Collaboration in 2018: More Integrated, More Social

When it comes to collaboration applications in 2018, we anticipate seeing a movement toward increased integration.

Historically, organizations used collaboration business tools in distinct silos. Users lived in their e-mail, stored their documents in a document management system, collaborated on the development of presentations, and used applications such as Slack and Yammer to chat.

Now, with applications like Microsoft Office 365, Box, and others, we’re seeing a convergence—a tying together—of these applications. And in the process, we’re seeing a blurring of the line between email and where documents themselves are stored.

A Simpler Workflow

As we all know, the old workflow for document-sharing went something like this:      

  1. Write document.
  2. Save document.
  3. Create new email.
  4. Attach document to email.
  5. Send email (in order to share the document).

And then we waited.

Historically, to collaborate, organizations used technology in one of four ways:

  • Through video conferencing (e.g. Cisco WebEx, Zoom, LogMeIn’s GoToMeeting)
  • Through file-sharing (e.g. Box.com and Dropbox)
  • Through collaborative co-authoring, when more than one person works on a document at the same time (e.g. Google Docs, Dropbox, Box, Office 365)
  • Through instant messaging (e.g. Skype, Yammer, Chatter, Google Hangouts, etc.)

Now, however, the new Office 365 workflow is streamlined and much simpler: Open, share, edit, save. That’s it.

And solutions other than Office 365 fulfill organizations’ collaboration needs in a similar way. Slack, Zoom, Facebook’s Workplace, Huddle, Basecamp, and Google G Suite all follow that similar open-share-edit-save pattern.

Social Media and Collaboration Tools

Collaborative applications are becoming simpler, and they are also becoming more social—i.e. more influenced by social media. Many of these trends toward greater integration and a more “social” feel started in 2017 or earlier. These will continue with gusto into 2018.

Microsoft Skype for Business, for instance, offers the ability to follow people and topics and to create groups, thereby providing the opportunity for interactions that resemble employees’ experiences on Facebook and other social media platforms.

And we believe Box.com will continue to expand its collaborative functions, which appear more and more integrated. The new Box interface shows the user a menu of collaborators, both inside and outside the company. (Box also allows users to build applications on top of its platform in order to exchange information with customers. Case in point: Box-Salesforce.com integration.)

For its part, Dropbox has introduced Dropbox Paper, a kind of virtual canvas where team members can brainstorm a project plan and co-create content. Like many of the file-store-and-serve vendors, Dropbox realizes that just having a place to keep files has become a narrow proposition for users; vendors must demonstrate greater value by incorporating far more collaborative functionality.

Tracking Content and Recent Activity

The new collaboration tools also allow users to track various aspects of their recent activity.

Office 365 shows a user the people with whom he or she regularly exchanges email, as well as the most recent documents they’ve been working on. The O365 application Office Graph, which resembles Facebook Graph, presents a collection of both content and activity, and the relationships between them that happen across the Office suite. Office Graph maps the relationships among people and information, whether those interactions come from—or are stored in—email, social conversations, meetings, or documents residing in Microsoft’s SharePoint or OneDrive.

Google Plus is built for business collaboration. It focuses on connecting teams, where a user can invite people into a group workspace. That may be a good fit for businesses using Google G Suite, but it may be less of a fit if that user operates on the Microsoft platform.

Which Collaboration Tool Should Your Organization Use?

The choice for IT comes down to understanding the core collaboration requirements of users in the organization. It all comes down to a matter of defining your use cases: the specific capabilities that meet the needs of your organization's various users.

At Doculabs, we believe you’ll see more tools that allow in-app texting, phone or video calls, and the sharing of files.  Looking even further into the future, we’ll be keeping our eye on the very notion of the “page” as a container for information. On many web sites today, you don’t click “next” for the next page; instead, there’s continuous scrolling. The page itself is becoming less relevant. That begs the question: Will we eventually reach an era of collaboration without the page?

Collaboration tools also will change because of the way in which day-to-day work is becoming more project-oriented. Teams are created—and disbanded—on the fly. But there’s a downside here. Does the dynamic creation and disbanding of teams jibe with good governance and the maintenance of effective data hygiene? You don’t want to leave a trail littered with thousands of abandoned sites populated with orphan files. We’ve seen that scenario before.

There’s no doubt, though, that 2018 will be a year of change and innovation in the world of collaboration tools. As you look toward meeting the collaboration needs of the users in your organization, and start to consider potential tools, check out our consulting services in Workplace Collaboration. After all, we're the experts in use case identification and mapping those use cases to the capabilities of the tools now on the market.

 

Rich Medina
Jeff Phillips
I’m a Principal Consultant, specializing in strategies for using ECM tools such as Microsoft Office 365 for information management.