January 14, 2016 – Unified Communication + Cloud Information Technology = Unified Collaboration
Thanks to VoIP, the cloud, WebRTC, and mobile technology, communications is everywhere. Many of us (at least in the Internet telephony community) feel that we have achieved, or are well on our way to achieving, ubiquitous accessibility. When I receive a call or an IM/SMS, my phone, computer, mobile app, and tablet all tell me. All these devices know where I am (presence) and are able to pass the call to me – media and signaling. Unified communications? Check!
Information technology has seen a similar transformation with cloud-based applications, servers, and storage rapidly becoming the norm. Business productivity software including word processing, spreadsheets, calendars, CRM systems, project management, expense reporting, and a long litany of other sub-systems are being customized, cloudified, and made accessible from everywhere to everyone.
In the next evolution of enterprise technology one line of belief is that the multi-billion dollar business phone system market and the multi-billion dollar business software market will become bedfellows. The net result will be that large players in productivity software will attempt to cross the divide to capture this new market opportunity. At the same time, traditional business phone system providers and manufacturers understanding that the best defense of their areas of competitive advantage will be a good offense, are integrating with productivity tools and other cloud business software.
While we are still at an early stage in the development of this market that is often called unified collaboration, there are a few early, and significant, entrants to win the combined unified communications and unified collaboration enterprise market. It is instructive to understand how these variants on the marriage between communication and cloud IT are shaping the chase.
Skype for Business Cloud PBX
On the busiest day of the year for business communications in the U.S. – the Monday after Thanksgiving – Microsoft has finally announced the culmination of its build toward hosted voice with its cloud PBX and conferencing services. For one price you get PBX functionality with unlimited calling in addition to the Office 365 suite of desktop computing productivity tools made by Microsoft – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. Leveraging a dominant lead in traditional productivity software, a leading position in the cloud IT market, and the Lync/Skype for Business asset, Microsoft has forcefully entered the hosted voice service provider market as a standalone service provider.
Google for Work
Google Apps covers many of the same productivity categories as Microsoft Office 365. It has been marketing themselves in this category and, as such, has had success among smaller enterprises (full disclosure – VoIP Logic uses Google Apps). What Google has done is build the rudiments of hosted voice communications with Hangouts as well as open up Chrome and Google Apps to technology and services partners using the Google for Work SDKs, Chrome plugins, and WebRTC as vehicles for integration. This has allowed hosted PBX operators like Switch.co and RingCentral as well as hosted PBX technology companies like BroadSoft to build compelling add-ons that deliver improved usability, integrate contextual data, and facilitate efficient exchange of information from APIs into the browser and into client software. In short, Google is enticing service providers to use the Google technology foundation to innovate to meet the needs of enterprise users.
The team at Slack has brought a refreshing and disruptive perspective to unified collaboration. By starting with a powerful messaging interface, layering on more than 100 (and counting) integrations with cloud applications for productivity, project management, data management and multifarious other business process tools, it has dispensed with email and the corporate PBX in favor of a completely different sort of unified ubiquitous workflow experience. Slack does have the SDKs necessary for PBX integration. And it is starting to see integration from the hosted voice market – UberConference for voice conferencing, Appear.in and Blue Jeans for videoconferencing – all announced recently. The Slack interface is a very different type of foundation for the construction of unified communication and collaboration but one that has been rapidly gaining traction with more than a million users, an astronomical enterprise valuation and a slew of similar kill email competitors.
There is no question that unifying communication and collaboration will create significant efficiency for all manner of desktop computer workers – which is most of us. Will the model be everything from one manufacturer/service provider a la Microsoft? Will it look more like the Google vision where a large benevolent technology company delivers the tools and service providers innovate in a manner that best serves their target markets? Or will it be something completely different, embracing a new compelling organizing paradigm like Slack?