My first blog of 2016 discussed Security, but the second will tackle a topic close to my heart, UC (Unified Communications) or to describe it via a new remixed term “Digital Collaboration”.
UC has suffered in recent years from nothing more than being pretty boring. The functional elements continue to work well and the UC solution most commonly experienced by users, IPT, delivers high value but with little applause. And that state signposts the age old challenge with UC, it continues to be viewed and described by users as a number of discrete technology based solutions, some working well together, others still a challenge and others still confusing. Sadly UC for the enterprise has failed to become part of the soul of an enterprise user in the manner UC in the social and personal world has managed to do. Consider just how ubiquitous platforms including Whatsapp have become and the real emotion and passion users have for the solution. No similar state or outcome is mirrored in the enterprise. With the immense potential for “Digital Collaboration” in the enterprise still very much apparent, this blog will focus on the 2016 “hot topics” that I think will start to make UC (Digital Collaboration), exciting and essential through 2016. First off UC for the mobile user.
- UC for the mobile:UC for the mobile user has continued to deliver a somewhat “inconsistent” experience. Different screens to access, credential issues, endless software updates, compatibility issues have resulted in users deeming this valuable experience often too challenging. I expect 2016 to become a real vendor battleground to deliver the best digital collaboration mobile user experience with the leading vendors striving to make UC seamless, invisible and ultimately essential. Microsoft, Cisco and even more innovative start-ups (remember Whatsapp) will step up to the plate with the Cisco and Apple alignment very promising for mobile user collaboration in the future.
- Video from the cloud:My colleagues and I have discussed video in the cloud for many years. Whether it’s bridging services or person to person video, the always on, everywhere nature of the cloud signposts it as the best destination for the service. Common to other components of UC , cloud based video has proved too complex, with too many choices, via confusing cost structures. No more in 2016 – the vendor that becomes synonymous with connecting and delivering video via the cloud has the potential to win the UC war so expect this to be an area of high vendor focus. And the benefit, a better user / enterprise experience and potentially right sized pricing. Cisco, Vidyo, Polycom, BlueJeans and the ever increasing collection of managed video service providers will deliver numerous opportunities for enterprises to finally unlock the benefits of such an essential service.
- Imbedded Digital collaboration:2016 will see a rise in an area I will call invisible or imbedded digital collaboration. Whether it’s a remote advice kiosks in a bank branch, a “contact an agent” option in a web store front or a “help me” customer service option on a smart device, UC elements will be integrated into a wider portfolio of applications and business services in a manner invisible to the user. There will be no switch on or off, it will be part of and core to the experience. This area has the potential for hyper growth with the current crop of smartphone equipped consumers happy to interact digitally via whatever communications channel their device is capable of. This is a real area where tangible customer and business value can be delivered.
- Browser based UC: I am risking my predictions going up in flames with this one. WebRTC is an open source initiative to deliver rich communications services (including video) via a web browser. It was the next big thing a few years ago and stalled somewhat due to browser compatibility issues, poor user experience and lack of integration. Expect it to reappear in a big way through 2016 as the drive to deliver an increased number of browser centric end user applications increases thus reopening the door to video or rich media collaboration via that same browser. The browser vendors need to do more / faster, ISVs need to push harder but the benefits to all in time if WebRTC delivers to its promise will be unparalleled.
- Digital team collaboration:For my last 2016 prediction I will take a bit of a long position but remain convinced it will come good in time. A key obstacle to team collaboration through previous generations has been the cultural challenge of using IT based sharing platforms within enterprise organisations. With a vast amount of legacy processes often mental or paper based, feeding them consistently into a digital platform proved a challenging cultural shift for the user. However the social / personal digital experience realized via the Facebook generation has softened the challenge and validated the user benefits of person to person sharing or interaction via digital collaboration platforms. 2016 will be the year platforms that including Cisco Spark, Microsoft Skype for Business & SharePoint or emerging solutions that include Slack will permeate the enterprise as essential collaboration platforms rather than UC technology upgrades.
And that’s the first pass of 2016 “hot tips”. As the digitisation of the enterprise continues at warp speed platforms and systems that store, share, integrate and transact digital data will prove invaluable to user and business productivity. UC of old is dead, but the legacy it delivered is the foundation of today and tomorrows “Digital collaboration” experience. If technical functionality drove the IPT & UC dawn, user experience and viable business outcomes will drive the “Digital collaboration” reality. That time is now.
Until next time.
Chief Technologist Computacenter UK: Networking, Security and Digital Collaboration (UC)
I start this week’s blog in provocative mode crying out (loudly) for the retirement of the IT term “Unified Communications (UC)”. Why so passionate – whilst a very sound technical description for the outcome delivered when multiple communications technologies or channels work seamlessly together, there lies the problem – it’s a technical description. Users are unlikely to describe the communications devices or outcomes they embrace or desire in such a manner so now may be the time for the IT industry to let go of the Unified Communications (UC) moniker as a primary descriptor.
