Real-time collaboration may finally blend into business processes

Emerging real-time collaboration tools are becoming integrated into business processes, giving employees one place to go to get their work done.

Combining business process with communication tools has been the unified communications pipe dream for a long time,...

but last year that finally came to fruition with the introduction of real-time collaboration tools -- like Unify's Circuit and Cisco's Project Squared -- that combined UC and social features into one persistent, browser-based platform. Users no longer have to go to separate, siloed tools for their communication and collaboration needs.

Industry analysts predict that 2015 will be the year of integration for the collaboration industry. UC features like voice and video are going to be embedded into content collaboration and social platforms so employees have their communications and business processes in one place.

Vendors are listening to enterprise needs for real-time collaboration

Collaboration tools tend to be adopted on a departmental basis for project management, not necessarily by the entire company. But if vendors adopt a more agile development process, it could spur broader enterprise adoption.

"Project work makes up a lot of the interaction within companies, but certainly not all of it," said Bill Haskins, a partner and senior analyst at Wainhouse Research LLC in Duxbury, Mass. Real-time collaboration tools need to mature to attract larger teams or entire companies for enterprise-wide communication, he said.

Two of the real-time collaboration platforms recently introduced -- Unify's Project Ansible, now known as Circuit, and Cisco's Project Squared -- included the word project in their names for a reason. Vendors are finally realizing UC platforms must often be a work in progress, as it's vital that vendors consider customer feedback and requirements before a collaboration tool can truly be successful on the market.

Circuit and Project Squared both represent a significant shift in terms of strategy and technology for Cisco and Unify, as neither tool was built on its vendor's leading collaboration software, Unify's OpenScape and Cisco's WebEx, Wainhouse's Haskins said.

"To me, these [vendors] are saying 'we have to do something totally different than what we were doing on every level -- even how we listen to our customers,'" he said. "I would expect to see a lot of change and improvement in the user experience in 2015."

Integrating real-time collaboration into business processes

With vendors willing to embrace customer requirements and requests, more integration between collaboration tools and existing business tools and processes will likely be seen in 2015, said Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research in Toronto.

"If [enterprises] ask for things like file sharing support, we are going to see vendors be able to more nimbly add [integrations with] things like Dropbox and Google Drive," Lepofsky said.

Integration between UC tools and existing business processes hasn't been as widespread as the industry would have liked it to be by now, said Tim Banting, principal analyst of collaboration and communication for Washington, D.C.-based Current Analysis. But because fewer real-time collaboration tools are being based on proprietary hardware, interoperability will be easier moving forward into 2015, he said. "Vendors will be able to react quickly to customer feedback," he said.

However, just because collaboration tools are starting to feature better integrations with business applications and communication tools doesn't guarantee they'll come with open APIs and interoperability with third-party tools, Wainhouse's Haskins said.

As UC and real-time collaboration matures, the return on investment is getting easier for businesses to identify. And these tools don't have to be just another horizontal application, like a PBX on the desktop, Current Analysis' Banting said. Once integrated with existing business processes, these tools will be able to offer more specific value or better business outcomes in the future.

"These tools can help make employee recruitment and retention easier for the HR department, or help facility managers keep offices running," 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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