In recent times, we’ve seen some incredible collaboration innovations come to life and the nature of work rapidly change. What has been very clear is that significant advancements in ‘anywhere, anytime’ collaboration, and the evolution of workplaces and workspaces are being seen globally. Today’s customers not only have greater freedom and flexibility of choice for their collaboration needs, but open environments have replaced traditional meeting rooms with hot desks and shared spaces. With that, traditional room-based conferencing technology is progressing to service these spaces whether they are controlled, personal, or open environments. Similarly, the very nature of work teams has also changed; projects tend to scale down the number of people involved and this dynamic is driving personal, small group interactions – very often across different locations.
Organisations today have moved away from questioning the need and use for collaboration technology. Instead, it’s proliferation that is high on the list of concerns – how to equip and deploy in every space, how to scale up or down as necessary, how to account for the different modalities required, and so on. The key for vendors here is to bring all the pieces of the puzzle together and provide a customer experience that is consistent, uninterrupted, and as painless as possible.
Some requirements for effective and productive collaboration remain the same: connectivity, rich media, and access to content are a given. Here are my thoughts on what lies next for collaboration in APAC in 2016:
1. Technology will move to the centre of the room Throughout history, natural human collaboration and interaction in most social settings are conducted ‘in the round’ – conversations around dinner tables, team huddles before a game, brainstorms to solve problems and create new ideas. However, traditional video collaboration systems have participants seated side by side at a rectangular conference table, leading to a ‘tunnel vision’ style of interaction. The far-end and in-room experience is now changing; by putting cameras and displays at the centre of a workspace, smaller groups of people can draw together into a collaborative circle. New solutions are developed with this in mind, with human-centred design for use in open space environments as well as traditional meeting rooms. They will also incorporate features such as intelligent 360-degree video, automatic muting and noise blocking, and advanced camera technologies which frame the active speaker, ensuring natural human instincts are a key consideration for improving collaboration tools.
2. Cloud-based apps will converge for simpler workflows A recent research report by Skyhigh showed that a typical enterprise uses over 1,100 different cloud-based apps for collaboration and file sharing. The range of apps is exploding and they are being created to help support how people get work done. New solutions which stitch together workflows that go through these apps –‘cloud on cloud’ solutions so to speak – are set to rise in the future. In the real-time collaboration space, opportunities are opening up to integrate audio, video and content within workflows in the cloud, making it faster and easier to deploy to multiple customers at once. This model would eliminate the need for software distribution and remote support to customers on an individual basis. Instead, upgrades and improvements can be managed from one central data centre as a faster and continuous process.
Imagine a time when a customer can simply call up to sign up for a service that provides a full suite of collaboration and communication tools, that fully integrates with all of the other services, applications and workflows that they use already. Imagine if these services could be provisioned and integrated in minutes, whether using a shared public service or a private cloud instance; this is the speed and flexibility that customers are demanding.
3. Big data and analysis will influence collaboration strategies How many organisations today have invested in equipment and technology that is gathering dust? Far too many, and this is an issue that impedes creating a culture of collaboration. In the not too distant future, we can expect real time analytics on the way people use (or don’t use) the tools available to them, at the click of a button. The data available will be way beyond simple metrics like conferencing minutes or room utilisation. In the world of collaboration, business leaders can analyse all activities related to how people interact: how they prefer to work, what applications and features they use, and what kind of issues were experienced and so on.
Having this type of business insight would enable customers to optimise their operations and improve productivity. Deep usage of data and its analysis will also provide necessary insight to vendors when developing new solutions – perhaps to deprecate unutilised features or introduce new functionality. For example, let’s say a call sequence requires five different strokes to be completed. What if we find that people only get halfway through that workflow and abandon it? This is an indication that the sequence is too complicated and needs to change. These are the types of situations that would truly benefit from the availability of big data.
4. End-users will expect simplicity Today’s workers were raised on technology and require more out of the devices and technology they use than ever before. It’s no surprise then, that user expectations get higher with every new solution in the market. People look for the simplification of products and solutions in order to fully utilise them, and so, collaboration should be as natural as opening a favourite app on your smartphone. Not many people would read an instruction manual these days! Over time it is assumed that end-users will not require training to use technology as they expect it to work the way they want it to work. What would this look like? Some examples are that collaboration solutions will be built to be out of the box and set up within minutes, adding devices to an existing cloud subscription will be seamless, and more employees will have freedom to integrate enterprise applications with the technology or device they choose to work with.
5. Content will become more pervasive
Facilitating how people manage, interact, edit, produce, work with content and all associated workflows and applications is an area that has become more complex because of the plethora of content solutions available. There is a need to address complexity and fragmentation and make it easier to manage content in a high fidelity way. Content is not just a screen representation – it is the most valuable asset arising from any collaboration as it is the output which knowledge workers produce. In coming years, we will see the emergence of solutions that will allow people in organisations to more easily manage their content files and related work flow tools, and many of these will be cloud-based applications. Envision a room where every wall and every surface becomes a virtual interactive workspace - content can be taken from anywhere (your personal devices, cloud storage, the physical world) and shown anywhere. Additionally, everything seen in a physical room is also seen by participants around the world, and all of the content is fully interactive allowing teams to simultaneously work on content, save the files, and make it available to all team members to access at any time.
Collaboration matters in the workplace of the future CIOs will remain concerned that any investment in technology will need to work today and in the future. If collaboration technology is to become adopted on a mass scale, it needs to be easy to deploy across multiple users, devices and meeting environments. Further, tools need to be intuitive and easy to handle – and as mentioned before, user expectations in terms of quality and simplicity have to be satisfied. As millennials continue to stream into the workforce, organisations will focus on meshing together the young, educated talent across the globe. To bring them together effectively and drive outcomes through collaboration, an innovative, more connected environment – the workplace of the future – needs to be created now.