Collaboration: Where we've been

Millenials’ expectations in the workforce and new technology are changing Unified Communications offerings as we know them

by Terry Irish, AT&T Voice and Collaboration Product Management

Collaboration has always been a fundamental element of the workplace, but with recent technology advances, its meaning is now as much about the related activity as it is for the “solutions” that collaboration enables. There’s no question that great technology is now available to help improve worker productivity, but the definition of collaboration has become quite fluid, making it difficult for businesses to know how well the various offerings can support the needs of today’s workforce.

Before addressing what those needs entail, it’s important to understand how collaboration solutions have evolved and why they must continue to keep pace. Unified Communications (UC) was the first generation of collaboration solutions, with Voice over IP (VoIP) as the core building block. These offerings were developed by vendors primarily as a successor to the IP PBX once it became clear that the primacy of phone systems was in decline.

As such, UC offerings were telephony-centric by nature, with the breakthrough coming from solving the technical challenges around integrating various communications modes and applications into a common platform. This truly brought new value to the enterprise, as VoIP could now be part of the bigger collaboration story, elevating voice beyond a commodity application.

This was certainly a big step forward, but the evolution has taken a long time, and the value proposition did not initially resonate with enterprises. Some benefits were self-evident, but UC wasn’t solving a specific problem, and end users weren’t asking for it. As such, adoption lagged vendor expectations. While vendors struggled to create a demand-driven market for UC, other technologies and trends were quickly emerging that have fundamentally changed the conversation around collaboration.

First-generation UC offerings certainly did the heavy lifting to integrate applications into a common platform. Aside from being telephony-centric, these offerings were primarily focused on enabling communications, and were not so much built around collaboration and workflows – hence the name UC.

There is certainly value in those core capabilities, but enterprises soon started placing more value on driving productivity and supporting teams to deliver better business outcomes. This narrative goes beyond first-generation UC, and that’s where new technologies and trends come into play.

Of most relevance here would be the rise of Millennials and their workplace expectations, along with four major technology trends – the cloud, mobility, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT). Not only are these forces taking collaboration to another level, but they are happening faster than many UC offerings can adapt. While first-generation UC still has a place, it doesn’t fully reflect today’s needs for collaboration, so we need to consider a different value proposition.

Watch for the second article, Where Collaboration is Headed, coming soon. In the meantime, check out the AT&T Collaboration portfolio for a collection of services to help your business transition to collaboration services that will meet your strategic needs.