Holy Collaboration Whiplash!
On the old, iconic TV show Batman, when the Batmobile was going too quickly in the wrong direction, they used to execute a maneuver called a Bat-Turn. After doubly strapping-in to avoid injuries, two large parachutes were deployed to assist in rapidly slowing the vehicle, which would then spin around to the new desired direction and speed-up again.
If you follow the collaboration space like I do the feeling must be familiar to you, because we’ve all just been through that Bat-Turn. Some of you may have noticed this, but many of you have not. Here’s an instant quiz to find out which group you’re in. Close your eyes and think of a videoconference. Which of the below pictures did you see?
If you saw a room similar to the one on the right then you’ve missed the turn. If you saw the smart device on the left then you’ve been watching more closely. Our industry - UC&C, meaning Unified Communication and Collaboration – just became more about the meeting than the technology or the systems.
What does this mean for end-user organizations? Quite a lot really.
A meeting is a meeting - all meetings have become virtual and universal.
One of my recent clients was having difficulty getting their arms around a collaboration assessment I just completed for them. They didn’t understand why I was recommending a ‘PC based service’ to be their central collaboration scheduling and meeting portal when they had so many ‘high-quality VTC room systems’ in their ecosystem. They felt that their room videoconferencing was in a class by itself, and the inferior desktop collaboration applications would be a separate solution for secondary needs. That opinion took something I’ve believed and said many times (that software videoconferencing clients will never be as reliable as hardware based systems) and completely misinterpreted it. I’ll get into the hardware vs. software debate a bit later, but the key point going forward – and the big change – is that a meeting is a meeting. Meetings have become virtual and universal. There are no more “web-conferences” vs. “videoconferences” vs. “audio conferences.” All modern collaboration meetings support all aspects of UC&C – voice, video, content share, messaging, etc. Yes, we still experience limitations, but those only apply to the device we’re using and the circumstances we’re in. If I only have access to a POTS telephone then I’ll only be able to participate by voice. If I have a very limited bandwidth where I am then my video connection will be SD and choppy. If I’m using a smart device and have access to good bandwidth I can fully participate with the meetings’ rich content. If I’m in an immersive room then the experience is far superior, with life-size people and rich, spatial audio. The point is those are all the same meeting.
This is a major change in approach and perspective, and it is leaving some traditional approaches (and professionals) behind. My desk still gets a handful of RFPs every week that reveal organizations which have completely missed the turn. These are inquiries that still request an approach starting with building out a dozen or so video conference rooms and AV collaboration rooms – without looking at the underlying needs nor the infrastructure that will support them. We now know that this is the wrong approach. It would be like a surgeon transplanting lungs before finding out why the patient is coughing. The first step must be discovery. What are the needs? What are the current pain-points? What is the breakdown of the users? How many are in an office or at home or on the road or with a client or partner?
This problem is compounded by many manufacturers who hawk the solution they sell before determining what the user needs are. I have spoken with many organizations that were completely convinced that picking the best technology is something that can be done in a vacuum. They repeat the manufacturer sales pitch about why a specific tool is great – all before they know if they need it. Yes a hammer is a great tool that I keep in my toolkit, but if the current need is to handle glass it’s a very poor choice at that moment. I have to know what the needs are before I can pick the right tool. That brand new interactive display; that unique huddle room device; that set-top video system – these are all just tools to support the collaboration needs of an organization. None of them are as revolutionary as the concept that a meeting is a meeting, and that organizations need to develop a universal infrastructure to support this new paradigm in a way that meets their unique needs.
All complex problems have simple, easy to understand, wrong answers.
Some ask, “why not just use the consumer software that is taking over the world?” Apple Facetime and now Google Duo are gaining broad acceptance and revolutionizing the public perception of collaboration (as written about in my friend Simon Dudley’s Blog on the subject.) My response to Simon and others is my favorite quote from HL Mencken, paraphrased to ‘all complex problems have simple, easy to understand, wrong answers.” Yes, consumer apps, simplified software and other innovations make the perception of visual collaboration better and easier – but they are no more the right answer than our surgeon who replaces the lung to stop a cough. Saying software is better than hardware in the collaboration space is as ridiculous as saying that a screwdriver is better than a hammer. It all depends on the user need and the circumstances. Focusing first on either the hardware or the software is still the wrong approach. Organizations have to focus on the meeting. Can my CEO take a video call from his biggest client while he’s at the airport? Can our field office in the middle of nowhere join the meeting we’re having in our expensive room? Can I look at the presentation our team is planning to release to the media while I’m on vacation on the beach? Can we see the new feature demonstrated by our supplier? Does the new software we’re using work with all the systems I already own? If an organization has made an investment in collaboration technology then the answer to all those questions needs to be yes – or the money has been wasted. Facetime and Duo can’t do all that, nor can a number of solutions masquerading as enterprise grade.
Organizations have to look past the flashy manufacturer pitches and widely publicized software releases and realize the magnitude of the Bat-Turn that has taken place. It’s not about the system or the software, it’s about the meeting. One meeting – universally able to be joined from wherever a participant is and whatever device and bandwidth they happen to have.
If your organization is struggling to find the correct approach and or wants to stop wasting money on fancy tools you may not actually need then drop me a note. I’m happy to be Batman in this case and help the citizens of Gotham find their way to universal meetings from any device or app.
Holy UC Batman, eighteen years after the term UC was coined we finally can achieve collaboration that is unified.
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This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions. David has had over three decades of delivering successful business outcomes in media and collaboration technology for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds - including AT&T, Bloomberg LP, FNN, Morgan Stanley, NYU, Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan Chase. He now works with Dimension Data as their Principal Consultant for the collaboration, multimedia, video and AV disciplines. He is also the IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology. David can be reached at David.Danto@Dimensiondata.com or DDanto@imcca.org and his full bio and other blogs and articles can be seen at Danto.info. Please reach-out to David if you would like to discuss how he can help your organization solve problems, develop a future-proof collaboration strategy for internal use, or if you would like his help developing solid, user-focused go-to-market strategies for your collaboration product or service.