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Collaboration—It’s More than You Might Expect

Collaboration in the era of the Internet of Everything (IoE) is not just about people connecting with people. Yet when you ask most people how they picture “collaboration,” they probably think of person-to-person collaboration first: perhaps a web-based conference call where people are sharing content such as a Word document or a PowerPoint presentation. Or they might envision an immersive teleconference experience with people from different continents, across multiple time zones. Or they might think of a more traditional approach—a group of people having a lively discussion around a conference table, with someone taking notes on a whiteboard.

What most people don’t think of is using collaboration tools to facilitate interactions between people and things. Today, collaboration can move to a whole new level because not only can the right people be pooled together at the right time to address opportunities and challenges efficiently and effectively—but because they can also do the same with the right things!

The fact is, IoE enables valuable connections among people, process, data, and things—and that includes collaborative interactions where you might not expect them. Recently released research by Cisco® Consulting Services reveals that IoE will enable about $19 trillion in Value at Stake worldwide over the next decade in the private and public sectors combined. And collaboration will drive more than 60 percent of that value—whether in person-to-person or machine-to-person interactions.

That’s exactly what hundreds of visitors saw a couple of weeks ago at the annual National Retail Federation (NRF) Convention & Expo in New York. As part of the Cisco FastRetail demonstration, my colleague Rajesh Mani showed how the Cisco Jabber® instant messaging tool can be used to improve both customer experience and operational efficiency by enabling instant messaging between networked sensors and people.

Like most IM systems, Jabber lets you set up a buddy list that shows when people are available, busy, or offline. But Jabber goes a step further and allows you to extend your buddy list to things—including sensors. If there are sensors throughout a retail store, they can send IM alerts whenever something they are monitoring goes out of normal range. So, for example, when a camera or sensor in the checkout area senses that the lines are getting too long, it can trigger a Jabber message to the store manager’s mobile device. The manager can then look on the buddy list—which includes both employees and sensors in key areas of the store—to see who is available to open another register. The employees have Internet-enabled badges that indicate when they are available and can receive the manager’s task assignments. When the task is completed, the buddy list indicator turns green to show that the person is available once again.

This illustrates an unexpected and truly innovative use of existing technology to improve both employee productivity and the customer experience. And while we demonstrated a retail application at NRF, this concept could apply to many other industries as well. Hospitals could add patient biometric monitors to Jabber, which would send an alert to the nursing station whenever an indicator goes out of normal range. In manufacturing, mission-critical metrics all along the manufacturing line could be on the Jabber buddy list, triggering alerts at the first sign of trouble.

As the Internet of Everything grows to include 50 billion connected devices in the next decade—most of them sensors—there will be more and more opportunities to integrate them into simple, closed-loop alert systems such as this, building collaborative relationships where we least expect them.

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  1. Great “real-life” use cases for machine to human communications !