The growing number of available communications tools may seem beneficial, but adopting too many tools can lead to information silos and communication overload for users.
The cloud has changed the way tools are adopted, according to Jon Arnold, principal analyst at J Arnold & Associates, based in Toronto. In the past, IT had strict control over which tools were deployed. But, with shadow IT and freemium cloud options, like Slack, users can often choose the tools they want to deploy without IT's help or knowledge, he said.
When a company has a unified communications platform or UCaaS, it retains control and promotes cohesion. However, if users choose their own communications tools it becomes harder for IT to ensure cohesive UX. Additionally, the ability to sort information and filter out distractions becomes more difficult for users, Arnold said.
Too many tools take unity out of UC
"The benefit of unified communications [UC] is in the name; it's unified," Arnold said. If users choose their own communications tools, IT can't monitor those tools for a consistent experience.
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When users choose their own communications tools, there's no guarantee they will choose the same tools or options that interoperate. As a result, information shared in one application isn't easily shared with someone using a different application, which creates information silos, Arnold said.
If one person uses Slack and another uses Microsoft Teams, they can't exchange information, Arnold said. To interact, the user would need to leave the application environment to share information with someone on a separate platform, which adds extra steps and isn't productive, he added.
The problem with communication overload
The use of too many tools also creates communication overload. When users have multiple points of contact -- email, instant messaging, text messaging, video and voice calls -- it creates a lot of distraction, Arnold said. Users can become overwhelmed with notifications, which slows productivity, he said.
Users have no way to prioritize important incoming messages from different applications. As a result, they might have to sort through hundreds of messages a day when only a handful may be relevant to their current tasks, Arnold said.
Benefits of a top-down UC approach
Some IT departments take a relaxed approach to UC that enables users to choose the tools they most want to work with. In organizations with a more controlled top-down approach, IT chooses the UC tools used across an organization.
"For any given app -- voice, video or text -- there are going to be 10 options," Arnold said. "The idea behind UC is standardizing the choices and using all of the applications within an integrated environment." The benefit of having an integrated environment is that users don't need to worry about different applications being unable to interoperate with one another. Instead, all information and communication happen freely within the UC platform.
Another benefit of a top-down deployment includes providing a consistent experience for all users that increases productivity, Arnold said.
It can be tough to get everyone in an organization to use only IT-sanctioned UC tools when other applications are easily accessible. In many cases, users that are highly comfortable with technology will want to deploy tools of their choosing, but this may not work if a company has users with different levels of technical ability. A top-down approach works best for organizations with a mix of technical ability, Arnold said.
Training users on UC capabilities is an essential way IT can cut down on issues that arise from the use of too many tools. In many instances, users may not realize an IT-deployed UC platform has all the capabilities needed to do their jobs effectively and efficiently, Arnold said. If users can do everything they need for their job inside of an organization-provided UC platform, they are less likely to adopt additional applications.
Training can also address communication overload. Many tools have built-in settings that give users greater control over how many notifications they get during the day. It's incumbent upon IT to make sure users understand all the management capabilities communications tools have to offer, Arnold said.
AI on the horizon
The wide array of options for communication and collaboration will continue to grow, Arnold said. Organizations are going to need to find a better way to handle communication overload to prevent sacrificing productivity.
AI will likely help answer the communication overload problem in the future, Arnold said. While it's not there yet, AI applications that help organize information more effectively are starting to become more readily available.
An example of AI helping organize information is IBM's Watson, which has an application that scans all emails and messages for specified keywords and returns the 10 most important things that need a response.
The answer will likely be some form of AI-enhanced automated digital personal assistant, Arnold said. It could be a device that sifts through all forms of messaging to ensure the most relevant communications are seen first, he said.