A Framework for Defining the Business Communications and Collaboration Future
As we move through 2015, I thought it was good time to reflect on where our industry is going and how we think of the services we provide. I thought it was a good time to focus on the higher level view of products and services that enhance Communications and Collaboration. While UC has been a traditional name given to this space, I think it is time to move to a new name and concept, and, I feel BCC or (Business Communications and Collaboration) is a good descriptor for these next generation capabilities.
Why abandon UC? For the past nine years or so, from 2006 forward, we have talked about Unified Communications as the future and now current technology, and the reality is that we have a number of “solutions” that fit that area. However, the very term “unified” is a challenge. What are we unifying? For some, it is unifying their devices, in other words what was called single number reach. For others, it is unifying the different modalities (or in Contact Center parlance channels) into a cohesive solution. For others it is about unifying communications into their applications, whether for personal productivity or organization process (CEBP). For others it is about messaging, presence, IM, and new features. In other words, UC has come to include just about everything, with little way of discerning the variations. UC is the kitchen sink of communications, unifying everything into a singularity.
Adding to the challenge is that there is increasing evidence that communications is actually becoming dis-unified as new technologies like WebRTC enable applications to have communications built directly into them. The recent addition of video to Facebook is an excellent example of how communications is moving to being less unified.
To attempt to define the path forward, I would propose two thought processes. First the UC name must be addressed as the very word Unified can be misleading. With the advent of technologies like WebRTC, communications is going to become much more applications and use case specific, reducing the actual level of “Unified.” And the range of Unifications reduces the significance and value of the word. When are you “Unified,” what does it take? I won’t spend a lot of this paper knocking Unified Communications as a name or concept, but rather will leave it to you, the reader, to ask yourself if it is really meaningful. At both the 2014 Lync and Enterprise Connect conferences, Microsoft tried to change the naming, a clear indication that it is becoming muddied.
Next, a framework for the application of communications and collaboration to the modern enterprise or organization. While we tend to think of technologies in this space, the better framework will start with the communications and collaboration needs of the organization and then segment the solutions based on that set of requirements. The focus should be on the users and the event, not on technology first. As we look forward to the next 10 years, what we are clearly focused on as an industry is how to apply the new and transformational communications and collaboration tools to the enterprise. Whether they are IM and presence, video, web collaboration, WebRTC, or social, the technologies are changing how we work. This is the BC2 marketplace. While it is all focused on communications, it seems to me that BC2 cannot be defined as a single black hole; it is desirable to segment it based on some factors of use and need. I would propose that we use two dimensions to segment the complete BC2 space so as to define areas of functionality that the organization must provide for effective communications and collaboration.
Organization versus User
A dimension of the total BC2 solution set can be defined by whether the solution is for the organization as an entity or for a specific employee/user within the organization. I will use the term “Organization” as a name for the larger entity to include both businesses and other profit oriented organizations as well as public sector and non-profit groups. In this dimension, it is clear that some BC2 events are intended for a specific employee/user, think of a phone call to that employees DID or meeting that the employee is hosting. Other BC2 events are focused to the organization; customer service and webinars.
Meeting versus Representation
The second dimension is the type of BC2 event. The first type of event is a meeting where the attendees are invited to an event and participation is pre-defined both in time and “location,” either by the employee or the organization. In a meeting event, the originator of the event is internal to the organization. The second type of event is where someone external to the organization is originating the event by “arriving” to the organization or a specific employee and desires to initiate some form of communications or collaboration. For purposes of descriptions, a BC2 event where the attendees are invited by an employee or the organization could be called a “Meeting,” managed by the BC2 system; if the event is driven by someone coming to the organization or employee, the BC2 system is “Representing” the organization or employee. Essentially a Meeting is initiated by the organization or employee by inviting other participants, Representation comes from someone else other than the employee or the organization initiating the communications event. Representation is essentially a defined mechanism for others to reach either the organization or an individual. Telephone numbers and email addresses are current examples of Representation, while web pages and social apps are emerging Representation designations.
