There is a basic disconnect between the workplace of today and the workplace of the future. Today there are separate user experiences to, for instance, cold call potential customers, verify a shipment schedule with a vendor, and hire an employee. While each of these processes requires unique skill sets and activities there are basic activities that support both -- and many of them involve communications or collaboration.
By Henry Dewing
When we break down processes to their basic components we see repeated activities -- time and motion studies have been used for years to optimize manufacturing processes so that no time is wasted having to reach too far for a tool or to reposition an item being assembled. In work processes, vendors are beginning to address a similar same set of questions: Why do sales people look up a customer's name and phone number in a CRM system, schedule a call with them in an electronic calendar, and call them on a telephone? Isn't there a more efficient way?
Collaborating with humans is always the trick -- how do we pick the right time, the right communication path? Even finding the right expert has traditionally been a human cognitive process. Since the outcome is to then make contact, our communications and collaboration solutions have remained stubbornly disconnected from business processes and applications in the real world.
Vendors see the world through collaboration software opportunities, and users see the world through collaboration process challenges. Collaboration software -- or more precisely Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C) software -- helps put human collaboration and engagement into the workplace and on the Web via UC&C applications. Nearly five years ago while still an analyst at Forrester Research, I began to postulate that what we knew as the UC or UC&C market would go the way of VoIP solutions (see the 2011 report " Social Enterprise Apps Redefine Collaboration "). UC&C capability would continue to be important, but those capabilities would be buried inside solutions integrated into other business systems and processes.
Art Schoeller has continued on that theme in a June 2015 Forrester Research report "Say Goodbye to UC; It's Time For Customer Activated Communication and Collaboration."
Does this mean collaboration will go away in modern business? Absolutely not! What it means is that collaboration for collaboration's sake, or collaboration that is disconnected from value-adding business processes is NOT something in which savvy businesses will continue to invest. When there is a clearly better capability -- like enabling a record of all collaboration activities to be linked and searched so that each conversation can start where you last left off -- then there will still be investment.
When that improved collaboration is in the context of an information worker's daily routines and responsibilities, leading to improved business value (lower cost, higher revenue, faster cycle time, better customer satisfaction, etc.) then that improved business result WILL be worth IT investment. Some venders will choose to work with a 'middle-ware like' layer to connect disparate and ever-changing APIs to each other, while others may choose to embed capabilities or specific interfaces directly into their applications to create seamless business processes and customer-driven interactions.
Schoeller dives deep into customer engagement examples in his paper, painting a picture of the contact center of the future that includes engaging customers not just at the time of sale or service, but as part of the product innovation process. Using "Customer Activated Communication and Collaboration" (CACC) will drive higher lifetime customer value by engaging customers at multiple points in the company's innovation journey. Business value and competitive differentiation are enabled by inserting customer engagement deep inside the company, helping companies that lead this CACC adoption cycle to win, serve, and retain customers.
Platforms that abstract the complex communications capabilities within traditional UC&C environments and expose a rich set of developer resources, like a Java API and an SDK that provides access to UC&C capabilities from within business applications are identified as a key enabler. Customers using an engagement platform to create new capabilities like video links from publicly available websites to company experts, automating the entry of conferencing details based on cues and clues in an electronic calendar, or establishing emergency notification systems triggered by external alerts are called out as early examples of customer activated communications and collaboration.
A wide variety of messaging scenarios are identified in the report as well. Putting multiple messages and message types together into one contextual chain -- linking messages based on topic or team to create collaboration histories -- is becoming available in market today. Using automated processes and machine learning to help users prioritizes interactions, often based on these collaboration histories, allows the most important messages (from the receiver's perspective, not the sender) to be presented first.
All of these solutions deliver business value by increasing agility, thus reducing cycle times for tasks involving human collaboration. By exposing issues and connecting experts, this next wave of customer activated communication and collaboration (or engagement) not only makes communication easier, but links that communication to business results, making it natural to develop a customer-obsessed culture and workforce. Human interaction in a digital world should be as natural and effortless as it is in the physical world. As quickly as you can think, "I need to talk to the product expert on our newest widget," you should be able to be connected to him or her over IM, voice, video or Web conferencing so that you can immediately attack the issue at hand.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the UC market have been somewhat exaggerated. The capabilities are maturing and businesses and solution providers are now developing and integrating ways to better deliver business value leveraging these mature capabilities. The idea of choosing the right medium to engage with peers, partners, customers, and suppliers is valid.
The future of the market is one where the value is in sensing the location, capabilities, and context within which people are engaging one another, choosing the right medium based on that context, and then maintaining a searchable, available record of those interactions. Making the 'wisdom of the crowd' available to everyone at any time shifts our paradigm from 'knowledge is power' to 'sharing is power.' The secret ingredient of the workplace of the future? UC&C is dead -- long live UC&C!