This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala's blog.

The annual Enterprise Connect event was held in Orlando last week. I had a number of speaking slots at the event, including as one of the panelists on the final session of the conference, the Locknote. One of the questions that co-chair Fred Knight asked me was what was new at this year’s event, to which I responded that I hope the term “conferencing” is stricken both from our vocabulary and our corporate collaboration tools. Conferencing tools are typically single-purpose tools that aren’t integrated with any other collaboration tool. Think of the audio conferencing bridge that you use, or web collaboration tool or video system. All good tools, but not integrated with one another. In fact, we often use more than one in a single collaborative session.

So, if conferencing is to be stricken from the tech vernacular, what should replace it? I’ve been using a term called “visual conversations” to describe what’s next for corporate collaboration. There’s a report on the front of my website on the concept of visual conversations, where I define the term as the aggregation of all collaborative workflows into a single, visual, unified experience. This includes traditional conferencing applications, but also other collaboration tools such as digital white boards, desktop sharing and social media.

Traditional tools, such as telepresence and web conferencing video, attempt to recreate individual elements of the in-person experience. Visual conversations re-create all of the elements (see below).

Credit: ZK Research

At Enterprise Connect, Magor Communications, which I think is the best example of a visual conversation-based solution, announced that it would be launching a cloud-based service called Aerus, which will be available in May of this year. Historically, the solution from Ottawa-based Magor was available only as a Linux appliance, meaning it was practical only for larger enterprises.

Aerus enables connectivity to any other video-based collaboration solution, including Skype, Cisco, Polycom and WebRTC browsers. I’ve used the solution myself and it’s a very natural, easy-to-use tool where multiple people can use different modes to collaborate, though all of us were in a single, visual conversation when I used it.

Cloud was a huge theme at Enterprise Connect this year, primarily because it simplifies the deployment of collaboration tools. Instead of having to worry about interoperability between vendors a, b and c, push that into the cloud and let the cloud provider worry about it. The launch of Aerus means that small and mid-sized businesses can start experiencing the concept of visual conversations.

We’re at the start of the transition of collaboration, particularly the real-time tools, to the cloud, but as more and more customers use it and gain confidence in it, we will see the adoption of cloud-based solutions accelerate. Cloud solutions like Aerus allow companies to start with a small deployment, minimizing cost and risk, removing another barrier from deployment.

So stop thinking about conferencing and think more broadly about how to converse, visually. It’s a better way to collaborate as you can focus on the conversation rather than trying to manually integrate all the tools that are out there today.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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