As I've covered the communications and collaboration space for many years, the one thing that's been hard to accomplish throughout all the iterations of the technology is the establishment of a true contextual conversational environment with a robust community engine. Now we've had products, especially in the social software wave that were marketed for internal communities and external communities, but they lacked the necessary modes of communication, identity and policy protocols to really make it work. It's not enough to market a collaboration platform as having community features, the people engaged on the platform have to feel like they're part of a community. Connectivity via that community concept is critical for internal communication and collaboration to be effective. Collaboration tools have to be in the flow of how people actually work. If they are above flow and require people to do too much context switching, adoption will suffer.
In a recent conversation with Simon Cross from the Workplace by Facebook product team, we discussed the key announcements that are coming out of Flow this week, the Workplace by Facebook first global conference. It speaks to where I think the collaboration space is headed with all its multiple players and vendors. As Cross went through the key announcements we discussed the critical feedback from early beta customers.
Workplace by Facebook announcements
Facebook is announcing at the Flow event:
- Globally releasing Safety Check for businesses.
- Deployed via Workplace chat, the update aims to ensure employers know of the safety of their staff during situations where lives could be at risk.
- Similar to the consumer version of Safety Check you may be familiar with, it is not geo-targeted. The tool is deployed by organizations directly based on the location of an employee's whereabouts.
- Any assistance requested from an employee in need is run by the organization deploying the tool.
- Workplace chat updates including:
- Multi-company chat, video & voice calling: Members of a multi-company group (MCG) will be able to kick-off group and 1-on-1 chats with other members of the group whether they are a part of the same company or not. They'll also be able to video or voice call other organizations, now moving Workplace into the unified communications (UC) space.
- Do-not-disturb: Employees can determine times they won't receive notifications from Workplace. They can 'snooze' notifications for a few hours, or it can be set for specific days/time (for example, every weekday after 6 pm).
- Pinning: Users will be able to "pin" a message to the top of a chat thread.
- Mark as important: Will allow group admins to take an existing group post and promote it to the top of the News Feed for a customized period of time.
- Replies: Users can reply directly to specific messages within the chat group, so it is clear which part of the conversation they are referring to (similar to WhatsApp).
- An announcement about the strength of the Facebook machine learning technology, called Work Graph.
- Machine learning technology is the tech behind Workplace, surfacing the most relevant and interesting items to users first.
- A new security center, a portal where admins can check their company's security settings
I listed all that to provide the context of our discussion and where I believe the collaboration space is headed. In traditional terms, the ability to collaborate across multiple companies with chat, voice and video calling would be referred to as UC. However, we are seeing the evolution moving beyond UC. UC never fully arrived at its "unified" moniker fully.
Going beyond UC
UC, and its recasting into the Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) market, has been mired by what seems like legacy technology and an old school way of looking at communications and collaboration. Better yet, a dated way at looking at how people collaborate and interact. At the center of UC or UCC is the people that are actually doing the interacting. Traditionally, too much focus was placed on the session, endpoints and technology at the expense of actually supporting how people really work. Communications sessions begin and end. Gone are the artifacts of that interaction that may be valuable and provide needed context or information for a business process or workflow.
Also, UC or UCC did not make it easy to build communities internally or across companies. Increasingly, when speaking with CIOs, IT and lines of business leaders responsible for communications and collaboration, they all cite the growing need for connectivity and fostering a collaborative culture and environment. This need is increasingly guiding technology purchases in this space.
Enter conversational environments and workspaces
UC, UCC and older forms of collaboration technology are giving way to what I refer to as conversational workspaces or environments. Enterprise connectivity, building communities and fostering a collaborative culture relies upon contextual, conversational flows across all business domains, processes and workflows. That also has to extend beyond the walls of the enterprise to customers, business partners, suppliers and all participants in the ecosystem.
So as I look at the Workplace by Facebook announcements and the focus on allowing users to freely communicate (across modalities), collaborate, connect and build communities, there is a distinct shift towards conversational experiences. While I've been referring to the Workplace by Facebook announcements here, there is an emerging market evolving with a vast number of players, focusing on digital workplace connectivity and improving how people get work done. This is an increasingly competitive space, which will help to keep vendors honest and give business decision makers options.
Enterprise leaders and decision makers have to focus workplace collaboration strategies and investments on people requirements for getting their work done. Technology investments have to support contextual and conversational flows across business processes and workflows. Connectivity and communications have to be frictionless for easy community building internal to and external to the organization. It bears repeating, enterprise users have to find it easy to not only build communities, but that they are part of a community. Investments in workplace conversational environments have to be about people, connectivity and fostering a culture of collaboration.