According to the people who think about these things, we are now in the third phase of the evolution of IT in the workplace.
First came the mainframe computer, followed swiftly by the personal or desktop computer, giving everyone access to digital tools at work for the first time.
For the past decade or so, we have been in the mobile phase – the advent of mobile phones, laptops, Wifi and tablets has thrown off the shackles of where, when and how we can work. Whereas once upon a time, to log on to a business computing network, you had to be logged on to a computer physically connected to that network by a wire, now you can do it from anywhere you like.
Nowadays, such is the development of multimedia communication tools, you don’t even have to hold meetings with everyone in the same space, you can just set up a video conference with as many participants as you like. To share work with a colleague, you don’t have to hand it to them, or even send it by email – you can put it in a shared folder on the Cloud that both of you can access whenever you like from any device with an internet connection.
The benefits of this new mobile way of working are manifold – flexible working patterns, more efficient use of time, are workforce that can be distributed far and wide but still connected, innovation on the move.
But there is also a feeling that most businesses are only at the beginning of this journey. And the reason for that is, according to some analysts, most businesses are not yet joining up the dots – or rather, the tools – of how to link communication to collaboration effectively.
To date, cloud-based technology for the workplace has tended to evolve along two separate paths – you have your software for doing your job on the one hand, and your communication devices and networks and the other. But what if these two were more closely integrated? What if, for example, your VoIP and mobile phones were somehow linked to your file sharing and collaboration platforms, like Sharepoint or OwnCloud
Would it surprise you to hear that the technology to do that is already widely available?
The key here is broadband internet, and the Cloud. If you are using cloud-based collaboration tools, and a hosted VOIP service, say, you are already running your comms and productivity software over an internet connection. Merging these into a single streamlined service is not only logical, but simple to achieve.
Part of the reason communication and collaboration remain separated is cultural. Workers over the age of 30 are a phone being used to make phone calls and computers being used to do work, even if the phone does run on an IP server.
But services like Microsoft’s Sharepoint already allow you to do everything from one place. In Office 365 Online for Business, you share working documents in company OneDrive folders on the Cloud, edit and collaborate on them in real time using Office Online programmes, all whilst talking face to face on a video call on Skype for Business. You can even start a message thread about it of social network service Yammer.
Long term, the business case for unifying all operations, collaboration and communication, into single integrated platforms that can be accessed on any device at any time is hard to ignore. It will reduce costs and downtime, while boosting innovation and business continuity, with a workforce that is empowered to be involved in more and to work with greater flexibility.