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Digital Thinking for Communications & Collaboration

Digital Thinking for Communications & Collaboration
March 21, 2017

Let’s start with a simple question: Is Change a bug or a feature?

Any change on an enterprise-wide level is typically welcomed only after resistance, accompanied by statements such as: "We have been doing it this way for the past 'x' years, and it’s been working very well for us. Then why should we change?"

All legacy players that approached change from this perspective are now struggling to keep pace with new generation Unicorns. It’s this very aspect that brings us to the point – how is change possible, especially when communication and collaboration is severely regimented to ensure functional efficiency?

Free flow of ideas is often restricted to point-to-point mechanisms such as emails, phone calls, and conferences. Individuals could possibly use openly available social platforms, but this runs the risk of leakage of corporate information. In my opinion, the solution is to change the existing design approach – shift from a ‘specification-based’ design model and start looking at communication and collaboration from a business value perspective.

Specification-based design is the way we have approached collaboration and communication since the days of yore. We segment IT into product siloes according to specific functionalities – or example, Private Branch Exchange a.k.a. PBX. For decades, we have been using this ‘box’ to handle phone services, making PBX an indispensable line item on the IT agenda.

Now, let’s look at the value offered by PBX from a non-IT business-centric perspective – it offers a phone number to be mentioned on visiting cards, voice-mail facilities to catch up on missed calls, a physical object that can be used as a paper weight and can be tracked for safety purposes. Now, is ‘PBX’ the only technology that can provide these business values? Probably not.

Today, the cloud PBX is often the preferred alternative. However, entrepreneurs may expect something even more directly integrated into their business IT ecosystem. That is when we enter the realm of Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS).

The change in traditional collaboration and communication systems from PBX to CPaaS is merely an example of the implications of value-centric ‘Design Thinking’. Other communication technologies are also losing relevance across sectors – customer service, marketing, sales, logistics, field service, and manufacturing, to name a few. These industries are now being disrupted by newer solutions, which utilize innovative digital technologies.   

I see ‘Digital’ as the philosophy of leveraging technology in-sync with the business value chain, while continuously changing, optimizing and upgrading to stay relevant.  

This is how looking at infrastructure from a value-chain perspective changes the organizational approach – in terms of  core productivity, these are the emerging needs:

  • Identity: Give users an identity that can be used both within the organization and elsewhere, as a unique verifiable identifier.
  • Business Applications: Allow user to perform the task that defines their ‘job’, and consistently support their job/functions.
  • Content Creation & Consumption: Deploy business applications that allow users to create and consume content for official tasks.
  • Computer: Optimize the device on which users consume business applications and perform content creation/consumption.
  • Communication: Acknowledge the need to 'interact', exchanging content and ideas with colleagues and partners across media – such as text, voice, video, and multimedia, on various levels of modality and privacy.
  • Collaboration: Realize the need to 'perform' communication at a scale beyond one-to-one interactions, beyond the here and now.
  • Omni-productivity: Ensure that the employee can perform all these tasks across devices, locations, and time with end-to-end support, and without any security breaches.

We have been outlining solutions that cater to business needs using multiple technologies which are evolving over time. In fact, the entire landscape has changed in terms of the vendor hardware driven value maps, to business need driven value maps.

I envision a future that rests in the following:

  • Single Unified Identity: Traditionally, users had different identities in different systems, as the solutions were ‘locked in’, the identities could not be easily used in a B2B application landscape. Modern identities – working in the simplified username@company domain> format provided by SAML/Oath2 compliant providers entirely on the cloud – completely changes user capabilities.
  • Open Service Discovery: Currently, business applications need to be hard coded to utilize IT solutions - resulting in the build-up of technical debt. Tomorrow’s frameworks would be mature enough to allow all applications to discover and utilize communication and collaboration applications.
  • Machine Learning Driven Services: ML and AI have already started augmenting and automating business processes.
  • Mixed Reality: Microsoft has heavily marketed this term to promote Holo-Lens product – Windows 10 itself is changing to offer a similar Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality experience on portable, yet powerful, devices.
  • Matrix Productivity: Virtual assistants have already been embedded into our computing devices by innovators like Microsoft, Apple, and Google to name a few. As we progress, there will be assistants who are not generic – with specialization in certain fields.

The ongoing Changes are definitely exciting – I can’t wait to see and build solutions for tomorrow’s digital economy.