We talk with industry leaders to get their insights on collaboration trends for 2019
It’s hard to believe that collaboration tools have been around for more than 2 decades. After all, it’s only recently that companies around the globe have begun to rely on these tools to connect their distributed workforce. As the digital transformation journey has evolved, fuelled by remote working, globalisation and other critical trends, the demand for collaboration is growing. Research suggests that the right tools can increase the productivity of companies by 20-30%.
We’ve come a long way from relying on emails and in-person interactions, but the journey isn’t over yet. In 2019, and beyond we can expect to see even bigger and better evolutions in the way that teams work together.
In our latest round-table, we gathered insights from 9 of the industry’s leaders in collaboration tech.
Ideally, the workplace would be an environment where everyone could communicate and collaborate seamlessly, regardless of whether they were in the same office or thousands of miles. That’s just one of the goals that the latest collaboration solutions are working towards. The question is – where do we get started?
Consumer trends like instant messaging ignited a greater interest in collaboration tools in recent years. Employees wanted to be able to access the same convenience they felt when they used WhatsApp and Messenger to connect with co-workers. So, how are consumer trends affecting the market now?
According to Avaya’s Richard Buckley, collaboration is becoming more accessible in recent years. It’s no longer restricted to expensive and large devices. “It’s every room, every device, every location, and every app. We’re at a point in time where 70% of interactions happen via mobile devices. Collaboration has to be built into apps as a result.”
Avaya feels that collaboration is a fundamental aspect of working. “The most important element of collaboration going forward is the ability to integrate features of the collaboration platform with enterprise applications. The openness and flexibility of a vendor’s solution will begin to dictate their success.”
According to Dan, the things that happen in the consumer tech world generally spill into the corporate world. Today, both spheres share the belief that tech should “empower” rather than control users. Consumers already expect easy integration and compatibility with other devices. “In the past, some promises of productivity in the corporate world have been compromised by poor integrations with apps and cumbersome interfaces. This isn’t acceptable going forward. We also expect to see AI and machine learning manifesting themselves more aggressively going forward. These will help businesses get better insights into crucial data.”
For Zoom, the next 12 months will highlight the role tech can play as a “business enabler, to empower users rather than hinder or frustrate them.”
For Yamaha UC, Huddle rooms are still a big topic in collaboration: “More huddle areas are being equipped with new technology. We’re seeing BYOD and computer in room equipment in the market, along with the development of new AI technology in conference spaces.”
Stoltze notes that AI can be used to manage and improve the meeting room, with automatic transcriptions, room scheduling features and more. They can even manage video with auto zooming or improve audio with human voice detection.
Unify agrees that the traditional office set-up is evolving, with a greater focus on flexibility. The rise in remote working has prompted an increasing demand for collaboration tools. “Software that provides multi-media conferencing, group chat and file sharing will allow employees to onboard faster from any location. We believe the gig economy will begin to fade, and employers will start to offer more flexibility instead.”
Paul Cunningham also believes that a flatter structure in the workplace will lead to more open plan office designs and increased demand for breakout spaces.
Daniel Boddington of StarLeaf suggests that cloud-based services and sophisticated management platforms will begin to provide data analytics on service usage going forward. This will give administrators a greater insight into their workplace so that they can reduce the burden on “IT staff manually upgrading their video conferencing environments.”
StarLeaf also feels that videoconferencing “is now playing a critical role in business operations, particularly those with a global workforce. Businesses no longer have to physically gather senior staff to make critical decisions.”
For Pexip, the leading trend right now is simplification. As companies continue to expand their modern meeting architectures to support video, audio chat, and content sharing, a single standardised platform will be the aim for most companies. “This simplified approach is key to driving adoption and delivering a streamlined collaboration.”
Through interoperability, companies will also be able to provide users with a way to connect using their system of choice.
LogMeIn sees the future in consolidation too. “End-users are looking for a single experience for all their communication modalities. It wants to provide a single platform, for a single price, managed through a single pane of glass. Companies want platforms that can unite all of their audio, video, screen-sharing and chat solutions into a single coherent solution.”
According to Mark Strassman, this single-pane-of-glass environment is the definition of true unified communications.