Currently it’s becoming hard to find a device not Unified Communications capable with even the most simplest of collaboration devices capable of more than one task, unified with another. For example a laptop can deliver a unified communications outcome due to the ability to act as a soft phone, video, fax, email, instant message and a multitude of other things. A smartphone can mimic a similar outcome to the laptop but adds a person centric rich mobile experience to the mix. And as we consider specialist user outcomes that may include tablets, telepresence units, video kiosks and the mass of current and future devices all will absorb the various and now common communications channels, unified to continue to evolve the next generation user communications and collaboration experience.
And there lies the most important component of all, “experience”. The various communications channels used in isolation or together are only of value when the user realizes the outcome or experience they expected. Therefore both vendors and solution providers must lead with a maniacal focus on the user experience(s) and reverse engineer it to sign post the technology required to ensure the term “Unified Communications” is required no more. Instead the outcome will be the outcome desired, described in the words of the user.
It may be time to retire the UC term and with it the historical viewpoints of poor user experience and flawed communications technologies. With the rich features now available on multiple device formats via on premise or cloud service delivery within the digital communications and collaboration technology portfolio, the only thing standing in the way of success is a lack of imagination.
Unified Communications (UC) has never been more relevant than now as the core technology fundamentals (even the traditional elements) are the transport for digital conversation in the 21st century world. But to make UC real for the user it’s essential to start by stopping any attempts to sell UC at all. Focus on the user outcome, discussed in the language of business and the technology will select itself. Then and only then will the end user realise a true Unified Communications “experience”.
Until next time.
Chief Technologist – Networking, UC and Security (Computacenter UK).
After numerous years performing a task (it can be anything from a daily job to fatherhood), you often reach the point of preaching (or maybe it’s just me): “In my day…” or “we didn’t do things like that” and so on… But the rate of change in business driven by information technology (IT) today makes time frames as short as a year ago seem like the “good old days”.
Last weekend was opened by “Black Friday”, a social season that’s skipped across to the UK in pretty much a year to mirror one of the largest retail trading windows in the US – “Thanksgiving”. The Thanksgiving weekend stateside unlocked a retail extravaganza of below bargain prices and frenzied shopping at a level rarely seen in the UK outside of the few weeks that precede Christmas. Even though we don’t celebrate “Thanksgiving” we now have our own Black Friday price crash and shopping madness that I suspect will be here for the indefinite future. So where I hear you ask is the IT link, can IT really be the silver bullet to retail success in a manic market? Not in isolation as people buying from people, served by people, engaging with people is still the richest emotional experience, but with the dawn of Omni-channel as an essential go-to-market strategy, IT genuinely is the “silver bullet”.
Picture the average UK shopper last weekend (Black Friday weekend):
- The UK news media started to stoke the fire of “Black Friday” days earlier advertising the potential for once in a lifetime deals and prices.
- Consumers via the internet researched current prices and specifications of products of interest.
- Those consumers keen on bargains but without the crush were waiting keenly at 00.00am (and 1 second) on Friday morning to place the first online orders at the Black Friday price.
- Many web sites couldn’t cope creating a situation that reinforces the importance of robust IT systems potentially using cloud computing to allow “burst” or on-demand scaling with application delivery controllers that shares workloads across both local and global systems.
- As the online trading carried on furiously through the early morning, the retail high street front doors opened and stampedes ensued for many who had researched online, but wanted to visit the store in person (as much for the emotional and tactile shopping experience).
- And as the tills rang and many left those frantic stores bargains in hand, fleets of delivery vehicles were then despatched to deliver both online orders and in-store orders in a manner most convenient to the purchaser.
A quick comparison with the “good old days” and using a similar example:
- The consumer would visit the store, research in store and buy in store (or visit multiple stores until the price or “offer” was right); or research online, buy online; or research online, pick in store; and for both delivery to a location that suits at a time that suits.
Dynamic, highly scalable processing systems, with the capability to burst into on demand resources at peak times, balanced across the globe by high performance, application-aware networks with secure application delivery control, must surely be the only template that can deliver repeated success in this “Black Friday” influenced digital economy. That’s why IT delivered well is key to Omni-channel success (in fact retail success in general). As Europe’s leading user enablement IT infrastructure systems integrator, Computacenter plays a major role in this arena, ensuring time is not just money, but equally ultimate customer satisfaction.
Omni-channel, underpinned by the effective amalgam of IT and human service delivery delivers the best of all of the above. The consumer “Omni-channel” engagement mode (“my product, in my time, my way”) is fast becoming the norm for consumers ever-present today, with few memories of the “good old days”. Buy online/collect in store, research online/collect in-store, browse in-store/buy online – “my way”.
Without Omni-channel the only channel available to the consumer is “your channel”, the channel(s) presented by the retailer. However in today’s personalised digital economy retailers may find if they don’t allow the buyer to engage and interact via “their” channel, they may choose not to transact via the retailer at all. A simple to use, effective online presence is now essential, but alongside UC-enabled customer contact centres, high street-based outlets with engaging staff, customer WIFI, digital signage for rich media advertising and back-end systems that deliver a single customer data view, it’s easy to see how Omni-channel that blends all is quickly becoming the king of the castle.
Until next time.