by Dave Smith

Solving the communications signal-to-noise ratio

Jul 11, 2018
Collaboration SoftwareDigital TransformationSmall and Medium Business

While enterprises cope with an overload of communications and collaboration applications, planners are being challenged to centralize on strategic platforms to meet the needs of a diverse workforce and improve productivity.

google messaging chaos
Credit: Thinkstock/Google

The application overload issue

There is an overabundance of communications and collaboration tools available for enterprises. While this pushes innovation in many respects, the avalanche of apps has created productivity and security concerns within organizations. With myriad silo applications being deployed by internal teams and departments, there is a lot of noise created and serious attention management issues emerging. Integration into critical business applications and workflows is also a major concern.

In speaking with business leaders, this issue of communications app overload really creates productivity problems that impact critical business processes. Specifically, I recently spoke with a CIO of a midwestern company, who explained to me that one of her biggest tasks is in dealing with the multiple communications and collaboration apps that abound in her organization. She’s in my estimation a very open-minded and forward-thinking CIO, who does encourage experimentation to ensure feedback and clear understanding of core people needs. This feeds decision making on strategic communications and collaboration technology investments. Her challenge is in managing this experimentation to ultimately foster a collaborative culture where technology investments are directly driven by employee input.

In my experience, organizations of all types are facing this dilemma of tremendous app overload caused by the easy access to cloud-based applications. Interestingly, according to recent data from a CITE Research study and survey for RingCentral, findings showed that:

  • More than 70 percent of workers say their communications volume is a challenge to getting work done.
  • 68 percent of workers toggle between apps up to 10 times an hour, and 31 percent of workers said toggling causes them to lose their train of thought.
  • Workers find navigating between apps more annoying than doing household chores (53 percent), paying bills (52 percent), and trying to lose weight (50 percent).
  • However, workers find team messaging to be the least disruptive to their work day.

This was a survey of 2,000 knowledge workers and it clearly coincides with my findings that digital workplace applications brought in tactically to help streamline processes from the team and departmental level have created an app overload problem that’s impacting business workflows from a productivity perspective.

What was also quite interesting was the finding that workers believe a single platform integrating all their communications channels would help them achieve better workflow (67 percent), be more productive at work (65 percent), make work feel less chaotic (62 percent) and make it easier to work remotely (61 percent).

  • Workers 45+ years old still prefer email (51 percent), but 18 to 44 year olds prefer team messaging (43 percent). Team messaging is growing quickly in popularity as the preferred “home base” for a single communications platform.
  • Across all generations, those who use team messaging are more likely to strongly prefer a single platform that does it all (38 percent vs. 28 percent).

Conversational workspaces emerge

The findings on team messaging apps are quite interesting. This is an emerging space, that I’ve been referring to as conversational workspaces. The market is emerging, driven by the need for better team collaboration, improved productivity and integration into key business applications and processes. Users want their communications and collaboration apps to be in the flow of the work they do on a daily basis.

This growing conversational workspaces market is characterized by products with the following core features, functionality and capabilities:

  • Messaging
  • Persistent chat
  • Content sharing
  • Video and voice communications (calling and conferencing)
  • Administration controls and security
  • Search
  • Archiving (often via integration with a third party)
  • Integration into business applications (via open APIs)
  • Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and natural language processing (NLP)
  • Chat bots

While the emergence of this market adds to the chaos of app overload, enterprise planners need to focus on the core capabilities listed above and match them to specific business needs when deciding on which products to invest in strategically. Integration is a critical component here. The individual capabilities have to function together in a seamless continuum that supports deep integration into business workflows and processes. They have to support individual and group productivity. Again, the tool literally has to enter the actual flow of how people work.

Final recommendations

Business leaders can solve the app overload and communications signal-to-noise ratio issue by focusing on their core, people-centric requirements. The targeted focus has to be on integration into the key business workflows, matching capabilities to key use cases, and requiring strong vendor references from providers that are similar to the organization and those that are dissimilar. Encourage pilot programs for experimentation of various tools, but let the goal be to zero in on the critical people work needs and what capabilities are required. A strategic tool should be able to converge multiple communications channels and integrate into business applications.

With the growing crop of conversational workspace products, AI is emerging as a critical component. Organizations don’t need another communications and collaboration tool to check a box per se. They need intelligent tools that can be integrated into business processes, provide automation and increase worker efficiency and productivity across all channels.