Anne-Marie Ginn, the head of video collaboration for Logitech, believes that the growing demand for flexible working is one of the key trends shaping the growth of collaboration today. “A growing number of businesses are embracing the gig economy and turning to freelance workers for project-based work.”
According to research from Upwork, around 46% of Generation Z workers are freelancers, and the numbers will continue to grow in the next five years. “These trends have a huge impact on office design and collaboration technology. Businesses will find more ways to utilise their office space to facilitate modern working practices in the new age, with virtual meetings and hot desking.”
For Bobby Beckmann of Lifesize, it’s worth noting that today’s consumers have become accustomed to attractive products, quality design, and intuitive usability. “The shift to ease-of-use and utility in the consumer tech industry is also influencing business user expectations and solutions in the workplace. Customers want the same interface and experience of technology regardless of where or when they use it. Innovations are becoming more available as companies look for more simplified solutions.”
For BlueJeans, collaboration today is all about equipping modern workforces with the tools they need to get work done anywhere, anytime, form any device. We’re seeing the focus shift to a human-machine partnership for early adopters, where companies are considering how to balance what people do, with the tasks that a machine can manage through automation. In the meetings space, that’s all about connecting and letting teams do what people do best – create, inspire, recruit, teach, sell, and collaborate.”
As distributed teams become the norm across most business environments, new technologies are leading the way for advanced opportunities in the collaboration environment. We’ve begun to see companies experimenting with everything from Augmented and Virtual Reality, to virtual assistants.
What’s next for collaboration technology?
“There’s a relentless march towards a situation where all systems and datasets must be accessible to each other so that value can be realised and extracted. Collaboration is going way beyond person to person; it’s person to machine and machine to machine. We see the rise of chatbots and conversational interfaces into collaboration starting to proliferate within the enterprise.”
Buckley also believes that opportunities are coming in the form of CPaaS, which delivers open APIs for everything from voice, to AI and more. “We see the flexibility needed to embed the CPaaS layer into enterprise applications as a key trend.”
For Dan Creigh of Zoom, “Emerging trends like BYOA, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Cloud Computing, and the IoT will be the real drivers for change in 2019. Given they are closely interlinked, we’re encouraged to see greater collaboration between AV and IT companies offering complementary tech. This willingness to work together ultimately benefits the end-user.”
Creigh says that Zoom has enjoyed excellent experiences partnering with AI services, and they’re playing to the strengths of the other people in the market to meet consumer demands. For Zoom, the technology itself shouldn’t be the end goal. “The focus should be on easing access collaboration for users.”
Stoltze believes that the most significant potential for collaboration technology comes from anything you can install into the huddle room. “The $90 USB camera and the $99 audio device with a $149 display are not cutting it anymore. As more and more technology that is specifically designed for huddle rooms and huddle spaces enter the market, companies are going for products that better fit the room requirements. The $90 USB camera is being replaced by a $500+ camera that provides better image quality and AI integration.”
Additionally, Yamaha UC thinks that IT manageability will become more crucial going forward as larger companies continue to roll out hundreds of rooms.
For Paul Cunningham, opportunities lie in the ability to unite the various systems that companies use for collaboration. Companies want a solution that can bring all of their multiple tools together in one place.”
“Orchestration is an emerging solution that offers an opportunity for communications providers to operate behind the scenes and become the driving force for integration across multiple apps. Combining processes into a single platform has the potential to boost productivity and efficiency.” Both AI and bots are also an essential consideration in being able to apply new technology to a range of solutions according to Unify.
StarLeaf notes that improved user experiences and cloud services are fundamentally changing the way that collaboration tools like video conferencing are deployed in the enterprise.
“Cloud technology has eliminated much of the complexity and expense of maintaining on-premise video conferencing infrastructure, enabling and providing a seamless environment for both video conference suites and tightly integrated solutions deployed across multiple devices and platforms.”
StarLeaf believes that companies will begin to use beyond free services to more advanced solutions that can scale with the business as it grows.
For the CCO of Pexip, technologies that protect brand identity and enable better external communications will be the key to the future. The industry needs to be able to leverage a customised solution for collaboration that protects its unique brand.
