Enterprise collaboration enters the innovation fast lane

The collaboration tools we use are iterating rapidly, driven by the huge surge in remote working as evidenced by the massive success of Zoom.

Apple, office, enterprise, collaboration

While most enterprise meetings are more sedate than those at Handforth Parish Council, collaboration tools are evolving rapidly, driven by the global work-from-home (WFH) surge and in the use of Zoom, which now claims 467,100 customers and saw revenues climb 326% year-on-year on the strength of the move to remote work in 2020.

Most recently, we’ve seen collaboration software merchants focus on translation, transcription, and partnership as they stake out space in what many expect will be more remote-friendly future working practices.

More enterprise-focused collaboration tools, such as MeisterTask, are also achieving a wider profile as thoughts turn to a future hybrid workplace. Here are a few iterative improvements that have emerged in recent weeks in this arena.

Webex gains real-time translation

One of Apple’s most widely used business communication tools, Cisco Webex, now boasts real-time translation across over 100 languages as the battle for video collaboration services continues to intensify. It means users will be able to preview real-time translations from English into those languages from within Webex. The translations are provided by artificial intelligence.

The company says it hopes the new feature will help improve international collaboration within teams, and plans to introduce immersive sharing of content in meetings later this year.

Otter.ai for Meet and Zoom

Perhaps one of the most useful apps around, Otter.ai can now record and transcribe meetings from within Google Meet and Zoom. It will also deliver live video captioning during Zoom Pro calls. The feature is seen as an accessibility tool, but has obvious use when meeting participants want to clarify statements or for putting original transcripts together from which to build meeting minutes and other tasks.

It’s a great tool for interview transcriptions, and works online, with iOS, and Androidt.

Microsoft Teams gains encryption

Microsoft continues to iterate and improve Teams. It recently announced plans to add end-to-end encryption to the service — it’s a shame it didn’t have this already, given that so many government departments make use of the software. Teams is also gaining a new feature that allows it to identify up to 10 speakers during a call, which it uses to identify who is talking as it transcribes the call.

Microsoft also recently improved support for traditional PTSN voice calls from within the application, enabling remote team members to participate in chats more easily when they're out of bandwidth range.

Zoom looks to the hybrid workforce

Zoom is adding closed captions for all free accounts later this year, though free users can now request the update by filling in a form on the company site. It has been a feature only available through paid accounts (thanks to Otter.ai) until recently.

The company in February also introduced Zoom Rooms, a product designed to help businesses support employees returning to the office and to provide hybrid present/remote meeting experiences.

Google Workspace hits the front line

Google has introduced a new Workspace tier aimed at front-line workers, such as those in retail, hospitality, and healthcare. Workspace Frontline takes the apps you’re used to from Google and adds  some endpoint management tools to help keep remote devices secure.

Workspace supplements apps such as Calendar or Gmail with a range of useful time and task management, location, and communication tools and is seen as the search advertising giant’s attempt to become relevant to the enterprise.

What’s up next?

Zoom’s move to support hybrid working environments is shrewd, as some nations attempt (perhaps too soon) to return to something like normal. Most businesses will likely retain support for remote working for some time yet, if only to protect business continuity in the event of an outbreak. A PwC study of 1,200 U.S. office workers found the majority now want to work remotely three days per week or more.

As offices themselves change to support different working models, shared spaces, on-demand meeting rooms and the need for technologies to manage them — along with tools to support hybrid remote/present meetings — will grow. Boston Consulting Group now recommends future team meetings be conducted as if every participant is remote, even if some are in the conference room.

In terms of collaboration software, tools for remote employee monitoring that capture productivity, such as Google Work Insights, Cisco People Insights, Slack Enterprise Grid, and even Prodoscore, seem to be in demand.

Of course, as adoption of Macs, iPhones, and iPads across the enterprise continues to climb, the days of Apple being a second-class citizen in the business and productivity solutions game will continue to erode, bringing new opportunity for iOS and macOS enterprise-focused developers to build essential tools for the remote-work-friendly future of business.

It's a shame FaceTime and Apple Mail now seem highly unlikely to gain the improvements they’ll need to be an integral part of any such ride.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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