In part 1 of this blog series, I introduced the concept of unleashing the potential of teams. Working collectively on a task can boost performance significantly. And as teams become more distributed in the modern workforce, collaboration is the number one factor that companies need to implement.
In this article, I explore some of the collaboration products and technologies available and discuss what businesses are doing to drive change. It is fair to say that the range of options available has transformed over the past 5 years. Businesses need to be well informed to develop a successful UC and collaboration strategy.
Which UC & collaboration solution is right for you?
Although email is a useful tool, most of us get frustrated by its inefficiencies, where important messages are hidden amongst spam & time is wasted cleansing and working out who to respond to first, last or never! Email is certainly not seen as the future of collaboration unless major changes are introduced! In the corporate world Microsoft has had email market share with Exchange for many years and even they acknowledge that this cash cow is not the future for messaging and communications.
I also discussed in part 1 of this article that the phone system doesn’t encourage teamwork. Nowadays businesses rarely go looking for replacement telephony systems; they are looking for Unified Communications or specific technologies that fall under the collaboration banner. But right or wrong, both email & the phone are the main tools that businesses provide for internal and external collaboration.
Microsoft recently presented a slide to partners and customers showing Exchange as “today’s platform” with Teams as the replacement; Teams being a whole different proposition. Google has Gmail but they still came up with Google+, Google Hangouts and Google Wave to try & find better ways for group communication. IBM (Lotus) Domino is another popular email platform but they too have IBM Connections that offers integration of email, IM, document sharing and workflow.
Moving from email to teamwork apps
Cisco has been recognised by many analysts as the leader in telephony & Unified Communications for many years. However, they realised many years ago that they were missing a part of the jigsaw by not having a messaging platform. They could have developed or acquired an email product to fill the hole but realised that this probably wasn’t the answer. At the same time, you had various other companies introducing new ways to get businesses communicating more efficiently.
Companies such as Jive, HipChat, MS Yammer, Social Text and over twenty other start-ups all came out with new ways to enable teamwork. Leading CRM & ERP vendors also got in on the act and incorporated features such as messaging, group tasks and document sharing.
Alongside all of the business applications above you also had companies like Facebook who had found a new way for large groups of people to connect, converse, exchange information and keep track of events. Judging by the take up it was clear that these apps were intuitive enough for anyone to use and enjoy. It wasn’t just Facebook; various other consumer applications were setting the scene for new ways of collaborating.
At the same time, there was the rise of the Messenger; SMS trashed mobile call revenues but WhatsApp and other IM apps took this further with group communications.
Seeing the changes in the behaviour of how people communicated in the consumer world and how business used these tools too, the vendors started looking at how they could build applications that intertwined all of these channels to form the killer app for business. But it isn’t easy!
Cisco chose to build something from the ground up and started promoting Quad. Its concept was fantastic but the platform was too complex. Microsoft had a number of different applications such as SharePoint, Yammer, and Skype but also realised that a new web-based framework could be a better move. Numerous other providers from different technology backgrounds also launched collaboration apps, all competing in the same space.
Comparing UC Vendors: What do the analysts say?
If you look at how Gartner (the leading research and advisory company) measure the leaders, challengers, visionaries and niche providers in the collaboration space you have to actually span around seven different categories. This is part of the problem in evaluating which system to go for; there isn’t actually one system that does everything.
If you look at the Gartner Magic Quadrants there are vendors that appear in most of the categories as leaders but you don’t yet have a single product set or single client that covers all bases. Below shows a number of the different categories researched by Gartner and the leaders/challengers playing in each space but which category do you focus on to compare and identify your short list?
Cisco vs Microsoft vs other collaboration apps
As you can see there are two vendors that appear almost everywhere: Cisco & Microsoft. The challenge for both these vendors is to merge the newly introduced collaboration apps (Spark and Teams) built on the newest platforms with their legacy products that are on frameworks that need replacing. This is a huge undertaking and one that both vendors are seriously committed to, backed by the funds and the knowledge to get there. All other vendors are excellent at what they do but have a narrower portfolio of applications.
You can also see from the vendors listed above that there is a mix of new entrant ‘challengers’ who can come along without any legacy baggage and build something new from the ground up. Their shiny UI looks modern, is web-based and works across a range of devices and they seed the market by offering a limited feature set or a restricted number of users free of charge with the option to purchase subscriptions, from the Cloud as you need them.
So what communications problem are you trying to address?
Depending on which category of product in the collaboration space you are trying to address, some of these new challengers offer a very compelling story. You can download applications to test functionality and determine whether it is intuitive enough for your users to adopt. But you have to be very careful here and really think through what you are trying to achieve, across your entire business.
You also need to consider how each vendor handles security, where information is stored, how and where it is encrypted and ensure there is centralised management that is granular enough to control usage and meet compliance and regulations.
It is interesting that when evaluating providers, businesses will do huge amounts of due diligence on compliance and security (as examples) on Enterprise providers such as Microsoft, Cisco, IBM. There are assumptions that their systems are fully secure, pass all compliance regulations and tick all the boxes for each vertical sector that customers are in. It seems that the rules are often very different when evaluating the new challengers. Or businesses turn a blind eye when their employees use apps such as WhatsApp, Dropbox, consumer Skype or other “free” apps to get work done!
Developing a collaboration strategy: What is the best collaboration system to go for?
There is no simple answer to this question as it depends on where you are starting from on your journey. If you have a single office and few home workers you have a very different scope to a large global company with project teams across numerous remote offices.
It is unrealistic to expect businesses to rip and replace everything that is already in place and start again with something new. But if your foundation is a 5 or 10-year-old telephony system that cannot be built on, then you may well have to start again.
You will also know if you are a Cloud First organization or whether you wish to retain some or all of your systems on-premise? There may well be regulatory or compliance reasons that dictate the need to retain certain things on site. Generally, the market leaders will offer a choice of Cloud, Hybrid or on-premise unified communications solutions. The emerging players may offer Cloud only and there is a decision to make before drawing up a short list of vendors and partners to approach.
What other collaboration and contact centre systems need integrating?
Before shortlisting vendors, you will also need to draw up a list of all the business systems you currently use or are moving towards to ensure you can integrate ‘out of the box’ or with API’s and services.
- Are you trying to incorporate all collaboration methods into one system?
- Do you need Contact Centre, call recording, analytics/reporting?
- Do the systems need to work seamlessly with your CRM, ERP or finance system?
- Are you wanting to incorporate investments that haven’t yet been written off or existing components that are loved by the organisation? Handsets, headsets, video/telepresence endpoints?
- Are there contracts that need to continue during any migration to something new?
- Can the system only be hosted in certain data centres because of security concerns?
- Do you run systems or clients that won’t support certain OS or applications?
The more things you want to address and systems to combine, the more complex the tools you need to address everything. The big vendors are making big strides to integrate everything. The new entrants can’t do everything so often build up a partner eco-system with other technology providers to bolster functionally. You just have to acknowledge that these partnerships can be friends one day and enemies the next and ensure you have a competent integration partner to support you.
If you choose the right partners and vendors to work with, you should end up with new intuitive tools that encourage teamwork, support your complete employee demographic and the way they want to work. Using intuitive devices and simplified user interfaces will help the adoption of the new technologies and reduce the need for constant training. Productivity increases and everyone is happy.
It sounds easy, doesn’t it? It is, but only if you know what you are doing!