“Whether to enhance sales efforts, connect patients with their doctors, enable specialist consultation, or to simply enhance collaboration between in-person meetings, organizations need to drive up efficiency and value of their customer communications. However, if that communication is done without protecting their own brand, the value will be watered down.”
LogMeIn sees potential in the security side of technology for the collaboration environment. Though security often takes a back seat when talking about emerging tech, it’s becoming an increasingly valuable part of the conversation.
“When not implemented and monitored properly, technologies that allow screen sharing and remote desktop controls can open your network to attack by malicious hackers. UC vendors that integrate threat detection and prevention technologies into their offerings, and work with their customers to help minimize these risks, offer a significant advantage.”
Anne Marie Ginn feels that the industry is seeing a “boom in demand” for collaboration technology, spurred on by the adoption of apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts. “The rise of the spontaneous ‘huddle’ meetings is also driving continued adoption of affordable, USB-based video endpoints alongside personal video, allowing for team engagement and decision-making in a highly effective manner.”
Equally, Logitech believes that there will be a growing need for simple and streamlined interfaces that make the process of joining a meeting easier. “As businesses are embracing digital collaboration, they require high quality, yet affordable video conferencing technology that enable easier information-sharing and improved teamwork at scale. In this respect, both vendors and resellers play a key role in enabling organizations to keep up with the changes in modern working. They should not only be driving innovation in this space, but also advising businesses on the strategic decisions that they need to make in order to invest in the right collaboration technology.”
Lifesize considers the growth of open platforms to be a massive opportunity for the collaboration space. They believe that open APIs and advanced services are helping vendors from various backgrounds to collaborate towards a more seamless and integrated experience for end-customers.
“As a result, businesses are now able to bring together experiences spanning video conferencing, meeting scheduling, dynamic content sharing, presentation tools, and more without compromising usability or creating a burden for the business user. Additionally, these innovations are making it possible for IT to better meet the expectations of the workforce without being locked into a single vendor or compromise manageability.”
Paul Scholey and the BlueJeans team sees the move to cloud driving an improvement in the flexibility of today’s collaboration tools. As technology like IoT and machine learning systems evolves, “boring” conference rooms can be transformed into multi-media intelligent workplaces. According to BlueJeans, these advanced meeting rooms will “enhance the way that people create, share, visualise and act on information.”
Paul sees the arrival of “Rooms that adjust and optimize teams’ work patterns and seamlessly integrate remote team members through video, audio, and content sharing, both from screens and whiteboards” in the future.
Moving forward into 2019 and beyond, a well-coordinated and immersive platform for communication and collaboration will be essential to the business environment. With more distributed teams around the world, we’ll need to ensure that people have access to the systems and knowledge they need to perform in any environment, at any time.
To serve this growing need, there’s no doubt that we’ll continue to see an evolution in the technology used for digitally-transforming collaboration tools.
Avaya’s team believes that the demand for CPaaS is increasing and that this will help businesses to achieve better cost-efficiency and performance with their technology stack. In the market of team collaboration, Buckley noted that there will be more AI and machine learning coming into play. Though these tools may be expensive, the cost of prediction for AI tools is declining as companies discover better ways to train intelligent systems.
“We’ll see more enterprise digital assistants driven by conversational interfaces and these will likely be being embedded into collaboration devices”
“As virtual assistants make their way into the enterprise and become embedded into the system, it is quite plausible to assume that chatbots would track meetings. The bots could provide action logs or perhaps even an assessment of the sentiment of the meeting. Robots taking minutes and notes frees up the attention and focus of the human worker.”
Zoom is confident that 2019 and 2020 will bring with it the delivery of better artificial intelligence and visual data, providing a more personalised experience through communications. “Take for instance a meeting scenario whereby each participant can see each other’s LinkedIn or other social media information. Or a meeting where notes and action items are automatically synthesised and distributed to stakeholders.”
“With this level of intelligent technology, there’s scope to close deals faster, limit administrative work, and boost compliance”
Zoom also predicts a rising trend of businesses combining their services to deliver better solutions, like with the Zoom and Slack or Zoom and Dropbox integration.
Holger Stoltze says that huddle room solutions will continue to develop into even more valuable investments going forward.
