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Unified Communications, Meet the Era of 'Collaborteam'

October 20, 2015

Over the past twenty-four months, there has been a shift across the landscape to move unified communications (UC) beyond its "traditional" IM/presence/voice/video/Web framework and into a new phase. Collaboration has always been an adjunct or necessity to UC, depending on who you speak to and which marketing message is being forced out, but the age of collaborative teams -- call it “collaborteam” -- is upon us.

In the beginning, UC was supposedly all about seamless communications between and among processes. A client shows presence and from there enables messaging, voice, and video from the desktop, typically cramming phone functionality into everything else you could do with a PC. Along the way, mobility became a thing, so you could walk around with a tablet or smartphone and do most of the same things you did on your desktop/laptop without having to lug around a bunch of weight.

Within the first generation of UC, the distinctive point was enabling the individual to communicate using multiple modes to individuals. The ugly stepchild of email remained present in the background, providing the ability to distribute documents to teams, but doing a poor job of being able to group discussions or threads.

Teamwork and collaboration started to get traction with Web-based solutions that first ended up being "Share the PowerPoint on the desktop" during a conference call. Document "sharing" was in the form of document distribution before it evolved into a true ability to track changes and versions, a process that continues to evolve and become further integrated into traditional UC functions. Marketing buzz shifted from unified communications to unified communications and collaboration.

Slack is the benchmark for how UC is moving into the collaborteam era. Communications is conducted in channels, with all team communications going through a single archived thread. Everything in Slack is archived, including messages, notifications, and files, so everything is searchable by word, phrase, or hashtag. Teams now share a knowledge base and communal threads of communication, rather than the first-gen UC of many modes of communication with little archiving/searching or commonality of topic.

A number of companies are rolling out their own flavors of collaborteam based upon the way they view the world. Dropbox rolled out its early beta of Paper last week, a new collaborative tool that starts with a text editor and document sharing. Everyone can keep track of comments and modifications made to a source document and search through everything as stored on the Dropbox file sharing service. Does this make Dropbox a UC platform as well as a cloud storage platform? Time will tell.

Quip, a word processing / communications / collaboration and productivity service/app, landed $30 million in venture money last week to take on the likes of Microsoft Word and Google Docs. It eschews email for heavy duty chat, with documents able to have their own chat thread and sub-chats available to talk about specific parts of documents. There's also support for team task lists, spreadsheets, and shared folders.

In the voice-centric sector, Talko is still plugging along with its integration of messaging, calling and conferencing. Talko, emphasizing Ray Ozzie's participation, splices together voice messaging with text, photos, and real-time voice under one roof, but there's little in the current version that has wired-in support for document sharing. The app's strength lies in being able to record, tag, and archive voice conversations among teams, but given that Ozzie is keynoting at Enterprise Connect this spring, we might see some more substantial document support moving forward.

The collaborteam era is just beginning, with plenty of firms out in the process of remaking their UC/file sharing/cloud voice service/whatever SMB applications into collaborteam offerings. For the moment, Slack seems to have the best-in-class / first-to-figure-it-out award, but expect others to come up with new spins in the category.  Current UC players are the ones that should be working the hardest to refresh and revise existing products to add new "team"-focused features. 

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

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