Collaboration has been an industry buzz word for as long as I dare to remember. However, despite the hype, collaboration tools have on the whole under-delivered and underperformed. For a majority of users, collaboration platforms are low on usability, high on awkwardness and frequently fragmented. For enterprises, they are typically low on customisation potential and high on cost. The result is a long way from a viable recipe for mass adoption. It says much about our situation that several decades after the birth of the internet, email and plain-vanilla telephony remain the dominant communication tools for most employees.
In fact, since the mid-1990s, technologists have been working on integrating workflow with a myriad of different communications channels, including instant messaging, telephony, video conferencing, voicemail and text messaging. This has predominantly been labelled as unified communications (UC).
However, 20 years later, despite some welcome advances, a majority of enterprises still find themselves struggling with parallel and separate communication platforms. Why? The answer has a lot to do with expensive, proprietary technologies, which imposed very high development costs and long deployment horizons on enterprises. Generally speaking the results allowed relatively low levels of customisation for individual enterprises.
For enterprises and small companies alike, the aim must, therefore, be to make collaboration simpler and quicker by reducing transaction costs. The potential for ubiquitous real-time collaboration inside enterprises as well as with customers and partners, using voice, video calling, instant messaging and data, remains vast. In addition, while the explosion of social platforms in consumer markets has primed employees to collaborate in theory, cultural hurdles remain: the way in which corporate collaboration tools work - potentially across the enterprise, rather than among small teams - may also cut across traditional employee loyalties to small groups. The traditional temptation to hoard information locally will remain powerful.
This is why seamless collaboration does not just descend on desktops, tablets and smartphones, fully formed and ready for action. Ideally, enterprises need to consider how they are going to make information assets discoverable as well. In fact, search is an underrated component of collaboration. Importantly, developing collaboration platforms involves making the right data available to employees in the right context, at the right time. Here, context is all-important. Embedding collaborative tools within frequently-used workflow applications may well require those applications to be redesigned.
Thankfully, the saviour for enterprise collaboration may finally have arrived, courtesy of APIs. Browser-based interoperability opens the door to a device-agnostic approach. Any device running a browser should be able to connect its owner to a collaboration application. An example of an API is a bundle of technologies known as WebRTC that promises to bring key attributes of the World Wide Web into the heart of the enterprise. Open standards will give employees the tools to communicate seamlessly with anyone, wherever they are, with the device of their choice, without having to disrupt their workflow.
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