UC Trends Now: Microsoft Embracing UC with Groups?

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What Does The Introduction of Groups to Outlook 2016 Mean To UC?

Some of the problems with mobility in the office are caused by many employees using many different programs and apps to do their work. In a collaborative setting, you may have several disparate applications all working for the individuals but of no use to the collective team effort. In the end it’s going to be up to one or a few people to tie it all together. The appeal of Unified Communications (UC) has been and probably always will be, the ability to put collaboration tools together on a single platform with an easily usable interface.

On any given day you may find employees using teleconferencing and collaboration applications like Skype for Business or WebEx, and Dropbox or Google Docs for file sharing. These applications may not have seamless integration, or be sanctioned by IT; nevertheless their usage in the enterprise is moving businesses towards the UC environment every day. Even though some enterprises have not integrated UC or adopted a UC strategy, we see consumers are moving toward UC whether they realize it or not.

This end-user behavior is hard on the enterprise due to the inability to establish a productivity trail and track all communications effectively, and visibility into end-user behavior becomes severely compromised with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). If you were trying to establish a UC strategy, how would you obtain sales measures from mobile devices or keep track of Jabber/Skype for Business IM correspondence between clients and sales people?

Microsoft plans to add an UC-like solution to enhance business collaboration by finally introducing Groups to Outlook 2016. In 2014, Groups was rolled out with Outlook 365, as a web-based option only, and demonstrated features to increase employee productivity and output mainly by getting everyone on the same page. It appears Microsoft must have had a modicum of success with the collaboration tool to now introduce it as a fully integrated feature within Outlook in the updated Office suite.

"These latest innovations take another big step forward in transforming Office from a familiar set of individual productivity apps to a connected set of apps and services designed for modern working, collaboration and teamwork," said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, in a statement from Sept. 22, 2015.

The Groups feature allows collaborative teams to form ad hoc groups that let everyone use the same platform, which can be a time saver and stop the use of disparate apps that everyone may not own or be well versed in using. It also eliminates those long email chains by replacing them with threads where anyone can jump in and easily see where the conversation has been. Dropdown menus are added within Groups to let users share the most recent documents for quicker access. One destination for storing and sharing files, calendars, etc. leaves no room for doubt about the last version of the content being worked on, or changes in the meeting schedule. Group members can be added by subscription so all updates and notifications can be sent automatically and One Note works within Groups to track any ideas, questions, meeting minutes, and their authors. Groups behaves very much like a single platform unified communications application.

The addition of Groups to the new edition of Office is just one of many ways we will see vendors putting forth efforts to unify communications within software suites. As UC grows in sophistication and scope, you can expect it to have a continuous influence on the way the industry integrates communication and collaboration into the design of products and services, ultimately making collaboration easier for SMB’s as well as the enterprise. If this is the case, will businesses adopt more informal UC solutions, in lieu of more costly formal UC solutions? Food for thought: Does this type of application pose a threat to UC or is it complementary to the existing platforms?

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Darlene Jackson is a published writer with many years of experience in digital publishing, advertising, and public relations. Her diverse assignments include stints with Chicago Public Media, The Chicago Tribune, and various print and online media and communication outlets. She is currently pursuing a master's degree at Northwestern University.

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