The Quadrants of BC2
The figure shows how these two sets of categories now define four specific areas of BC2 capabilities. Each of these categories addresses a specific and very different communications and collaboration activity within the overall organization. While there are potentially many capabilities that are common, there are also some that are different between each area. The four areas of BC2 may be delivered by a single solution or different solutions based on the organization needs. Each area defines a specific set of capabilities by the communications initialization and the type of BC2 event that is happening. Each category can be labeled based on the dimensions, for example, Employee Representation. The requirements for each category are very different. The chart lists some of the characteristics for the category, as well as the example of typical current solution that applies to that category.
Here is a bit more detail on each of the categories.
Employee Representation – this category is the set of capabilities required to represent an employee. It includes the capability to define specific ways to reach (phone numbers, web URLs, SIP address, etc.) along with the capability to interact with for an optimal experience (Presence, availability, etc.), a rich set of modalities available (text, audio, video, document and screen sharing, co-editing), and the ability to provide services across devices and locations where the employee may be. The BC2 event is not being initiated by the represented employee, but either by another employee, an external individual or entity, or the organization itself. The key is to assure that the employee can manage this for him/herself and optimize the capability across devices, modalities and events. In the telephony world, the PBX and an individual DID or extension number were the representation for a user into the PSTN.
Employee Meeting – This is a BC2 event initiated by the employee where he or she is inviting other participants, either internal or external to participate in. It can be an ad hoc or scheduled event. The critical capabilities are easy scheduling and invitations, commonly used access parameters like URLs, the right modalities including file, app and screen sharing with collaboration tools. In addition, meeting management tools like recording and moderation are also potential values in this area. Today these services are often provided by products like WebEx or Go-to-Meeting, but are often part of a larger package.
Organization Representation – The category of representing the organization is critical for most if not all organizations. This is where products and services provide an optimal environment for externally BC2 initiated events to be managed for the organization, not an individual. As more of these interactions start with the web and self-service, integration into that environment will be critical. As in the other dimensions, providing a range of modalities (channels) and device support is critical. However, in this area the organization is being represented, so the employees have a different role when participating as they are acting on behalf of the represented organization, not on their own as in the Employee Representation category. Today this is often implemented as a Contact center, either overplayed with the PBX or as a stand-alone solution.
Organization Meeting – This is where the organization, as a process or by an individual acting on behalf of the organization, reaches out to initiate a BC2 event. This could be a webinar or an outbound telemarketing communication, or initiated by an organization process to complete a transaction or manage an exception. A key difference is that there may be multiple systems in this category in an organization, each tuned to the specific application or process. Another difference is that multi-modality within a specific BC2 application may be less important as the modality is often defined by the process, not the individuals. Today these solutions may be Go-to-Webinar or On24.
This model defines a set of categories of capabilities that the next generation of BC2 managers must understand and provide for their organizations. The fundamental question is whether a single vendor or multiple vendors across the categories is the right decision for your organization and the required capabilities. While these solutions may have different vendors today, many vendors are moving to have a more comprehensive solutions set across all four areas.
To decide whether a single or multi-vendor soliton is best raises a number of questions about each area and a specific organizations needs and use cases. As an employee, is it important to have the same tools and experience for both scheduled meetings as well as when someone comes to interact directly? Is the same representation tool appropriate for the organization and the employees/users? Today the contact center adds a set of capabilities onto the PBX telephony representation for the organization. Are these exclusive to the contact center or could they be of general value? How will your organization extend representation beyond the phone number to the web and other factors? These are some of the questions that need to be answered, at an industry level as well as for individual organizations as we move forward into BC2. The point is that viewing all four spaces as a single UC environment is not necessarily the right answer, though it may meet the needs of some or many organizations and reduce the number of vendors and complexity. Each organization needs to understand their overall needs and requirements for both the organization and the users and how to map those to the potential options for each area in order to make the best choices for how to provide the services. The key to enabling the organization and employees/users with the right tools is understanding their needs and how a solution differentiates in meeting those needs.
I hope this framework can provide a foundation for both the discussion of the capabilities required and how different vendors fit into providing those services and how they differentiate. I look forward to discussing this within the real-time communications and collaboration community and with end user organizations and the overall industry that provides these capabilities.