Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Where did good old voicemail disappear?

Back in the nineties, I used to have in my company a real interesting system that we called voice mail.  When I got to the office, in my car, I called up a special number.  I got a nice message telling me how many messages I had received and asking me whether I wanted to start listening to the first one.  While driving I pressed the little button and started listening.  I had one of my colleagues shortly explaining me an issue in asking me what to do about it.  I could IMG_2985then respond by choosing another number, or if I did not know the response, forward it to somebody else with my own comments.  I could then delete the message and move to the next one.  I could send a message to somebody as long as I knew his ID number, or send a message to distribution lists.  As you can put a lot of emotions in spoken words be able to address a whole team was actually very powerful. It actually had nothing to do with the mailbox we now have with our mobile phones.

The way we used to work was actually simple.  We used e-mail for all the background information.  All documents, notes, presentations a.s.o.  were sent to e-mail, while short questions and points needing fast response were going through voice mail.  Actually in voice mail we could even send something normal or urgent, allowing us to differentiate between the things that came at the top of the list and the others.

When we merged with another company that system was obsolited and e-mail became our only and single communication mechanism.  Now we've flogged by hundreds of emails a day and have no way to make a difference between the important things and the details.  Many people speak about voice over IP, and unified communication, but I have seen very little companies implementing anything like that.  I truly believe that 10 years ago are mechanisms to collaborate where better than the ones we have today.  It looks like some time in history we need to take a couple steps backwards before taking the next leap forward.  We used to have voice mail, what's the next thing now?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Teleportation for Collaboration?

Many of you may remember the Star Trek Transporter beaming the crew from the USS Enterprise to remote locations. Obviously, this is film, you will tell me. What does it have to do with collaboration and the subject of this blog.

Well, maybe more than you think. On November 4th during the US election night, CNN used hologram technology to beam their remote reporters straight into the study. To do this, they used equipment developed by Hollywood. The remote reporter was surrounded by 35 cameras that shot him/her from all sides. Didn't sound very practical to me yet.

Last night, I was in London and switched on TV. On CNN, Richard Quest met with a British entrepreneur who was located at the other end of town. Seeing both of them on screen I really had the impression they were in the same room and it took me a while to realize what was happening. They were, here again, using holograms to beam the image of one of them to the place of the other. They even managed to take a group picture and virtually shake hand.

The images were beamed across town using fiber optics told the entrepreneur. And he then added that he expected this to be available for sale within 6 months from now. When asked whether there was a market for this, he felt that CEO's would be interested in having such a room near their office to be able to give a keynote speech somewhere in the world while loosing a minimum of time.

Now Richard himself pointed out it is not as good for true collaboration because when you are on stage you do not see the hologram, but rather a screen view. To have the full effect, you need to be in front of the image, looking at the stage.

Interested in looking at how it appears, take five minutes to look at the video.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Cloud computing and collaboration

Cloud computing is definitely one of those buzzwords that is currently found all over the Internet and the concept has nearly as many definitions as there are people to write about it.  So at the beginning of this post, let me explain what I understand by the concept. I recognize two different concepts behind the term cloud computing.  First, it consists in a number of IT resources that are made available in near real time over the Internet.  These resources can be compute cycles or storage space or combination of those.  Second, a set of services are made available over the Internet and can be orchestrated together by the user to perform a particular functionality.  Software as a service, often referred to as SAAS, is one instance of such services.  However where things really get interesting, is when services on the Internet can be integrated with proprietary services running within the enterprise IT infrastructure.  The twoIMG_3796 categories described in my mind represent cloud computing. The first category has appeared  a couple years ago and is being proposed by companies like Amazon and others.  What is really interesting from a collaboration perspective is when we will see the second one appearing.  Today there is not really a valuable collaboration offer.

What I am looking for is an environment that allows companies to quickly create business processes using available services, that low them to do the key collaboration activities they require. These go from planning & forecast collaboration, to inventory collaboration, status information sharing, sales & order planning (S&OP), master data management and the management of orders and invoices. What I envisage may happen is that cloud computing is first used to do things that are not done today. This could be hazardous material reporting, CO2 emission reporting or tracking of counterfeiting. What is important in each of those is for companies to make available proprietary information in return of obtaining a grander picture. However, they would like to keep that proprietary information as much as possible under their own control. Cloud computing and its capability to approach distributed data as if it was an integrated database, is ideal for such type of reporting. But we need standards, and standardized ways to approach the data.

If I am looking at Amazon ACS tools, they are proprietary and incompatible with other environments. As such they do not allow applications to address multiple environments in a seamless and transparent way. It’s what limits the current generation of cloud environments. A lot has still to happen for truly integrated and collaborative environments. But its worth looking at what will be needed as this is the only way we will get people looking at how to address our needs.