Understanding the Communications Conundrum: What is the goal?


For years now, different communications solutions have come and gone. Just about every major enterprise player has had a solution at one time or another. Looking back, we started with relatively primitive solutions to communicate between coworkers. Then came email. Email became, and remains, the de-facto standard to communicate between individuals and teams.

Since the dawn of email some 20 years ago, other solutions have attempted to augment and/or replace email. Collaboration became the goal of many tools beyond just simple communication.


First there were simple chat tools that allowed individuals to chat with other individuals and groups. Over time, their sophistication increased. From individual 3rd party solutions to integrated solutions that supported chat within an app, we have seen a myriad of different solutions come and go. In the end, the true value of these solutions was not fully achieved.

Many talk about how more recent tools will replace email. One of the most recent darlings is Slack. Slack is a tool that allows group to create communication channels in which to collaborate. While Slack is a cool product, it doesn’t really address many of the communications issues. In essence, much of how Slack is used can be done in email. Yet, it becomes one more place to check, beep to interrupt you, tool to manage, etc. Extrapolate that to the number of tools in use at each corporate enterprise today and one quickly sees the challenge.


On November 2, 2016, Microsoft announced Microsoft Teams, a chat-based workspace in Office 365. On the surface, Teams appears to be yet another tool and means for corporate users to collaborate. However, Teams brings something new to the collaboration space. Instead of a 3rd party tool that integrates (or doesn’t) with existing productivity tools, Teams is core to the Microsoft productivity toolset using Office 365. Core integration with productivity tools is key. Note: Teams is only in private preview today and we will have to see how this plays out.


So, will products like Slack, Teams or other solutions ultimately change the collaboration space? The first thing is to understand how communications take place. Different individuals and teams communicate differently. When mapping that against solutions, here are some considerations:

  1. Email Replacement: Are we really looking to replace email? If so, that changes the needs considerably. If not, then a solution must provide demonstrative value beyond just the surface offering.
  2. Value Proposition: It is important to understand the problem being solved for. Is this the next bright-shiny-object or a solid solution that produces clear value?
  3. Integration: Integration and back-of-office functions are a fundamental issue for collaboration tools. They need to seamlessly integrate into the existing productivity solutions in use. Each of these hurdles is yet another reason not to use a given tool.
  4. Ease of Use: Ease of use falls right in line with integration. If a solution is not intuitive nor valuable to users, it will quickly be abandoned. Integration and ease of use are key.
  5. Workflow: How well does the solution fit into existing business workflows? Ideally, it molds nicely without creating significant upheaval.
  6. Business Centric: Is the solution focused on solving a business problem or creating a ‘cool’ new tool? The former has more potential than the latter. Unfortunately, the latter often leads to distractions that take away from the core issue.

Before jumping into another solution, it is important to consider these aspects. We don’t need another tool. We are already jumping from one tool to another which leads to lost productivity while teams learn how to use the next tool.

Focus on problem being solved for and the solutions will start to present themselves. Reducing the friction to use solutions is a huge opportunity for another of the providers.

Tim Crawford is ranked as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Chief Information Technology Officers (#4), Top 100 Most Social CIOs (#7), Top 20 People Most Retweeted by IT Leaders (#5) and Top 100 Cloud Experts and Influencers. Tim is a strategic CIO & advisor that works with large global enterprise organizations across a number of industries including financial services, healthcare, major airlines and high-tech. Tim’s work differentiates and catapults organizations in transformative ways through the use of technology as a strategic lever. Tim takes a provocative, but pragmatic approach to the intersection of business and technology. Tim is an internationally renowned CIO thought leader including Digital Transformation, Cloud Computing, Data Analytics and Internet of Things (IoT). Tim has served as CIO and other senior IT roles with global organizations such as Konica Minolta/ All Covered, Stanford University, Knight-Ridder, Philips Electronics and National Semiconductor. Tim is also the host of the CIO In The Know (CIOitk) podcast. CIOitk is a weekly podcast that interviews CIOs on the top issues facing CIOs today. Tim holds an MBA in International Business with Honors from Golden Gate University Ageno School of Business and a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Information Systems from Golden Gate University.

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