I recently revisited a white paper I wrote in 2003 about collaboration technologies and services, which my colleague Jim Burton and I called i-Cast - Integrated Collaboration Applications, Services and Technologies. i-Cast included both hosted or managed services, as well as premise-based solutions, which could be mixed and matched when creating a total solution, bringing together various collaboration applications, services, and technologies to help people work together via real or non-real time communication, and share and exchange information. I-Cast integrated telephony or voice communications with collaboration technologies/services such as audio/video/web conferencing, instant messaging, presence awareness, document management, file sharing, application sharing, etc., based on standards such as SIP, resulting in new applications such as “e-meetings,” shared workspaces, embedded collaboration, and more.
Let’s take a look back at how far we’ve come in just a few years since I wrote that paper.
Some of the collaboration challenges companies faced back then still exist today, but with the advent of Unified Communications and new collaboration tools, we’ve overcome many of the issues and challenges. The premise behind the need for i-Cast was that there were many point solutions, such as audio conferencing, IM, email, calendaring, etc., but there were inherent limitations in each of the single components. IM may be ideal for spontaneous interactions and ascertaining the participants’ presence, but didn’t readily integrate with other enterprise applications, or allow for more complex interactions. Web and video conferencing generally did not integrate with other tools such as email and calendaring systems. And there was little or no integration between conferencing tools and business process applications.
Document (or content) management systems let workers share files and documents, so that the current version in the shared workspace is the most up-to-date version, including all of the changes that people have made throughout the document’s history. But what happens when someone working on a document needs to discuss the document with a team member in real-time? Without UC, users have to leave the workspace and application(s), try to determine if the other team member is available, and start a different application with a different interface, such as web chat or email. With UC, team members initiate a collaborative session within the context of their work, or from the application they are currently using, and do not have to leave their application and familiar interface in order to have a collaborative session.
We’re now moving to the next step that we anticipated in 2003, which we called “e-meetings.” E-meetings added a dynamic persistent workspace, as well as way to view and manage shared contacts, tasks, calendars, discussion forums, and a document repository with presence, while providing a web access client to allow remote users such as customers and partners to participate in the collaboration session.
Some of the collaborative social software tools introduced by Cisco, IBM Lotus, Socialtext, and a host of smaller companies are now helping us move in this direction. Unified communications and social software tools are helping to make our vision of i-Cast a reality – whether it’s called collaboration, UC, UCC, or whatever the next hot term will be.