Why Are We Still Figuring Out UC?
In the past, collaboration technology was tricky and our workflow options were limited. For example, the first implementations of enterprise videoconferencing weren’t seamless integrations into existing workflows. We had to change the way we worked, in order to use videoconferencing, which slowed adoption for decades.
Fortunately, things have changed. Now video is easy due to today’s advanced video software and the power of today’s computers and mobile devices. Instead of “video” as a product, we can view it as a feature, a seamless part of something bigger. What holds true for video, also holds true for audio, file share, and other collaborative technologies. As the technology becomes more powerful and flexible, they have all been “appified” to the point where we can start thinking about building our UC solutions to support natural workflows, rather than shifting our workflows to meet the constructs of whatever platform your organization has locked into.
Ever seen what happens when a conferencing solution based entirely on scheduling is pushed down on a user base with a culture of meeting ad-hoc? The opposite situation is just as disastrous. But these kinds of meeting creation considerations are just a sample of countless aspects of the UC solutions of tomorrow which will need to reach a new level of flexibility to support our growing workflow support expectations.
Today, there are countless new models for the future of collaboration (and communication). As expected, the new flexibility of the technology has allowed for some creative and different thinking. Don’t ask me which vision will be the winner. The market may choose to support a number of models, and regardless it is too early to declare a winner. But there is one trend that has been gathering a lot of buzz and real adoption recently. PTM (Persistent Team Messaging) has my attention.
What is PTM?
The concept of persistence online isn’t completely new. I can remember chatting for all hours in the late 90s over mIRC, and even that wasn’t the first iteration of the basic concept. But it is new enough in the UC space that we haven’t yet settled on the nomenclature. I don’t think I am the first to use the term “PTM”, but after much thought I think it makes the most sense. While there are arguably a number of elements which add to the experience for these types of solutions, the following three pull it all together for me.
- Persistent: This is the key for me. The fact that when I log in, I don’t just get my messages, I can scroll up in any of my rooms (aka. teams, channels, co-spaces, conversations, etc.) to see what happened while I was offline. Everything that happens in any of your rooms is saved. If you use this as a project management tool, and have project based rooms, you start to see the power.
- Team: The team, or room, structure offers a number of workflow and adoptability benefits. While many traditional IM solutions do support the ability to create a 3 way (or more) IM session, it isn’t the same dynamic, and doesn’t result in the same experience as a room based solution.
- Messaging / Collaboration: Some solutions could arguably qualify as persistent team collaboration solutions, as they include features such as video chat and file share, Other solutions are simply persistent team chat stand-alone, but could be easily used in conjunction with readily available video collaboration offerings. Either way, the core component in terms of workflow is the persistent messaging. I think PTM can and should be used as an acronym for both simple chat and full collaboration solutions. The key is the workflow, whether you one-source or bundle is a matter of implementation preference.
Dave Michels recently addressed this trend, suggesting that asynchronous messaging may be the center of the new UC. I think we have a similar vision for the future of UC, but I hesitate to title these solutions as asynchronous, as much as I appreciate that feature. My concern is that it may imply truly off-time communications, such as many online task sharing apps (Trello, Wunderlist, Basecamp) or even traditional forum message boards. It is interesting, I think PTM solutions are, and will be, used for sync / real time chat just as much as asynch messaging. However, there is so much power in the seamless integration of asynch that it is worthy of attention. Either way, I believe the term “persistence” covers synch and asych.
The PTM Workflow
The LDV team has been using PTM in our daily workflow for over a year in various forms. We want to understand the differences, and we don’t want to endorse any one solution, so we rotate between Slack, Hipchat, Acano, Cisco Spark, Unify Circuit, etc. And we use them all while doing another rotation of cloud video services through a few integration tricks we have learned (the subject of part 3 of this article series).
So what makes PTM so special? After all, many communications already have some sort of permanence. I can always search through my old emails for info, so that is a kind of permanence. But emails related to a given project an offer a snapshot of the project’s status at a given point in time at best. PTM offers a more natural timeline view, by just scrolling up to review earlier conversations, showing each event and comment in its full and complete context.
In “Slaughterhouse Five,” author Kurt Vonnegut describes an alien race that can see in the fourth dimension (time) as easily as we can see three dimensions. These aliens would see a person’s whole life at once, like a long train of a human moments with a baby at one end and an old person at the other. PTM allows us to see projects over time, in much the same manner. Getting caught up on any given project is as simple as scrolling up and re-reading the last few days of conversation. That goes for both existing and new project members. The entire project history, warts and all, is easily scannable.
Again, a good email thread may have a lot of project related information, but it’s not the same. For presentation, workflow, and completeness reasons, PTM is a superior project tracking and management tool than email alone. For example, above I just hinted at “the warts”, and the fact is many projects have recurring blockages and failure points. If each one is an isolated incident, the problem may continue to recur indefinitely. When you scroll through a project, recurring issues are far more evident, identifiable, and addressable.
Another key aspect of the PTM workflow is the fact that it gives a mental construct of a virtual workspace. In other words, we think of it as a place to work with people, we don’t think of it as a tool to talk to people. This may seem trivial, but it really effects the way teams work together, and how naturally they use integrated tools and features.
As I said back when Rowan Trollope first demoed Cisco Spark (then Project Squared):
“Project Squared starts with this workspace based dynamic, and builds on it with document sharing, Box integration, and video chat. In the Keynote, Rowan explained that his computer has digitized versions of all his old worktools (phone, calculator, calendar, organizer, typewritter, etc.), but the one part of his meeting room that wasn’t in the cloud, was the room itself. A room has walls where you can hang up images and shelves where you can put files. A room has permanence.”
I think the PTM dynamic gives you this space, and gives you those walls. In part of three of this series, we will start hanging some video equipment on those walls as I dig deeper into the PTM workflow. I will share some tips and tricks to help you integrate your choice of VMR into any PTM solution. I will also share some of the interesting and surprising productivity benefits of the PTM experience, so please be sure to check back for part 3.