The last visit to Unified Comms (UC) expo in London reinforced a view that this sector is slightly misnamed. The attempt a few years ago to tack ‘and collaboration’ (UC&C) onto the end seemed like a positive move as it valiantly switched the focus up the stack from ‘plumbing’ to ‘people’.
This was necessary, but not in itself, sufficient.
Unifying communication may have delivered cost savings in the network for many, especially with the shift from traditional analogue telephony to carrying voice over internet protocols (VoIP). However, it often appears to have had insufficient impact on productivity. Or for that matter, on collaboration.
This might be now be changing.
The renewed interest in embedding video into the everyday and anywhere communications landscape and increasing focus on ease of use apparent from most vendors are very welcome. Combined with more intelligence and automation, this might move UC&C up into significant business productivity territory.
Familiarity from use and usability
The main obstacle to the adoption of new forms of communication is often confidence. In the past with conferencing tools using video, some of the lack of confidence was personal or social – how will I look on camera? Increasingly that is much less of an issue, especially for a selfie sharing generation. However, the biggest drains on confidence still remain – will it work and do I know how to use it?
Many communications products have become much better designed from a usability perspective. Getting onto conference calls and videos can now often be accomplished by fewer than a dozen keystrokes and without needing to jab arcane numbers and symbols onto a silver box with instructions somehow somewhere else. It can even sometimes be achieved seamlessly, automatically and wirelessly.
But not always. With some much focus on individual usability of devices, one thing has been missed. Unified usability or familiarity, ie is the ease of use of one communication technology similar to that of another? This is about much more than having a common set of icons. User experiences need to feel familiar, clear and obvious. Artificial intelligence (AI), or at least some automated augmentation and awareness of context can pay dividends here. Many vendors are talking about AI, often to pick up on current trends, but beyond the hype there are some promising developments. Some of these are starting to use it effectively to optimise the user experience.
Improving individual experience is a great step forward, but the end goal should be about improving overall (business) outcomes. This is where the combination or collaboration between multiple individuals needs streamlining. The most obvious business process element to address this in is meetings.
Valued added meetings build collaboration
Meetings are often the place when communication levels using technology are at their highest. But reaching successful and effective outcomes can be more of a challenge. Despite decades of training programs, funny videos and presentation technology, progress is often still undermined by inefficiently run meetings. This is where adding ‘smarts’ in the unified communications tools could now start to deliver more effective collaboration.
This automation should include the whole lifecycle around a meeting, not just the meeting (or remote meeting if using suitable teleconferencing tools) itself. Where could the process be optimised to achieve better outcomes? Communication might have been improved through the use of technology, and the five minute phaff of trying to connect laptops to projectors is rapidly disappearing. But what about scheduling? What about transcribing content for non-attendees, or creating an annotated precis? What about action point creation and dissemination?
These are productivity sapping opportunities where intelligent use of technology could add real value. Interestingly, the word ‘meeting’ was starting to crop up more and more at UCexpo. If those using it can deliver on the other elements to make the meeting process effective they may help organisations achieve the communications goal they are really seeking. Not simply unified for the benefit of the network, or one or two individuals, but productive and effective collaboration across the entire team.