Unified Communications Featured Article

Connecting the '&C' of Unified Communication & Collaboration

July 10, 2017

If you think about it, the original office collaboration tool could be considered the conference room. A literal meeting of the minds was the easiest way to bring coworkers together and work through issues or brainstorm ideas in real-time. Today, this process has evolved — through the power of IP telephony, internal chat programs, presence tools, etc., many in-person meetings have been replaced by Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C) technology.

In-Person UC&C?

However, some organizations have found that the “&C” portion of UC&C still requires employee facetime. While many projects can be delegated via Slack, or hammered out in a quick Skype for Business video session, some problems really need an in-person meeting to reach a solution. And while connected devices are increasingly appearing in the office, they are just starting to make their way into the meeting room. This begs the question : How can businesses utilize UC&C technology to maximize collaboration?

The demand for collaboration in the conference room hasn’t escaped the leading UC providers. Right now, they’re addressing it with a race to the best smart whiteboard tool. The smart whiteboard, aka the smartboard, is designed to bring the third dimension of Unified Collaborations to in-person meetings. While it’s long been a staple in the education sector, it has made its debut in the workplace more recently. The idea behind it? By connecting the age-old tradition of face-to-face conflict resolution with the internet, teams should be able to work smarter and more collaboratively in real-time.

Does it work?

So, what do these smartboard tools look like? Right now the leaders are Google’s Jamboard, Cisco’s Spark Board and Microsoft's Surface Hub. The idea behind these tools is to connect in-person meetings to a company’s UC&C toolkit. For example, the Jamboard allows 16 users to interact with the board at once; presenting information, drawing images, taking notes, etc. It is then uploaded onto the Google Drive, and can be accessed remotely on Jamboard’s app. These tools are designed to take the standard UC tools and allow employees to interact and engage with them shoulder-to-shoulder. So ideally, instead of drumming up ideas in a meeting and then taking them back to a desk to research further, share with remote team members, or map out on paper, all of the next steps could be reached right there in the room.

In my experience, these tools are rarely used to their full potential. While a design team may enjoy mapping out their latest infographic on the Surface Hub, they’ll probably take those brainstormed ideas back to their desks and collaborate via Skype for Business to complete the project. Perhaps an executive will present their Q3 report on the Spark Board, but again, they’ll likely use the meeting floor and follow up emails to walk through their proposed solutions, rather than ask the rest of the c-suite to jump up and map out the solutions on the smartboard all together.

What’s missing?

It’s clear to everyone that connected offices are the future, and UC&C technology is too valuable not to apply to every area of business. What’s still unclear, however, is whether or not smartboards are the bridge businesses are looking for. While the technology is fairly evolved, it fails to tap into the true value of UC&C.

UC&C tools are designed eliminate the friction of office communication-- save yourself the small talk by shooting a quick question over via Google Messenger; skip the walk across the office by using presence technology to see if your coworker is at their desk; open up a screen-sharing tool to walk your client through a presentation instead of traveling across town to present in person, etc. These tools save time by removing the barriers to communication. In practice, the smartboard often does the opposite.

What’s next?

I think that the next step for in-person UC&C will be the subtle addition of UC tools into the meeting room. Instead of asking employees to all literally collaborate on the same tool, save the bulk of the meeting for human interaction, supplemented by the power of UC. Allow your designers to bring their smart tablets to the brainstorm, open up a collaborative SharePoint file for everyone to drop their ideas into during the meeting, etc., allowing your team to benefit from both the frictionless value of UC&C, and the facetime with their colleagues. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle