By Marco Casalaina
If today’s modern businesses fail to communicate or collaborate effectively, it is not for lack of online communication and collaboration tools. Cloud computing innovators have delivered an overwhelming number of tools offering new ways of sending messages, sharing files, making calls and meeting online, across desktop and mobile platforms. The plethora of options has itself become a problem at the enterprise level because there are so many ways of performing the same basic tasks, resulting in a fragmented user experience.
Enterprise IT leaders find themselves scrambling to administer too many disconnected cloud applications, while staying a step ahead of shadow IT adoption of unsanctioned and possibly insecure software.
The selling experience for the channel has become fragmented, too. One way of taming the chaos is by promoting the value of unified communications and collaboration in the cloud to enterprise customers.
Enterprise communication and collaboration cries out for a unified platform that embraces all the innovation made possible by the cloud but with a single model for security and user identity. Every worker should be able to call, message or share a file with any coworker without the gaps between tools getting in the way. Starting a video chat or screen sharing session should be as easy as picking up the phone.
To make a convincing argument to IT customers, it’s important to emphasize the value they will be able to offer to the people in their companies.
Employees are demanding simple, intuitive workplace software that is mobile friendly and more like the apps they enjoy using as consumers. Chat apps for the workplace, like persistent team messaging, answer that demand because they resemble familiar text messaging and social modes of communication. Team messaging also works equally well at the desktop and on a smartphone.
The new persistent team messaging platforms are different enough from previous generations of instant messaging and chat applications to prompt analysts to coin a different terminology: workstream communications and collaboration. Spanning the middle ground between the immediacy of chat and the permanence of email, with addition of team-based organization, workstreams function as a central hub for communication and collaboration.
Whatever you call them, team messaging apps by themselves are not a complete answer. Consider the smartphone as a model for what people have grown to expect from a unified experience: It’s a single device for texting, calling and a variety of other forms of interaction. A phone that was limited to texting wouldn’t be much of a phone.
Similarly, team messaging gets much more interesting as part of a broader suite of communication and collaboration capabilities.
Moving to a more completely unified communication and collaboration platform means erasing artificial distinctions between communication, collaboration and productivity. Mobile phones won’t be the only “smart” phones; we need smart desk phones that connect naturally to workplace applications. Workplace communication and collaboration tools in the cloud will allow us to shift from text-based messaging and file sharing to real-time voice and video calls without losing the context of an interaction.
To understand the advantages, you should try it yourself, in the context of your own business. From your own experience, you will be able to show your customers the way to providing a richer environment for communication and collaboration. By addressing a broad range of employee needs, they can eliminate the temptation for workers to resort to shadow IT or send business communications through insecure consumer channels.
The consumerization of IT means employees expect applications to be versatile and easy to work with. Trying to forbid people from seeking alternatives tends to be a losing proposition if the official, sanctioned software is not as good as the consumer options. Instead, IT must make sure its official sanctioned solutions are competitive with what employees can procure for themselves. Give them a set of apps that make it easy for them to connect with their coworkers and get their work done, and IT takes away the incentive for them to look elsewhere.
Because no single platform will meet every requirement, you should also be prepared to coach customers through the integration possibilities. For example, the file sharing built in to a team messaging platform may not be sufficient for coworkers who routinely share large files through a cloud service such as Box. In that case, integrating Box with the core workstream collaboration platform makes more sense than asking them to abandon it.
In other words, unified communications and collaboration needs to mean more than unifying the technology of a single vendor. Show your customers what true unification of communication and collaboration means, and they will thank you for it.
Marco Casalaina is vice president of applications for RingCentral. He previously held positions at predictive analytics vendor KXEN and Salesforce. He earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Cornell University.