Vertical Market Opportunities for Collaboration (IT Toolbox Blogs)

Regular followers of my writing will know that collaboration is a multi-faceted concept, and it remains fluid as new technologies and players from adjacent spaces keep entering the market. There’s a real danger, of course, when nobody is in charge, and the modern-day definition of collaboration ends up being shaped by those from outside the status quo. 

There is certainly a risk of that happening, as the first-generation UC solutions – largely from telecom vendors – are losing relevance to more recent offerings built on other foundations. While the UC concept as you likely know it has provided a foundation for businesses to collaborate more effectively, innovation has been happening faster elsewhere. Early iterations of UC took longer to gain traction than expected for a variety of reasons – to be explored in another series – and during that time, other collaboration solutions emerged in a timelier fashion.

The changing collaboration landscape

More specifically, I’m referring to messaging-based platforms like Slack, or application-centric platforms like Twilio, and others are likely on the horizon. The cloud is a common thread for all these offerings, and two things come with that, namely low barriers to entry and a rapid pace of innovation. This mix was not present in the early days of UC, and at that time these elements were secondary to the bigger challenges of developing a solution that could integrate communications applications in a premise-based environment.


While these challenges were being figured out by UC vendors, things were both moving quickly and in different directions among companies taking a cloud-centric approach to collaboration. Their rapid adoption by businesses tells us two important things. First, there are unmet needs that conventional UC offerings were missing, and they were important enough that businesses actively sought them out from other providers. 

Secondly, many of these solutions are built from the ground-up with a very different DNA from the established UC players. They make little or no use of legacy applications like email and telephony, and aren’t saddled by many of the challenges around real-time applications and integrating with premise-based systems.

As these offerings have gained widespread adoption, they have emerged as distinct solutions for varying forms of collaboration. Previously, when businesses were looking for better ways to collaborate, UC was the answer. Of course, this was based on notions of collaboration shaped by legacy technology, so within that framework, UC was quite suitable for the job. In that world, the center of gravity was known, as most vendors and businesses viewed collaboration similarly.

Independently, these other companies were exploring other paths that addressed today’s collaboration challenges with today’s technologies. Collectively, these new offerings have reached enough critical mass to challenge that center of gravity or bypass it altogether. As a result, the center isn’t holding that well, and we now have a fragmented set of solutions that address “collaboration”. Clearly, there is more than one way to collaborate, as well as there being more than one type of solution.

What to do?

This poses new challenges, not just for vendors, but also for buyers. Among buyers, decision-makers have to think really carefully about the nature of collaboration and the business outcomes they are trying to achieve when working this way. Not only that, but within an organization, there are multiple approaches to collaborating, especially if the workforce spans three or four generations. This means doing a lot of internal research to understand collaboration – who needs to work this way, what tools do they need, what type of workflows does this involve, where are workers located when collaborating, how will the results be evaluated, what IT resources will be needed, etc.

Once that has been done, another round of research will be needed to learn about these various types of collaboration offerings, the companies behind them, what is the cost, how easily can they be deployed, how intuitive the end user experience will be, what it does or does not integrate with, etc. From there, decision-makers will need to ascertain if one solution can cover things, or if these newer offerings will best serve as a complement to UC – either an existing deployment or one under consideration.

Aside from making life difficult for IT, this puts a lot of pressure on the vendors, especially for developing a relevant value proposition. There are so many ways to collaborate now, it’s hard to know what angle to take, and how high or low your offering sits on the customer’s priority spectrum.

One approach would be to focus on vertical markets, where the problem set it clearly defined. Within a segment, all businesses have a similar set of needs, and once those can be mapped to a collaboration solution, the better your chances of success. Of course, this is easier said than done, but I’ve come across many vendors in my research that have been effective this way. That’s the ground I’m going to cover in this new series, and my next post will continue by identifying the core parameters of a high-value collaboration solution.


About the Author

JonJon Arnold is Principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and strategy consultancy based in Toronto, Ontario. The consultancy’s primary focus is providing thought leadership and go-to-market counsel regarding IP communications and disruptive technologies. You can follow Jon’s everyday insights on his influential JAA’s Analyst Blog and on Twitter.

Source: SANS ISC SecNewsFeed @ May 4, 2017 at 06:12PM