When you look at the enterprise today and the speed with which collaboration software has spread, you wouldn’t guess that until a few years ago all we had was email and instant messenger. Almost every single employee of an enterprise company is either using Slack or Microsoft Teams, and collaboration software is even outgrowing the enterprise and being used by gamers to coordinate and plan gaming strategies! Communication has always been key to our success as humans and the lack of it is often a subject for tragedies ("Romeo & Juliet," anyone?). Collaboration software not only brings teams together but also helps them understand each other and instills a sense of professionalism that comes from accountability.
The G Suite Story
Today’s collaboration tools are essentially well-managed virtual conference rooms with the addition of bots taking things up a level. If we look at the office tools of our past, it was pretty much MS Office, IM, and emails, although Gmail and Office 365 still play a big role in our lives today. Google’s recent G Suite announcements take aim at the enterprise and aim to prove that G Suite is attracting large enterprise customers outside their corporate government and education bases with executives from Colgate-Palmolive and Verizon sharing their stories. Though G Suite has been around for a while, it hasn’t really been actively promoted. An interesting fact is that loads of people have been using Google Docs for ages, and heavy clients like MS Word are slowly being done away with. This is probably because Google did the smart thing by not trying to play Microsoft’s game and come up with a “me-too” Office Suite like so many others around.
What it did do, however, was play the smart game and slowly take over from behind the scenes. G Suite started at the bottom of the market with a low-margin product. Its usage further spread with the help of the Chrome browser’s popularity, and Chromebooks that made it into markets like education, where ease of use and security are major concerns. G Suite now has over 3 million paying customers and 70 million users in education. Considering a lot of those users are future enterprise material, Google seems to be more committed to the long term than anyone else, and that’s the statement it set out to make at Cloud Next '17.
Cloud Next '17
Google’s premier enterprise event, Cloud Next '17, kicked off earlier this year with over 100 announcements. Google has often been accused of being oblivious to the enterprise and focusing more on their consumer market. These announcements intended to prove that Google is indeed committed to the enterprise long term and highlighted the progress Google Cloud has made over the past year. Some interesting points to note were that apart from its overall cloud computing consumption growing threefold in the last 12 months and a 300 percent increase customer count, Google has invested over $30 billion into its cloud resources over the past three years. Also, to show the world that SnapChat is not its only customer, several large-scale customers were showcased, including Disney, Verizon, and eBay.
Hangout with the @meet bot
The enterprise loves AI, and the launch of the @meet bot that automates scheduling for meetings by responding to natural language queries was definitely a highlight. Google also has the advantage of extensively using AI and deep learning and announced that one in eight business emails in Gmail are now automated. Google has also launched “Hangouts Meet” for videoconferencing, which is an essential part of any collaboration software but was missing from Google’s arsenal until now. Hangout has been split up into two segments: Hangout Meet, as mentioned before, is the videoconferencing section while Hangout Chat is more on the lines of Slack or Microsoft teams.
With collaboration software slowly and steadily covering all bases that make it essentially a virtual conference room, a new trend emerging is graphical collaboration on whiteboards. Yes, the whiteboards that every classroom and seminar feature are now being virtualized and are the “in-thing” in collaboration software. Who would have guessed that a standard part of every classroom is now cutting-edge technology?
Two major enterprise players have come out with their own virtual whiteboard, and since we’re talking about Google at the moment, their offering is called Jamboard. The Jamboard is Google’s latest addition to G Suite and works with Hangout to allow users to share documents and random scribbles in a shared environment or a group meeting. The Jamboard itself is a huge (55-inch) touchscreen that sits in the office and acts like a whiteboard. Participants can login from their individual devices and participate by adding notes, documents, or diagrams.
Google isn’t the only one adopting classroom practices in the enterprise, and Cisco’s Spark Board is along pretty much the same lines as Jamboard.
The folks at Cisco seem to think videoconferencing is overrated and state that only about 1 percent of small firms have videoconferencing set up while medium and large firms are at 5 percent and 15 percent, respectively. The reason could be that while setting up expensive videoconference equipment on-premises is relatively easy, most of the time you’re communicating with people who have only laptops and phones at their disposal. This could also be the reason why a lot of videoconferencing apps really haven’t taken off in the enterprise. In contrast, the Spark Board, while capable of impressive video-calling facilities, is compatible with devices that all employees own, and once connected, everyone basically has a mini Spark Board in their hands. This makes a lot of sense since getting a document, an image, or even a point across is more important than looking at someone’s facial expressions on camera.While the 55-inch Spark Board retails for $4,990 with a $199 monthly subscription, Google originally stated that the Jamboard would cost $4,999 with a $600 monthly fee but later changed that to $300 provided you sign up before the September 30.
Both are considerably cheaper than Microsoft’s 7-foot whiteboard that costs almost $20,000 and goes by the name of Surface Hub. Surface Hub is a lot more than a whiteboard, though. It is a unified system for video calls, note taking, collaboration, and apps. Microsoft has also launched a cheaper 55-inch version that retails for $6,999, and to build these monstrous wall computers, Microsoft has set up a dedicated factory in Oregon where it intends to mass produce these PPI displays. Not to be outdone, Cisco has promised a 7-foot Spark Board version later this year for about half the price of the Surface Hub.
Another interesting whiteboard app that runs with collaboration software like Slack is a robotic arm called Joto, designed by British studio Those. Joto essentially turns the whiteboard into an Etch-a-Sketch (remember those?) and can be wiped clean after every use. The robotic arm can turn any picture into live ink and has even been used to replicate the work of famous artists. This does seem to be a trend here with collaboration software as people are moving away from obvious solutions and learning new ways to really enjoy and interact with technology. A robotic arm drawing on a whiteboard in a conference room may not necessarily be more practical than a video call or even an email, but you can be sure that you’ll have everyone’s undivided attention.
The thing about the collaboration sector is that it’s becoming fun and interesting, and that’s as much as you can ask for from something work related. Whether its 7-foot drawing boards or robotic arms, the enterprise is getting creative with the way it collaborates, and this has made things very interesting. You never know, we might have talking holograms or virtual reality conference rooms next.