2017 was a year of contradiction for the communications and collaboration industry. On one hand, we saw vendor consolidation. (Cisco acquired Broadsoft, Mitel finally landed archrival ShoreTel and Microsoft consolidated its own offering from Skype for Business to Teams.)
And yet despite fewer players, complexity continued to proliferate. In fact, new challengers, such as Slack, Atlassian and Zoom, increasingly made their way into the enterprise last year. This new wave of technology offers specialized ‘point’ solutions — easy chat, HIPPA-compliant chat and video conferencing respectively. Their rise illustrates the shortcomings of the established vendors, yet they do not bring us any closer to the comprehensive, simple collaboration experience that businesses seek.
Businesses today face daunting choices for collaboration tools, generally requiring a multi-vendor approach. Each vendor seems to be good at one feature, such as voice or chat, but none offer a comprehensive integrated platform that delivers a seamless collaboration experience across all media.
Deploying separate voice, chat, conferencing, telepresence and video solutions from multiple vendors is hardly efficient. Plus making them all work together is downright challenging. The opportunity is there for a vendor to take the lead and focus not on incrementally improving features, but delivering a better collaboration experience. 2018 could be the year where “unified communications” finally makes sense.
Vendors seeking to deliver an integrated collaboration experience should focus on four key areas:
- Mobile experience. We are only seeing more people using their mobile devices to interact with teams, clients and workplace groups. Pushing employees back to traditional business phones or even softphones will not work. While many vendors already have basic mobile capabilities, the vendor that provides the best collaboration solution for mobile phones will differentiate itself significantly.
- Conferencing experience. Let’s be honest, the conference experience is often terrible. Can you remember the last time a conference started on time? There are even humorous videos on YouTube poking fun at how painful conference calls can be. We’ve only seen incremental improvements to this technology over the past decade. And to my point above, we need better mobile to desktop conferencing. Or even HD videoconferencing at the desktop.
- Meeting room experience. Being able to share documents, images and videos during a conference or as part of remote collaboration is a great way to improve efficiency. Getting everyone on the same page has tremendous value, yet it’s so hard to accomplish. Some apps are better than others, yet none seems to be intuitive. How much time is wasted on a call explaining to everyone how to enlarge an image or even share it! “Can you see it now?” The vendor that provides an easy, highly usable meeting room will become a quick favorite.
- Social experience. Social media is having an indelible effect on how we consume and leverage data – and how we collaborate. If Facebook, Whatsapp and LinkedIn can continuously improve the collaboration experience, then why can’t enterprise colloboration applications? Valid question. Taking a more ‘social’ approach will be especially attractive, especially to the millennial generation that is hitting the workplace en masse now.
Of course the other big trend in 2018 is cloud communications. Mass migration to the cloud only accelerates the move toward a better collaboration experience. Software-based solutions enable better integration, which in turn can improve the overall collaboration experience. Perhaps even allowing seamless collaboration from voice to chat to video. 2018 is shaping up to be a promising year!
Chakra Devalla is CEO of tekVizion, a company that validates, certifies and automates collaboration and communications solutions. www.tekVizion.com