Unfit for purpose: Why companies should ditch “Unified Communications” for “Unified Collaboration”

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We used to think that communication was the ultimate goal for any information technology. First with phones, then the Internet and social media, and finally Unified Communications at the turn of the century – every advance in communication was heralded as a huge leap forward in human interaction and business efficiency.

But just because tech makes it easy to talk to each other, it doesn’t mean that we’re any smarter or more efficient. If social media has shown us anything, it is that instant communication does not necessarily result in greater insight or better results – in fact, it is more often full of “sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

We gloried in the technical sophistication of videoconferencing without appreciating that all we were doing was having traditional meetings, albeit on screens rather than face-to-face – with all the disadvantages that this entailed.

Strangely enough, it is our newest employee cohort, the millennials, who have shown us the way towards meaningful communication. Thanks to their championing of messaging and sharing technologies we are a step closer to true collaboration among teams. These tools create a powerful argument that we should ditch our obsession with Unified Communications, and instead start talking about “Unified Collaboration”.

The limits of traditional communications

The telephone is among the best and worst inventions in history. It remains peerless as a means to convey information and ideas, to discuss and debate across great distances. But unplanned phone calls are a distraction, breaking into our workflow and thinking processes at the most inconvenient times – a poor tool for a business that prizes efficiency.

According to Gartner, some 50 per cent of all phone calls are “unplanned”, and therefore unstructured. The rise of business and consumer messaging applications like WhatsApp, Slack and Zoom are starting to have a dramatic effect on phone calls. Gartner are expecting the proportion of planned calls to rise towards 90 per cent over the next few years as we ask and answer routine queries through a few quick keystrokes. This means that soon, every phone call will be made for a specific purpose, rather than for introductions.

Unified Communications brought great advances over traditional methods of communication, including some collaboration functions, but it has suffered from the huge diversity of different communications and messaging platforms in use among businesses. In an era where every business, every generation, and almost every worker has their preferred messaging platform, the challenge for technology providers – and IT departments – was how to bring these together into a true system of Unified Collaboration.

 The advance of the application 

Technology has revolutionised every form of communication. Spiceworks found that 51 per cent of respondents believe that collaborative chat apps were critical to the success of their organisation, while a Frost and Sullivan report found 51 per cent of employees use mandated apps for their business on their phones, an increase from 27 per cent of employees in 2011.

There is no question that Slack, Skype for Business and Yammer are changing the way in which we work. They facilitate an active flow of information between colleagues that one way communication simply cannot match. Their adoption represents a world far removed from a workplace reliant on voice, email and fax previously envisaged.

Cloud continuity 

Cloud-based-collaboration is increasingly critical to people across the workplace, with organisations investing on its infrastructure. The Cloud Industry Forum showed the overall cloud adoption rate in the UK now stands at 88 per cent, with 67 per cent of users expecting to increase their adoption of cloud services over the coming year.

This shifting behaviour has changed IT purchasing patterns. IDC predicts that by 2019, 3rd platform technologies and services will drive nearly 75 per cent of IT spending. A growth of nearly twice the rate of the total IT Market.

However, cloud migration has proved tricky for some organisations. Figures from the Cloud Industry Forum, show around three quarters of all IT departments stated that cloud has changed – or will change – the role of IT staff within the organisation.

Moving to unified collaboration 

Adding to this complexity and change in priority has been a shift in the way suppliers describe and differentiate themselves. Until recently, unified communication and collaboration vendors were completely distinct. However, as the market has matured, the lines have become blurred as legacy vendors have moved into the collaboration field. 

In this rapidly shifting environment, it is not surprising that many point to the advantages of outsourcing cloud based services to a third-party provider. Ultimately allowing another party to manage the complexities of a rapidly shifting environment.

Leaving the advantages of outsourcing to one side, it is very clear that we need to make a dramatic shift in the way we talk about the role of collaborative technologies in the workplace. Unified Communications and the one way messaging it implies must evolve to Unified Collaboration in order to meet the needs of today’s workforce.

Rufus Grig
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa