Enterprise Social Networks and Unified Communications are Driving the Communication Evolution

Originally Posted January 16, 2013 @ jimtunnessen.com

Every few hundred years there occurs a sharp transformation. We cross a “divide.” Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself – its worldview, its basic values, its social and political structure, its art, its key institutions. Fifty years later, there is a new world. The people born after the transformation cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born.
*Peter Drucker
*The New Realities
*Post-Capitalist Society
*The Age of Discontinuity

Crossing the divide into new realities

That is where we are now, we are “crossing the divide into the new realities.” Mail is dead. Email is dying. And social media is taking over where they are leaving off. Actually, it is social media that is supplanting the aforementioned methods of communication. We are experiencing the communication evolution.

“In the 1950s and 1960s, when IT was first introduced for commercial use, the primary target of IT applications was to automate routine, information-intensive back-office transactions (e.g. payroll processing, accounting, and general ledger postings). The primary goal was to increase efficiency and productivity…. But the impact of IT increased dramatically when businesses learned to use it, not just to automate, but also to inform and transform – especially across business boundaries.” (P.68, Applegate, Austin, & Soule; Corporate Information Strategy and Management, 2009)

For years companies like IBM, Microsoft, Alcatel-Lucent, and other computer and communications companies have been trying to develop methods for unifying communications; trying to create a single platform that combines telephony, instant messaging, and email. They have been trying to create a platform that allows user privacy, but also encourages collaboration and collective intelligence. Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and companies like those have created the key, the collaborative social network, to truly creating a unified communications platform. With this new medium companies like Salesforce, Microsoft, and Google have nearly all the pieces to create a complete unified communications platform. (Open-source software provides Salesforce and Google a competitive advantage over Microsoft. The aforementioned two companies allow for API development that allow each platform to work in sync with each other.)

At one time email was considered a fad. In fact, at one time the personal computer was considered a fad. People said it would never catch on because people would need to learn how to type. Executives were not going to learn how to type when they had secretaries to do it for them. I don’t know about you, but I would say those naysayers were wrong. Thankfully we have progressed way beyond the personal computer. We are now carrying phones in our pockets that would make mainframes look shameful. We have tablets, iPhones, Droids, and all sorts of touchscreen devices that we can type, message, talk to, talk with, research… the list is what you make of it. Apps for this and that are created everyday in order to make our lives more efficient, productive, and entertaining. With the change in technology comes the change in communications and business processes. Failure to adapt to what is going on spells failure for a business. This doesn’t mean jump and change your business model and processes every time some new technology comes out. But, it does mean that you need to pay attention to the groundswell, and educate yourself enough to know when a change is necessary. You must be able to adapt.

Communication drives a business. Communicating between the customer and the business, between the sales people and the subject matter experts, between the research and development division and the production, operations and finance, human resources and all employees. There are a lot of interactions every day that make a business what it is. Putting it all in one spot, knowing that you can get in touch with the person that knows the information, makes the business more proficient and efficient.</p>

Understanding the difference between social media and social networking

Let’s understand the difference between a social network and social media. Many people get them confused or use one to encompass the ideas of both, but there is a difference. According to Clara Shih, social media is all about content which includes blogs, wikis, voting, commenting, tagging, social bookmarking, photos, and video. Whereas, social networking sites have two main components: profiles and connections. Social networking sites are people-centric, they may have social media applications, but those come second to the person’s ability to connect with others (P. 37, Facebook Era, 2011, nook).

Both of these communication delivery methods are important to the development of unified communications. Social networking provides the foundation for connection within the unified communication platform. It includes the development of a profile. It is people-centric. This is the company rolodex, complete with contact information, picture, specialities (SME activity), and a method to enhance the profile page is to add presence (a method of seeing if the person is available to interact with). Social media (properly tagged) adds to unified communications by creating a knowledge management backbone enhanced through collective intelligence.

Numerous books have come out over the past decade touting the social and business effects of social networking and social media. Some of my favorites are: The Facebook Era by Clara Shih, Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, Enterprise 2.0 by Andrew McAfee, Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky, and Open Leadership by Charlene Li. I believe all of these are required reading for anyone in a business and information technology leadership position. Reading these books and looking at the currently available unified communications products can really show you the potential that a truly unified communication platform can provides us.

Unified Communications Offerings - Google

Unified communications includes the integration of real-time communications and non-real-time communications. Real-time communications include instant messaging, presence information, telephony, video-conferencing, interactive whiteboards, call control, and speech recognition. Non-real-time communications include voicemail, email, SMS, texting, faxes. The goal is to be able to communicate across multiple devices and multiple media types.

Google has a strong presence in unified communications. Their product offerings include everything listed above in real-time and non-real-time communication efforts. The expansion of the Google Chrome, the Android OS, and Google Apps make this company a force to reckoned with. They are currently being sought after and integrated into the U.S. government’s information technology infrastructure. The tools they provide are easy to use, and relatively cheap in comparison to other offerings such as Microsoft, Cisco, AT&T, and IBM. This is only on the corporate offerings. Google is open to the public and free for use for everyone. Essentially, it is the people’s unified communication platform. Google + provides the user’s profile and social networking capabilities. Google Chat allows instant messaging as well as video conferencing. Gmail provides email services. Google Search integrates Google + with search functionality providing peer recommendations, collective intelligence, and knowledge management. Google Docs provides an individual a collaborative workspace where multiple people can edit a document from different locations in real-time. Google Voice allows a user to make calls, video calls, and transcribes voicemails into text delivered in your email account. Google also provides presence information with green, yellow, and red dots informing others if you are active and available online. This is also transferred over to a user’s Droid smartphone.

Conclusion

Unified communication is no longer a dream or a partial reality. Employees are able to telework more frequently because geographic locations and timezones are no longer obstacles for project team or business interaction. As you can see, Google has been able to create it and provide it for (essentially) free to the masses. Methods of communication are evolving and will continue to evolve as the imagination and technology excell. Google is working on Google Glasses, a device that you wear in place of glasses to have instant access to essentially a computer monitor. Leap Motion will allow a user to interact with a computer the same way that Tom Cruise did in the movie Minority Report except without the gloves. Human computer interaction is reaching new heights causing technology to become more embedded in our everyday personal and business endeavors. The ease of which we can access the internet and each other via new forms of technology at any time from anywhere encapsulates the theory of unified communication.


References:

Citrano, Virginia (2007). You’ve Got Presence: Unified communications speeds interaction between colleagues and customers by bringing together voice, data and video. CIOINSIGHT. http://www.cioinsight.com

Drucker, Peter F. (1967). The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers

Li, Charlene, Bernoff, Josh (2011). Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press

Shih, Clara (2011). The Facebook Era: Tapping Online Social Networks to Market, Sell, and Innovate. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Shirky, Clay (2010). Cognitive Surplus: How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators. New York, NY: Penguin Books

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