A couple of years ago, as part of a history of conferencing and collaboration, I defined our state at the time as being in the “Era of Access.”  While collaboration technologies had been around for many years, factors like their cost and complexity up until then had limited their (successful) use to only a select few individuals within organizations.

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As the technology improved and the cost of entry came down, the barriers to its access began to disappear.  Instead of only being a tool for the corporate C-suite, collaboration technology was available to day-to-day workers and individual consumers.  The quality of less expensive experiences may not have been on par with the more expensive ones, but just about everyone could make use of collaboration tools in some form to increase productivity and improve communications.

 

As we look to the beginning of 2015, it is difficult to identify an individual in our modern society who cannot participate in a video conference or share a computer screen.  Whether they’re a parent at home chatting with a child at school, an employment candidate being interviewed over video, an individual contributor sharing PC content with his or her team or an executive using an immersive experience – access to the tools is now almost taken for granted.  The Era of Access is successfully coming to an end and a new era is beginning.  I believe this will be the “Era of Any.”

 

“Any” represents the expectation from the now seasoned users of collaboration that everything should just work – in any combination and anywhere they happen to be.  We’re all now too experienced to just accept the questionable excuses of the past.

 

  • When security teams tell us we can’t make calls out or allow calls in from outside our enterprise because of risks, we snicker.  We’ve read all the articles about how poorly “prevention by perimeter lockdown” has failed to stop hacks and breaches at banks and other large enterprises.  We’re well aware of other organizations that can make and receive calls and hold meetings with anyone, anywhere.  If our security is only preventing legitimate uses of technology while hackers manage to steal millions of records anyway we won’t be accepting security as an excuse much longer.  We expect to collaborate with ANYone.

 

  • When we have to attend a meeting but can’t personally be in the room, we now relax.  We are well aware that properly designed collaboration tools work just as easily in the meeting room, at our desk, at home, at the airport or ANYwhere we happen to be.

 

  • When technology managers tell us that our system won’t connect to someone’s mobile device or systems at another organization, we get angry.  We know we are well past the days where we can be investing in tools and / or infrastructure that won’t provide the ability to interoperate with other types and brands of systems.  If our tech managers are not rejecting technology islands and instead choosing solutions that will work with any brands then we’ll either get new managers or directly buy technology tools without their input.  We know our systems need to work with ANY device.

 

  • When we have content to share – like PowerPoint slides or whiteboard drawings – we completely expect everyone on our calls to be able to see them.  We know it is possible because we’ve seen it work at other firms and in promotional videos on the internet.  In fact, we expect to be able to access ANY of our content from anywhere.  If our organization won’t support that we’ll just drop our files onto one of the many cloud sharing sites that exist today.

 

The Era of Any will represent a revolution for end-users and a significant challenge for enterprise technology managers and CIO.  “Because we said so” will no longer be accepted as an excuse for preventing productivity, specifically because end users and business unit leaders will just go around the technology gatekeepers and directly purchase the services they need.  This can regrettably lead to many issues – including compliance problems, lack of standardization, scattering of vendor relationships with reduced buying power, etc.

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Right now - as the Era of Any kicks-off – it’s the ideal time for organizations to perform a top to bottom assessment of their collaboration technologies and supporting infrastructure.  The key questions to ask include:

  • Are all of our collaboration and communication technologies under a single, unified governance that develops and implements unified strategies?

 

  • Were our tools selected to meet the unique blend of our organization’s specific use cases, or were they just arbitrarily selected from one of our technology or purchasing manager’s favorite vendors?

 

  • Are we working with partners that possess the skills and experience to support all of our collaboration tools for their entire lifecycle at all our locations, or are we working with mom and pop integrators that can only address a small piece of our communications ecosystem

 

  • Have we achieved the correct balance between supporting the actual business needs of our people and maintaining the security and integrity of our client records and intellectual property?  Too far in one direction is a risk, too far in the other will just force our teams to use unsanctioned but readily available solutions

 

  • Are most of our systems easy to use and scalable to deploy, or are we purchasing custom integrations with complex UIs that then require expensive, on-site support teams to manage and operate

 

The Era of Any will see the emergence of exciting technologies that can increase productivity and improve the bottom line – but only if organizations are prepared to make the progressive changes necessary to adopt them and champion their use.  Going forward, it will most assuredly be the difference between organizations that will succeed and those that won’t.