises will be evaluating and starting pilot deployments in 2014. These collaboration technologies present a lower financial risk because IT managers can spin services up and down according to business needs, Banting said.

While interest in cloud-based collaboration technology is growing, enterprises remain wary of the security of these services, Banting said. "There will still be some customers who will want to know their data is secure -- especially those with legal and compliance concerns, he said. "The providers and vendors that can prove their clouds are secure will be the winners."

Cloud, SaaS providers fulfilling enterprise collaboration needs

Project Ansible from Unify, formally Siemens, enjoyed the limelight in 2013 with its combination of real-time and asynchronous communication and collaboration tools. Ansible offers email, instant messaging and voice, as well as social media conversations and activity streams within a clientless platform that users can launch within a browser.

Other vendors will adopt this melding of UC tools and communication methods this year, Banting said. While Unify may have gotten a head start with Ansible, cloud and Software as a Service providers -- such as Salesforce.com -- will also offer enterprises the deeper integration they crave from their collaboration tools.

"Having everything together in the browser without having to download tools like Skype or Jabber ... is an exciting proposition for users and will have a very interesting implication for the collaboration market in 2014 -- especially once WebRTC becomes ratified," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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