In September 2017 Microsoft announced their vision for ‘Intelligent Communications’, with Microsoft Teams being earmarked as the primary client for future communication within Office 365. As a result the usual Twitter chaos ensued, with many a feed declaring the death of the term ‘Unified Communications’ amid the rise of this superior sounding successor. Microsoft partners rush to create sales and marketing material that embodies the Microsoft vision, whilst consultants, pre-sales, and public speakers alike drop their new ‘Intelligent Communications’ buzzword in the face of anyone standing still. But what is Intelligent Communications? Make an effort to answer that concisely in a sentence or two… it’s difficult right? I know because I’ve been asked on more than one occasion, and although confident in portraying an accurate definition, I also know there are people out there who throw the term around loosely and have the potential to look like the proverbial lemon if asked to elaborate.
I’d forgive someone for thinking that the term Intelligent Communications is merely a marketing phrase announced inline with the aspirations and intentions surrounding Microsoft Teams – indeed I suppose it serves as that in part. But Intelligent Communications is here to stay, so I hope for this short post to serve two purposes; provide some explanatory notes around the term Intelligent Communications, and to prevent anyone looking like that aforementioned lemon.
To know where we’re going, we need to understand where we are. Unified Communications is the very definition of bringing existing communication modalities together into as few entities as possible. Ideally, all the different ways in which users in your organisation communicate, brought together into a single application or solution. Through Skype for Business, Microsoft have delivered this capability; presence, messaging, meetings, calling, video, voicemail, all delivered through a single client. Although the terms ‘sharing’ and ‘collaboration’ are often used in relation to Skype for Business capabilities, we’re really only talking about features such as PowerPoint or document collaboration. Those types of features are nothing more than glorified sharing capabilities in contrast to the joined-up experience of a true collaboration platform. The Unified Communications experience as we know it can certainly be thought of as a precursor to Intelligent Communications; because communication drives collaboration.
Intelligent Communications is the logical evolution of Unified Communications, driven through a combination of advancing technologies, and changes to how we work in the modern workplace; organisations are more distributed today, with teams that were once physically close being geographically dispersed. In todays workplace we’ve got five generations worth of people working differently, across various devices, with an expectation of being able to work from anywhere at any time. Yet we need these people to be just as productive as if they were in an intimate closed office environment. Sure, a Unified Communication solution allows these users to communicate effectively, and that was the requirement once, but the requirements of the workplace have changed, now we need to enhance their productivity and collaboration experience as well.
The single best way to achieve this requirement is a solution that provides a traditional unified communication experience as we know it, whilst integrating with other business applications, data, and workflows – this is Intelligent Communications. It’s the introduction of advanced collaboration capabilities, and the powerful underlying elements that provide these functions; application integration, artificial intelligence, machine learning, analytics, and big data – all layered on top of a Unified Communications experience.
Microsoft suggest that these technologies give rise to something called the meetings life cycle; before, during, and after moments. Where before a meeting, we’re able to surface information and relevant documents, invite people based on a previous conversations, and automatically offer times based on their existing appointments and availability. During the meeting we can capture the entire session, transcribing and time-coding conversation, utilising voice recognition to tie specific comments and statements to individuals. And after the meeting, where a recorded session can be retained and indexed, published, and searched through by keyword or content. Those are just a handful of go-to basic examples that you’ll here Microsoft talk about when describing Intelligent Communications based meeting scenarios.
It’s certainly the right time to drop the Intelligent Communications bomb, the term and what it stands for aligns itself very closely to other jargon synonymous with the last 12 months; Modern Workplace and Digital Transformation. Statistics can be skewed to support whatever you’re peddling, but if you’re a believer then external reviews, surveys, and publications would suggest the timings just about spot on too (a little late if anything).
50% – Percentage increase in the time spent collaborating over the past 20 years
40% – Percentage of people who spent at least some of their time working remotely
40% – Percentage of enterprises planning to converge their UC applications
60% – Percentage of IT managers who suggest their UC solutions are too complicated
When the Intelligent Communication vision is fully realised, Microsoft Teams will act as a productivity hub; combining collaboration and communication into a single cloud based interface where meeting experiences ‘should’ be more productive. At the moment it’s more the former, a collaboration hub, with the published roadmap very much geared around the adoption of existing Skype for Business unified communications capabilities. Come fruition, the Unified Communication portion of Teams should be on par with any other UC solution out there, not just Skype for Business.
Microsoft Teams is the response to the Intelligent Communications requirement that’s been identified by Microsoft. It’s no longer enough to just communicate effectively, we need to leverage that communication to complete tasks more effectively by improving collaboration and productivity. I feel I’ve failed miserably at providing a short and concise explanation of Intelligent Communications, but if just one person reads this and feels that little bit more educated, then I’ll consider it a worthy post.