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Making Collaboration Great Again: Enterprise Connect 2017

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Making Collaboration Great Again: Enterprise Connect 2017
    

By: -
6 Apr 2017
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In recent times, attendees at Enterprise Connect have witnessed more than one seismic shift in the conference focus and the accompanying exhibition.  Starting with PBXCon in ancient times, and evolving to VoiceCon with a heavy dash of video, to Enterprise Connect with an obsession on UC, I think we are now entering a new phase which for lack of a more descriptive word, I’ll call “collaboration.” The word itself, unfortunately is an overused term applied to a wide variety of enterprise technologies and solutions.  I’ll get to this subject later.

My proof point is punctuated by this list of 2017 exhibitors or products:

  • Cereno:  One of six companies selected for the Innovation Showcase, Cereno’s nuVa is software that turns any touch surface into an interactive display that emulates the experience of a natural meeting.  Multiple documents can be open and visible, and passed across the local or remote meeting room table.  NuVa also integrates with industry standard video conferencing systems.
  • Cisco Spark Board:  The best-of-show award this year went to Cisco’s Spark Board which was also the star of Cisco’s keynote presentation.  Spark Board combines ideation and brainstorming capabilities for both local and remote meetings via a touch display that also manages to serve as a very capable video conferencing system.  Spark Board also integrates seamlessly into the Spark cloud world of messaging, team collaboration spaces, persistence, and even email.  Spark has been keynoted at Enterprise Connect before, but as time progresses we are seeing how Cisco is evolving from communication products like telepresence, jabber, and call manager to solutions for innovation and collaboration.
  • Cyviz: the company highlightedits new focus on physical space solutions to drive innovation, a spin away from Cyviz’s foundations as a sophisticated control room solution.  Cyviz targets medium-to-large rooms in the enterprise and government with a wide range of AV platforms and display technologies that can support the company’s visualization and multimedia collaboration software.
  • Microsoft Surface Hub:   Microsoft claims to have shipped over 100,000 Surface Hub units – their multifunctional Windows 10 plus Office – Skype for Business – multi-touch screen electronic whiteboard combo solution positioned as a team collaboration device. 
  • Nureva:  Nureva Span uses one or more short-span projectors to create a virtual canvas (up to 40’ wide with 40 simultaneous touch points) that is projected onto a wall and accessible from personal devices.  This is a cloud-based system that takes legacy tools like sticky notes, sketches, and flip charts and transforms them into digital versions that can be manipulated by local and remote participants.  Nureva software also works on a wide range of interactive displays.
  • Oblong:  Introduced at the show, Mezzanine Teamwork is a downsized version of Oblong’s original Mezzanine, a visual collaboration solution with an unusual user interface that links locations, teams, content, and devices in an immersive, shared workspace.  Magic wand anyone?  Also visible on the show floor was Mezzanine-In, a browser based interface to sessions on the Mezzanine server for remote users.  The company was promoting Teamwork as a huddle room solution, although the $50K MSRP might be a huddle room show stopper.
  • Prysm:  Prysm’s Visual Workplace combines the company’s original advanced display technology with software (from the 2014 acquisition of Anacore) that focused on collaboration and content sharing via multi-touch room displays, PCs, and mobile devices.  Prysm was demonstrating its cloud-based virtual work environment in a variety of use cases from data visualization to brainstorming. 

There was some buzz (and breakout sessions) this year about persistent collaboration spaces, with RingCental Glip, Atlassian Hipchat, Slack, Cisco Spark, and Microsoft Teams generating lots of discussion.  While these apps all support a range of communications from messaging to video conferencing to screen sharing and file storage, real collaboration (RC) applications are different.  RC is really about simultaneous and interactive working together – brainstorming is the penultimate example.

The term ‘collaboration’ in the enterprise sense is hopelessly overused.  We need a new moniker for applications that describe working together in the physical and virtual world.  I’m thinking maybe “congruity” might fit the bill – congruent communications anyone?  “Synchronis” seems too technical or even weird, while “accordant communications” implies we all agree.  Others have stated that “collaboration” solutions can be mapped against an “ideation” feature / function spectrum.  “Ideation” has a nice ring to it; we can say ideation solutions but we can’t or shouldn’t say “ideated communications.”

Whatever the term, ideation is going to be an important element for some jobs in some companies.  Whether ideation solutions will appeal to the typical knowledge worker or department manager remains to be seen.  And whether the solution set can be cost-justified in a mainstream business environment will require further investigation.  Today, most of the products seem too expensive.  But for product designers and distributed engineering and marketing teams, ideation tools can provide quick and valuable benefits.

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