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This syndicated post originally appeared at No Jitter - Recent posts by Zeus Kerravala.

The winning UC&C vendors in the digital era will be those that create
agile back ends that allow for rapid development of mobile apps.

With Cisco Live 2015 underway in San Diego this week, I can’t help but think of digital transformation — a significant theme in the keynote of outgoing CEO John Chambers — in context of unified communications and collaboration.

In his keynote, Chambers talked at length about the impact that digitization has had and will have over the next decade. He highlighted a handful of organizations, including poster children Airbnb and Uber, born in the digital era that have, in short order, disrupted some well-established industries.

Now business disruption is certainly nothing new; history is filled with new companies that grow at the expense of a legacy mainstay. Think of the way WalMart disrupted retail. Sears, K-Mart, and others have not been the same since.

However, in the past, these disruptions took roughly 30 years or more to happen. In this digital era, disruption is happening much faster, in five to 10 years, and the pace of change is going to continue accelerating. Businesses that understand how to be digital will disrupt, while those that don’t will go the way of Circuit City, Radio Shack, and Kodak.

Being Digital

It’s important to grasp the meaning of the “being digital” concept. A digital organization is about more than having digital assets — all businesses can claim that. It’s about being nimble and agile, and using those digital assets to make a decision faster than the competition — and then being able to execute on it. Given the importance placed on decision-making, one has to believe that UC will be a key part of the digital workplace give that it enables workers to interact with other individuals and information in a more efficient way.

However, I believe most traditional UC tools were designed for the era of business that we’re moving out of and not the digital age into which we’ve headed. As such, I think we’re on the verge of seeing UC evolve once again.

Mobile UC Changes All

The digital transition will put an emphasis on mobile UC as the need for speed means workers won’t be able to wait until they’re back in the office to review a document, chat with a co-worker, or participate in a group meeting. It’s this shift to mobile that will have the biggest impact on UC’s evolution.

Traditional UC applications are built very much like most other desktop applications in that they are large packages that incorporate any functionality that a worker might need. In fact, the UC vision has always been about pulling more and more functionality into the application.

The world of mobile applications is based on smaller, lighter-weight applications purpose built for a specific task. If you’re mobile, you’re likely trying to accomplish one or two things quickly. The speed you need can’t happen if the application is cumbersome.

For example, I use QuickBooks to run the finances for my firm, ZK Research. The desktop version of QuickBooks is very feature rich, allowing me to set up new clients, pay vendors, and do anything else I need to operate the business from a financial perspective. On the other hand, QuickBooks mobile is optimized for one particular task, and that’s entering receipts. If I’m traveling and in QuickBooks mobile, I’m most likely trying to enter expenses “on the fly.” I’m not going to be all that interested in performing tasks such as setting up a new bank account.

Draw that analogy out to the UC space. If I’m mobile and someone wants a quick response, he sends me a text. If I want to participate in a Web-sharing session, give me an application that’s optimized for that. If I want to do a video then I’ll likely use an application that allows me to join quickly and provides a good quality experience.

UC Disaggregation

What does this mean for UC? I believe mobile UC will become a number of smaller, purpose-built applications. In a sense, this is the disaggregation of UC to purpose-built communications optimized for the mobile worker. It’s important to note, however, that the lightweight mobile applications still need to be built off a unified back end, preferably in the cloud for a mobile world.

So think of UC in the digital era as being about a common data set that developers and vendors can tap into to create lightweight, purpose-built applications. I’m sure we’ll see a fair amount of overlap in functionality among the apps, but they’ll be optimized for a specific task and do one thing really well so the worker can accomplish that task and then move on to the next one.

We’re starting to see that today with the new class of applications that are focused on the work stream. Cisco Spark and Slack are messaging-first applications, whereas Biba tends to lead with conferencing while Unify’s main mission with Circuit is to make mobile video easier.

We’ll likely see vertically specific applications emerge as a result of this as well, and we might see something Slack-like specifically for Wall Street brokers, a version of Biba designed to enable doctors to gather quickly around a critical decision, or a field service version of Spark for mobile technicians.

The winning vendors in the “collaboration in the digital era” will be those solution providers that create an agile back end that allows for rapid development of mobile applications as customer needs change. The key will be to provide rich functionality and information but do one thing so exceptionally well that a worker can accomplish a given task quickly and then move on the next problem.

We’ve seen UC go through different waves as worker needs have changed, and the next phase will prove to be the most interesting as it will challenge the vendors to think much differently than they have in the past.

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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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