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The Splintering of the Collaboration Experience

The Catch-22 of the modern collaboration experience can be summed up in this way:

The more collaboration tools you use, the worse the overall collaboration experience is.

Users have more choice in and are using more collaboration tools today than ever before. As more and more of these different tools are used in the enterprise, the overall end user experience declines as there is no common collaboration ground for users to operate on. Users are spending more time collaborating with colleagues and customers, and with so many options they are sometimes forced to waste time trying to figure out which collaboration tool to use. They have to multi-task across more and more applications to get their jobs done.

There used to be relatively few, mostly non-overlapping collaboration tools in any given company. IT would select tools for the enterprise across a variety of collaboration categories including voice, email, messaging, video & web collaboration, and document & content management, to name a few. This IT-dictated world is quickly being eroded with the rise of a new class of cloud-based collaboration tools, often mobile centric and sometimes even consumer oriented.  The barrier to adoption for collaboration tools such as Facetime, iMessage, WhatsApp, and Google Hangouts is so low that their use in enterprise environments is rampant even if they are not sanctioned by IT.  Millennials in the workforce are further driving this application proliferation as they are used to solving their own collaboration problems without involving IT. After all, these tools are only a few taps away from downloading in the app store on their own devices.

Today it is common to see multiple tools within each mode of collaboration in the enterprise. Here are some examples of different and overlapping tools that often co-exist in the same enterprise environments:

  • Voice: Cisco, Avaya, Skype
  • Email: Office 365, Gmail, Yahoo
  • Messaging: SMS, Slack, Lync
  • Video / Web Collaboration: Webex, GoToMeeting, Polycom
  • Document and Content: Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive

Using multiple tools leads to the Catch-22 I mentioned earlier. In today’s enterprises you often will find pockets of users organized around different collaboration tools. Our VP of Product likes to tell the story of what messaging-based collaboration was like at Contactive, where he worked before we acquired them. Different users had standardized on different applications as their preferred messaging application. So to message with some users he had to use SMS, for others WhatsApp, and for yet others Skype. He was constantly switching between messaging apps to figure out the right tool to use for any particular interaction. Talk about wasted productivity!

The same problem happens on a larger scale in enterprises. Today’s enterprise end users have to be very conscious of which tool they are using when they collaborate with colleagues and with customers. Questions that can run through an end user’s mind before an interaction include:

  • Does the other user have the necessary software to support the interaction?
  • Which mode of interaction should I start with? Voice, email, messaging, video, web collab?
  • Will I need to switch modes later in the conversation?
  • Will I need to invite more people to the conversation?
  • Will I need to collaborate around documents or content as part of the conversation?
  • Where is the latest version of that content located?

The answer to any of these questions could impact the collaboration tool that the user chooses for the interaction.  The need to be highly conscious of the collaboration type combined with the hard barriers between the different tools is the main reason for a poor end user collaboration experience.

To improve upon the current situation, it isn’t possible or even desirable to go back to the single IT-controlled platform approach. However, I would argue that enterprises need to agree on certain anchor platforms that ideally combine as many modes of collaboration on them as possible. The more modes of interaction that can be provided on a single platform, the greater the chance that inter-tool boundaries won’t get in the way of the end user experience.

To give an example, if I have a platform that combines messaging and video, I can start with a messaging interaction and then escalate to a video interaction if real-time interaction is needed, and then de-escalate back down to messaging afterwards.

If you are an enterprise CIO you might be thinking about how difficult it will be to herd your end users back onto a smaller number of tools, especially when the original proliferation of multi-tool use is often a result of end user dissatisfaction with systems provided by IT. In my experience, the two main reasons that end users move to other tools are: 1) they are looking for something that is mobile first and 2) they want something that has a consumer-grade user experience. Simply put, they want something that is easy to use and beautiful.

We have found that once you show users that you do these two things well, they are more than happy to join an IT-approved platform, where they will benefit from a centralized directory, integration with other IT systems, better data controls, and more.

If you are looking for your next anchor platform to build around, UC platforms can be a good candidate.  UC platforms still are largely IT controlled, and modern ones include messaging, video, and web collaboration features all integrated together. The fact that voice in particular is deployed to all the users in an enterprise makes it a great anchor platform to consolidate around. In the end, it’s all about the user experience: and modern UCaaS solutions need to address that directly with access to multiple modes of communication altogether.

Learn more about how user preferences have shifted in my previous blog, Generational shifts driving communications change.

Derek Yoo

Derek Yoo

As Fuze's CTO and co-founder, Derek is responsible for the strategic vision, development, execution, and ongoing operation of our innovative cloud communications ecosystem.

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