The Two Paths of Real-Time and Offline Social Collaboration

In the ESG Market Landscape Report: Social Collaboration Solutions, I discussed an emerging trend – the convergence of real-time and offline, asynchronous social collaboration. To me, this seems like a natural merging. When we as humans work together, we don’t follow one modality. In real life, we exchange written messages, make phone calls, send emails, and have meetings together. The separation of and spontaneous face-to-face interactions from the offline collaboration is artificial, driven more by product evolution than people considerations.

As more organizations adopt the Social Enterprise, the separation of asynchronous and real-time will actually get in the way of creating a truly interactive and collaborative environment. When someone sees something in an activity stream that makes them want to meet immediately collaborate with a colleague, having to launch another product to do so will feel like a hindrance to taking that action. Similarly, having to go outside to another tool to prepare for and follow up from a scheduled meeting will also seem unnatural to the normal flow of business.

The good news is that the software companies who make these products realize this and they are combining their products to provide a seamless solution. The first path is the integration of the real-time collaboration products into the enterprise social network. This makes the activity stream a tool for planning and reminding participants of a meeting. Even more important, the offline social collaboration space is the natural jumping off point for impromptu real-time video and audio interactions. Microblogging can only take you so far before there is a need to communicate more directly. It’s at that point that real-time video collaboration is needed to move forward the collaborative process.

Most enterprise social networks integrate with real-time collaboration products in so far as one can launch a video or audio meeting directly from the activity stream. Some, such as the integration between Citrix’s Podio and GoTo Meeting products, allow colleagues to schedule meetings and then conduct them right from within a social workflow as well.

The second way that convergence is being expressed is within the real-time products. Here, the aim is to have a better meeting. By making available the types of features typically found in enterprise social networks including social workflows, these integrations assist in preparing for a meeting including collaboratively creating the agenda, and managing follow up and information sharing after the fact. A great example of this is the newest iteration of Cisco's WebEx Meetings which includes a feature call Meeting Spaces. It provides an environment like that found in WebEx Social to create a collaborative, social meeting workflow for pre and post meeting activities, in addition to the actual video conference.

It’s important to remember that a single solution doesn’t necessarily mean a single platform. Given the integration capabilities of these products, both kinds can interact as a single solution and evolve as separate, standalone products. It is a best of both worlds approach. Everyone benefits from a fully collaborative environment yet gets best in class features for the individual products.

Vendors that have both real-time collaboration and enterprise social network products such as Cisco with Webex, Citrix with Podio and GotoMeeting, IBM with Connections and Sametime, and coming soon, Microsoft with Yammer and the new Lync 2013, have the advantage of providing a complete package. This has implications for support, pricing, and future product development. They also have the advantage of migrating enterprise social networking features into their real-time collaboration products to create a better meeting experience. That said, many other vendors are creating seamless integration points between enterprise social networks and real-time collaboration tools. The recently announced integration of Ten Hands with Salesforce.com and VSee with IBM Connections are examples of independent vendors collaborating to provide a complete solution.

Within a few short years, most people will be able experience an environment where video and audio are so well integrated into the offline collaboration experience that they will seem as if they were one product, one platform. Choices of how to collaborate will be dictated more by the nature of the work at hand than product features. That will be a big step into supporting the team-oriented collaboration of the Social Enterprise.

Topics: Enterprise Mobility