I recently was having a discussion with a peer around Collaboration, the Spark to Webex updates, and how it has changed overtime. A bit of reminiscence from previous versions of the Collaboration strategies and the direction they are going prompted me to create this entry. Lets take a look at Collaboration’s past, present, and future and assess how your organization has adopted.
Voice over IP has grown from a basic handset leveraging one network, through the consideration of more than a phone call, and to the cloud. Many organizations leverage Collaboration in some capacity today and the experience varies greatly; XMPP based messaging on a open source Jabber server to a fully integrated, cross platform experience. Lets reminisce for a few minutes on the progression with some sample experiences and see where Collaboration may be headed.
While there are certainly folks who have been around for a longer time, I do date back to the 4.2 era of Cisco’s Call Manager. The clusters I supported not only had to deal with the Windows 2000 nuances, but was also Active Directory integrated. During that time, the integration required Domain Administrator privileges and schema modifications. At least extending Unified Messaging (single inbox) was easy; you only had to add Exchange to the Unity box. There was a nice book of disks and a server per application.
The end users benefited with Single Number Reach, Single Inbox, and a web login for manipulating the phones configuration. Dial tone interruptions did occur and the end user community was sensitive to them. Soft-phones were not widely used.
IT organizations no longer had to manage cross-connections to move a end user, but instead updated configuration through a series of web pages. At least for the domain I supported, the directory integration process needed repeated after almost every domain maintenance. IT management was able leverage one infrastructure, one cable to support the end users and Category 3 cabling was no longer required.
Unified Communications Era
Moving on to the next generation of infrastructure to support IP based telephony saw some additional methods of communication and additional manufactures. Cisco’s Jabber application began taking shape, although VPN was required. Phone SSL VPN was available for remote devices, although required some shipping of endpoints periodically. With a focus on Cisco’s portfolio, the most common alternate manufacture integration for I ran into was Microsoft’s
Office Communicator Lync. This created some unique experiences with CUCI-MOC/CUCI-LYNC.
From the end users view, the messaging functionality was beneficial as provided some level of integration with the desk phone and enabled short text conversations. Soft-phones were a better experience than IP Communicator with CUVA. Over time, organizations with multiple vendors (e.g. CUCI-Lync) experienced patching that broke the integration between the systems.
Gone was the Windows application of Call Manager and after a couple of versions of the appliances, Communications Manager with RedHat was stable. While Unified Messaging was a bit slow to the appliance model, the new platforms led to a much easier directory integration. Administrators welcomed (?) the ability to virtualize the applications as it lessened the rack space required, although it was required to run on Cisco server hardware.
During this time, we saw a streamline of the end user experiences. Video becomes easy to use. There was a growing familiarity between platforms and applications within the collaboration suites. Instant Messaging has a new friend with the Business Messaging applications. Spark and Slack begin to be common. Cloud applications became common.
At this point, people who grew up with chat applications or texting and used to multi-threaded, short communications are in the workforce. Applications are expected to operate similarly on and off the organizations network. Business Messaging applications make it easy to keep conversations and files aligned. For the consumers of this iteration of technology, dial tone is still dial tone, but not the only means of communication as video conversations are common. Cisco “One Button to Push” makes legacy systems remote controls feel like nobs on a TV.
Consumer trends were driving technology expectations as organizations deal with “rouge IT”. If an organization did not have a chat solution, most likely groups were using a free alternative from an outside provider. When organizations attempted to limit access, some departments either pushed back or moved around the obstacle. From Cisco’s Collaboration suite, leveraging the Expressways as well as cloud based systems has streamlined transitions on and off network. IT teams have a renewed concern of security and knowing where data resides.
Today and Beyond
While there are many additional features and likely some great discussions to the alignment of the various features and iterations of Collaboration, one thing is clear: Business communication is more critical now than ever. Across the IT industry, delivery time of technology is decreasing, features are increasing, and availability is expected to be maintained. How are the end users leveraging this technology to streamline their business? By not seeing the complexity.
With the future of Collaboration taking shape, it is clear to see manufactures leveraging existing resources to complete more tasks while maintaining the user experience. As early adopters are already taking advantage of this, there are many updates coming to market:
- Digital Assistants being integrated into conference room systems to leverage voice automation
- Facial recognition data to be used to determine room utilization
- Open integration for leveraging custom written applications and other systems data
- Progress of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality integrating with conferencing
With the integration capabilities of today’s solutions, application development and its’ understanding by non-developers within IT will be more common. This enables a new level of creativity for organizations to collect and use information as new ideas sourced from non traditional backgrounds are integrated into these responsibilities. This melting of ideas and approaches can enable advantages in collected information and how it can be used.
While organizations vary in adoption rates and no one knows the future, one question is pertinent: Is your organization adopting more effectively than your competitors?