The Promise of Collaboration in the Evolving Workspace

By David Butt and Nader Nanjiani, Cisco Inc.Unified Communications Team
nader_Nanjiani.jpgUnified communications vendors claim that collaboration will increasingly transform the way organizations work in the future. But seldom is there a specific discussion on how collaboration might really affect work for the individual group members, and from where promised productivity gains and transformation benefits will be derived.
Simply put, to collaborate is to work together in an intellectual endeavor. An individual’s expertise on a topic may be limited, but being able to pull in the skills of others who may be remote, preferably in real time, could improve both the efficiency and the effectiveness of our work. Unified communications embeds real-time communications capabilities such as voice, mobility, video, instant messaging, web-based conferencing, and presence within our day-to-day tasks – thereby making the manifold increase in productivity possible.
How Might Collaboration Really Play Out?
Consider for a moment how we work. If we look at the functions we perform on a daily basis, we may classify them into four distinct buckets: We devise, we transact, we produce, and we interact – in no particular order.

Devising relates to all the activities we engage in to “figure things out” at work such as planning, assessing, searching, and strategizing. Transacting, on the other hand, relates to tasks around buying, payment processing, ordering, selling or acquiring. Interacting refers to us talking, conferring or meeting other colleagues for advice, approval, input, or guidance. And producing refers to creation of content whether that might be documents, deliverables, widgets or services. Technology tools have always had a role, but so far have not permeated through all of those work buckets (see figure 1 below).
Imagine while processing payroll (a desire to transact), you come up with a question (a desire to interact). To pull away from that transaction session in order to set up a separate communication session seems inefficient. But that’s exactly what happens currently. What if the ability to interact in real-time was embedded directly into the payroll processing tool? Similarly an individual creating artwork (a desire to produce) should be able to seek input (a desire to interact) on her in-progress masterpiece from a mentor or colleague – no matter what their location – in real time without having to interrupt the creative process. A sales manager in a forecasting (devising) session with senior management should be able to pull up not just the specific customer orders (transacting) from the past few years, but also reach the remote salesperson that closed past deals for input (interacting) at a moment’s notice. Imagine just the savings in time through avoiding unnecessary meetings and action items that could be brought by embedding unified communications into the daily workflow, not to mention the improved quality of decision-making when expertise become readily accessible.
Preparing Today’s Workspaces for Collaboration
The workspace today is more a concept of time rather than of place. We can distinguish our daily life into working and non-working moments — whether those moments occur while waiting at the theater box-office or lounging at the swimming pool. What distinguishes work from non-work is not so much the location, but the predisposition of the individual. If a worker completes a conference call while at their child’s soccer practice, the soccer field would constitute the workspace for that moment in time.
A workspace could best be described as any location where we conduct or communicate about work, and collaboration tools should be readily available in such a workspace – anywhere, anyplace, any time. Moving from a desktop-centric notion of work to a user-centric notion of the workspace is the first step toward building an environment for collaboration. Instead of seeking to load resources on a computer desktop, organizations need to find ways to make those resources available to individual workers in multiple workspaces over multiple devices in order to allow the right resources to follow their employees. Also, there must be a common element, such as the network, from which those devices leverage collaborative services.

Breaking Down Boundaries through Innovation

As the workspace evolves, we will see all aspects of communication benefit from technology innovation. Continuing demand for compelling content will increase our use of rich media during sessions and context will ensure that the nuance and the decision inputs into our conversations are readily accessible. New forms of contact will allow us to communicate across media and device boundaries, for instance, from instant messaging to cell phones or from wideband devices to narrowband audio conversations.
By breaking down the current boundaries of media, device, and desktops, innovation will enable more intuitive and sustainable collaboration sessions. Through innovation, we can expect to originate contact, deliver content and use context differently in our day-to-day communication. Eventually, we will possess the capability to conduct multiple conversations in workspaces on multiple topics with various participants over any period of time. When we return to those sessions, we shall find all of the contact, content, and context information available intact for immediate re-use. Employees, partners, customers, and vendors will be able to unify their related threads on their preferred communications devices.
Let’s take an example of how several users interact with each other (contact), share information using rich media (content), in relation to one or more projects (context). Imagine a product development initiative with multiple team members collaborating over a workspace using cell phones, video, notes, white-boarding, slides and graphics. All of the proceedings from the collaborative real-time sessions are captured, stored, and organized within a teamspace environment (see figure 2 below). Additional content that comes from other sources can also be made available for easy access. Whether it is needed in another context, or when the team returns for their next collaborative session, all of the content from the previous sessions remains available and readily accessible – a virtually impossible feat with email!
Unified Communications Leads to More Effective Collaboration
As communication devices permeate all aspects of work and are pervasive across all types of workspaces, we stand to unlock the full potential of collaboration. As seamless sharing of communications becomes more prevalent, more of us will choose to collaborate while devising, transacting, interacting or producing, without the nuisance of delays in workflow. As work resources follow individuals anywhere and as individuals find individuals, instead of just locating devices, unified communications will have delivered on the promise of collaboration.
Nader Nanjiani is Marketing Manager at Cisco for Unified Communications. He has developed or launched a series of award-winning online games, video webcasts, interactive simulations, IP communication products, Web applications, and communications solutions to boost awareness, revenue, and brand loyalty around Cisco technologies. In 2003, he launched the first ever Cisco online community for certified engineers, which today supports the professional development needs of hundreds of thousands of Cisco customers, partners, and prospects.
David Butt currently is the Operations Manager for Unified Communications. In that role, Dave is responsible for much of the day to day operations of UCBU, as well as working directly with partners and alliances, strategic planning, and the positioning and messaging of product and solutions for Cisco’s overall Unified Communications offerings.