As I sit here on an airplane en-route to San Jose with my MacBook Pro at hand, heading to an industry-leading networking event (albeit on my own time, yes – this is officially vacation), I’ve found myself reflecting on collaboration technologies and how I’ve seen them evolve in the short 15 years I’ve been working with them. After all, it has become one of those things that I spend the majority of my day doing these days, working as a partner engineer specializing in Collaboration.
One of my first experiences with collaboration technologies was back during my third IT job, sometime circa 2001, only a few short years after the Cisco acquisition of Selsius networks brought the Call Manager product to us, and I was working for a company supporting what we now call ‘telepresence’; back then we simply referred to it as ‘video conferencing’. These immersive environments (calling them ‘life-size’, as we did back then, seems kind of silly now) were not all that different from what you see today; projectors, nice furniture, and an executive meeting room experience.
Alongside these video endpoints were desktop computers, probably running Microsoft Windows 2000, and a little application called conf.exe – yes, that’s right – Microsoft NetMeeting. Between these rooms, this little application offered desktop and document sharing between users. You see, our target audience for these rooms, and these technologies for that matter, were the C-level executives for fortune 100 companies. It wasn’t your individual contributors or even mid-level management using these tools. Looking back at this first exposure to collaboration technologies, it completely blows my mind at how far we’ve come both with technology capabilities, but also with making collaboration tools available for everyone, not just the elite few. In many ways, you could say that the masses demanded it, and there was no turning back.
Along came technologies such as Instant Messaging with AIM or the like, Personal Video Conferencing with solutions such as Skype, and all of a sudden there was peer-to-peer interaction EVERYWHERE. But these were largely consumer-focused products; they weren’t ‘enterprise class’, and as an engineer supporting an enterprise IT organization, they weren’t the kind of tools I wanted to see proliferate through ‘my network’; I was always focused on maintaining that ‘executive class’ experience. I quickly learned just how strongly the pull of theses kinds of tools was, and that people wanted to interact, and they weren’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer. In the enterprise, we were presented with a challenge – either deploy enterprise-class solutions to facilitate these interactions, or the users were going to roll-their own, or keep using consumer-grade tools; and in some ways, they’ve ultimately done more than that, particularly when you look at the trend of BYOD, but I digress, that’s a topic for another blog.
The landscape of today’s enterprise collaboration tools is wildly different. Industry leaders such as Cisco Systems and others have scaled their enterprise products to fit the larger community of users demanding the solutions. Solutions such as Unified Communications Manager with its integrations to tools like Cisco WebEx have completely eliminated the need for legacy tools like NetMeeting, and Cisco Jabber offers personal video conferencing, instant messaging, presence, and more, on nearly any device you can ask for. The audience isn’t just the upper echelon anymore; the audience is everybody! The last 15 years has been a wild ride; I can only imagine what the next 15 years holds. I’m sure that, whatever it is, the future of collaboration technologies is a bright one.