European Reseller

Helping bring new products to market

Thursday, Jun 21st

Last updateSat, 09 Jun 2018 2pm

You are here: Home Unified-Comms Newsflash The way we work is transforming a look at Unified Communications
Hand Held

The way we work is transforming a look at Unified Communications

Unified Communications is a term that’s been bandied about for several years, but instead of moving towards a more unified workplace as might have been expected by now, the situation is becoming increasingly dispersed.

Having gone from a world where, for over a decade, the primary means of business communication has largely been telephone, email or post, we’ve been bombarded in a much shorter space of time with a multitude of options that now include the likes of instant messaging, twitter, RSS feeds, smart phones, portals and message boards.

“The way we work is transforming – now is the time to embrace change,” advises Gavin Adam, head of product management, Formicary Intelligent Collaboration Group

For many, this additional choice is a bewildering distraction from the day-job but for the Facebook generation that will be joining the workforce over the coming years, shifting from one communication tool to another to ensure constant contact with others and have access to the latest information, it is second nature.

While previous technology such as email and mobile phones were the preserve of the workplace, the technology now found in many homes, handbags and pockets today would give even the largest corporate a run for their money.  However, while we may have a more tech-savvy workforce than ever before, businesses who are not moving with the times risk stifling their employees’ productivity and job satisfaction. 

What’s next on the technology radar?
The most obvious place to look at emerging technology trends is the one area which is blazing the consumer trail – social media.  By its very nature, social media hinges around information sharing, engaging with others and collaborating on discussions – all terms which would be equally at home in the business environment as the consumer one. 

This obsession with sharing is set to increase further with Facebook’s recent acquisition of group messaging service, Baluga.  Unlike previous Facebook acquisitions which have been purely for the talent employed at the company in question, the Baluga acquisition includes the technology itself.  As such, we’re likely to see an explosion in the uptake of group messaging as the social media giant offers its 500 million users new ways to communicate and share group experiences.

However group messaging or persistent group chat, as it is also known as, is nothing new in itself.

Unlike email which doesn’t lend itself well to real-time conversations, as people reply to messages at different times and stages of the discussion, persistent group chat combines the immediacy of instant messaging with the multi-party reach of email.  Group chat allows users to have topic-based, multi-party discussions that persist over time - enabling efficient information sharing and discussions as a group. 

Recognising the value that the real-time sharing of information in this way can bring, group chat has been the preserve of large investment banks who, for many years, have viewed the technology as being integral to the success of their business.

Thanks to the growing adoption of Microsoft’s unified communications platforms - Microsoft Lync and its predecessor, Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) – which include group chat as standard, more large and small businesses are starting to experiment with group chat.  While this early adoption is to be encouraged, most businesses are only scratching the surface of what this extremely powerful technology is capable of.

Group chat is all about knowledge sharing. By default, chats contain a wealth of expertise and interests that may not be formally captured by traditional methods. Chat discussions are increasingly being used to source industry experts on a given subject, or review how a similar problem may have been solved previously. But group chat needn’t focus purely on solving work issues. By its very nature, it brings like-minded people together to discuss a common subject which will help create and strengthen working relationships.

However as with most new technology implementations, getting users to adopt the new systems can be one of the biggest hurdles of all.  Human nature dictates that we are all creatures of habit and never more so than in the workplace where already busy executives are reluctant to change what they perceive to be proven working practices.

The trick therefore is to encourage group chat adoption by stealth.  Technology developments now mean that Group Chat can be fully integrated into existing applications which are already widely used by the company, such as Outlook or Sharepoint. 

Bringing group chat to an application that users already know and trust means that individuals can easily participate in Chat discussions without having to change screens or alter working practices. Keeping users in their technology comfort zone in this way will not only encourage uptake of the technology and improve business performance, but will ease the implementation, training and management burden associated with any new application.

Creating a persistent group chat policy will also ensure that group chat is being used to best advantage, in a controlled and compliant manner, and will help encourage the technology to be used consistently across the organisation to become a core business tool.  Ensuring senior management buy-in and getting these people to take an active part in these chat rooms will ‘endorse’ the technology and its perception as an approved communication tool further.

While group chat facilitates two-way dialogue, large open chat rooms can become uncontrolled if inappropriate messages are posted. Group Chat provides the opportunity for senior management and employees to discuss topics or even quell the rumour mill, in a controlled environment. Users can privately post questions to the executive team who can then decide which ones they want to respond to - posting both the question and answer in the chat room for all to see.

Of course, all information has a limited time value. Receiving updates after everyone else makes it old news and essentially worthless. Enabling users to remain fully connected on Group Chat via mobile solutions or the web will help keep information flow constant and fresh even when individuals are on the move or working remotely.  Taking this concept of remote access a step further, businesses can extend discussions through a web-based real-time reach chat client to valued external contacts such as third party partners, suppliers or customers – ensuring that everyone is on the same page at the same time.

Additionally, large organisations rarely have all of their employees in one building, let alone one country. Persistent group chat can break down geographic borders and integrate teams from around the world to share anything from best practice to critical information updates in a timely and efficient manner.

The possibilities for optimising group chat for best business advantage are endless but its success ultimately depends on three core principles – content, context and community.  It’s only by encouraging users to rely on group chat as the primary source for up-to-date accurate information will they in turn feed the discussions, thereby making them even more relevant to their day-jobs and how they collaborate with others.

As group messaging is set to become part and parcel of the social media landscape, we’ll soon reach a tipping point where instead of businesses trying to push users to adopt the group chat, they’ll find that their employees are demanding and expecting it to be a core communication tool in the first place.  Only by recognising and embracing this communication mind-shift now, can savvy  organisations use group chat and the emerging collaborative workforce associated with it to best business advantage and stay one step ahead of the competition.

Gavin Adam, head of product management, Formicary Intelligent Collaboration Group