See my comments in red

UCaaS can boost enterprise collaboration, but not unless companies pay attention to the way people prefer to communicate. A call for a user-centred approach to deployment

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There is only a “reply” button in most e-mail clients, but some people would probably prefer if they could press “rebuttal” instead.

You know the kinds of messages I’m talking about. “See my comments in red” usually indicates a criticism that will follow each paragraph, a counter-argument or a demand for something beyond what was originally offered. It’s like getting a report card about the e-mails you sent. Although it’s probably a reasonable example of collaboration via text, I don’t love getting them. And yes, that’s a personal thing, but collaboration is all about such idiosyncrasies. The rise of unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tools, or cloud-based unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) is a good reminder to start thinking more about them.

In fact, I would argue that UCaaS, as it gets adopted by more companies, will amplify certain modes of collaboration like “see my comments and red” and introduce others we haven’t even conceived yet. Some examples:

  • Imagine a recording of a videoconference call that gets sent back a few minutes later with annotations added like ads plasted onto a YouTube clip. It wouldn’t be my style of giving feedback, but it could be someone else’s.
  • Picture an edited collection of text messages related to a project that get overlaid with an audio response from a senior manager, kind of like the director’s commentary on the DVD of a movie.
  • What if you could not only forward a voicemail, but add an audio prompt that would open an email note or other attachment on your PC or smartphone?

As Light Reading analyst Denise Culver points out in a recent research report, the technology part is here, or at least nearly so:

The hype of UCaaS is much like the promise of UCaaS: Users get all the communications services they want in either a fully hosted or hybrid cloud format. . .But for UCaaS to have more of an impact than its cousin UC, solutions must embrace next-generation messaging and collaboration capabilities to meet business expectation, improve productivity, and sustain competitive position.

That’s all true, but just as Culver says the concept of unified communications has been reshaped “more often than a ball of Play-Doh,” the companies interested in adopting it will require knowledge workers to be similarly malleable in the way they share and (most importantly) offer feedback on information and ideas. For some, “see my comments in red” is a helpful way of advancing the conversation point by point. For others, it feels like the e-mail equivalent of a debate.

This isn’t just about establishing some kind of unified communications etiquette, but paying greater attention to collaborative process that facilitate the best results, rather than alienate team members. It’s about keeping user experience design at the heart of UCaaS, rather than a point solution added on when it’s already too late. At least, that’s my take. I welcome your comments — just add them at the bottom, and preferably in a neutral colour.

Learn a lot more about UCaaS by downloading The Enterprise Collaboration eBook: A How-To Guide To Unified Communications, from Allstream.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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