“Solutions that were designed for 4-5 people rooms will address the requirements for rooms of up to 8 people”
“The medium-sized conference room did not go away, and companies installed huddle room solutions in them not working very well!”
Yamaha UC also believes in the power of intelligence going forward, with AI set to appear in many business environments. Stoltze also noted that CIR vs. BYOD would continue to be a war that may not be won by either side.
Unify, and Paul Cunningham discussed their thoughts about the rising potential of augmented and virtual reality. These tools have the potential to place employees in an environment that feels like they’re side by side, wherever they are.
“Sales and marketing teams can offer virtual “test drives” of almost any product or customer experience, from anywhere”
“You can even customise your workplace. You can create your own beach-front office with AR and take it with you wherever you go”
Unify also sees a future for artificial intelligence “Co-bots,” which don’t replace human workers, but support them in accomplishing more each day. “You might have your own bot attend meetings and take notes for you when you are double booked.”
For StarLeaf, the next stage of collaboration technology is incorporating Big Data analytics and AI into management platforms. Companies will need to see analytics on things like video point usage and room utilisation. AI solutions will also be able to see whether meetings are starting on time, to help boost workplace productivity.
“Businesses investing in meeting room solutions will be looking towards tightly integrated cloud solutions. Companies will want to give their staff everything they need to operate effectively and securely in one environment”
“Robust data jurisdiction and privacy policies will also be crucial.”
The CCO of Pexip predicts a dramatic increase in the use of video to keep organisations and end-users connected. While some companies are already using video to communicate with external groups and customers, most businesses still rely mainly on text and audio. Pexip believes this will begin to change.
“At the same time, as the attention span of the average individual continues to decline (via the “Snapchat culture”), we must leverage technology to enrich communication and capture as much out of that short time as we can.”
“Enter video to drive a higher level of engagement and connectivity”
According to Mark Strassman, there will be 3 main trends to focus on moving into 2019 and beyond. Firstly, we’ll begin to focus more on secure communications and services, particularly when it comes to video chat. Secondly, AI and machine learning technologies will become more accessible, taking over the mundane actions often associated with meetings, like note-taking. Finally, collaboration solutions and chat apps will begin to consolidate to deliver better strategies for end-users.
“Microsoft, for instance, is already in the process of wrapping Skype for Business into its Microsoft Teams platform, and smaller vendors across the market will soon be following their example”
For Logitech, the key to the future of collaboration technology (both hardware and software-based), is to make sure that they reflect the way modern companies work. As patterns of working change, collaboration platforms must evolve to suit the needs of the user.
“In the next couple of years, we’ll see more sophisticated collaboration apps and video conferencing technology that leverages advanced AI to improve productivity and deliver a more seamless user experience”
Anne Marie sees everything from AI being used to automate meeting notes, and cancel out distracting noises, to human recognition technology being available to optimise teams. “For instance, human recognition, combined with AI and auto-framing, can enable video conferencing solutions to recognise when the speaker is moving around the room and automatically adjusts the zoom and focus of the camera.”
According to Lifesize, interoperability will continue to be crucial going forward, and businesses will need to innovate to ensure that all their applications work well together. This will be particularly crucial as business users demand more consumer-like experiences.
“With the widespread popularity of cloud-based video conferencing, we have access to huge amounts of data about meeting habits. Aided by new AI and machine learning systems, this data can be used to assess and increase the effectiveness of meetings. At a basic level, AI will help us to determine optimal meeting lengths, the ideal number of participants, and so on.”
“Voice recognition could also analyse the content of meetings and make suggestions regarding connections among people with complementary skills or knowledge”
BlueJeans is looking forward to a future with more open-plan, short-term serviced offices. The company believes that huddle rooms and pop-up meeting areas will become more popular, and that AI will continue to develop in the workplace. “For example, our Eva integration is a digital assistant that automates the before and after meeting tasks, giving employees more time to focus on more important elements of a meeting.”
BlueJeans also sees collaboration technologies offering more remote working opportunities. Now that Gov.UK suggests that 92% of Gen Y employees prioritise flexible working, businesses will need to provide new employment solutions.
“We expect to see more businesses turn to collaborative technologies to increase productivity, such as a live video solution”