Collaboration in the Enterprise Needs a Wakeup Call

Brad Shimmin

Brad Shimmin

Summary Bullets:

  • If we are to move forward with enterprise collaboration as something more than a cost center, perhaps our very idea of collaboration needs a hard reset.
  • It’s time we did away with the notion of collaboration as a discrete set of tools and instead explored the idea of collaboration as ambient user engagement.

I think the enterprise collaboration market is ripe for a bit of a shakeup. Somewhere there’s a wake-up call ringing right now, a signal to vendors and to enterprise IT professionals that the current swirling paradigms of thought on the matter of collaboration have slowed and are currently stymied by an overabundance of bright shiny market trends like cloud, mobility, social networking, and even big data. Of course, like many, I feel that the effective application of capabilities such as expertise location, geo positioning, and multi-channel delivery will mean a lot to the future of Microsoft Office 365, IBM Connections, Unify Ansible, Avaya Aura, and Jive Social Business Software. Furthermore, the many collaborative modalities wrapped up within these solutions (doc sharing, email, chat, voice/video, event streams, etc.) are part and parcel to their success and to our success as users and IT professionals.

But to focus on these modalities, capabilities and trends is to mistake the moon for the myriad of fingers pointing at said moon, if you’ll forgive me for misshaping a very old Zen koan.

Speaking of the moon and moonlight, I’d like to introduce a new three letter acronym I think describes said moon, and that is ambient user engagement (AUE). This is the idea that the act of collaborating and communicating shouldn’t really be the constant influx of shiny objects. More often than not these features end up as corporate flotsam and jetsam — that is, funded but unused. Instead we should look for and expect solutions that simply afford the means to collaborate and communicate anywhere with any device, on any network, at any time, by any means.

I realize that this sounds a bit like the synthesis of those trends, capabilities and modalities within some uber collaborative platform that appears as whatever you need it to be. Certainly all of the vendors (and many more) mentioned above are working right now to do just that, to build a single user experience that encompasses and combines all of this “stuff.” But that’s really just building a better mousetrap, or should I say a better Rube Goldberg machine. At the end of the day, each enterprise will belong to a given club with its own set of rules, standards, coat of arms, etc.

What we need is email. Okay, seriously, not literally email itself but instead a multimodal, feature-rich platform that behaves like email. You see, the reason email persists, isn’t that it is particularly effective or compelling (certainly not that). Email continues because it acts as a ubiquitous means of communication that like the telephone doesn’t care which email client you use, or to which cloud platform you pledge allegiance. It just works and does so across firewall, mobile device, geography, and time.

Given the rather limited history of federation and synchronization between disparate chat/presence servers, I highly doubt we will soon discover a magic set of standards for chat, video, social networking, et al. that allow users to come as they are if you will in terms of device, app, location, etc. Does anyone remember the X.400 standard, speaking of email? Instead what I’m hoping for is that a few vendors simply open their doors a bit wider through richer APIs and further investments in supportive ISV ecosystems. Given enough time, we will slowly achieve this idea of ambient user engagement. Until then, I’d settle for a little cooperation between Microsoft Skype and Google Hangouts as a good start.

About Brad Shimmin
As Principal Analyst for Collaboration and Conferencing at Current Analysis, Brad analyzes the rapidly expanding use of collaboration software and services as a means of improving business agility, fostering employee optimization and driving business opportunities.

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