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9 Collaboration Tool Trends for 2017

December 15, 2016

9 Collaboration Tool Trends for 2017

Improving ways for teams to collaborate continues to be a key driver for innovation and productivity. The enterprise collaboration market is expected to grow to $70.61 billion by 2019. How will the collaboration tools teams are using change throughout 2017? Here are the top nine collaboration tool trends I’m tracking for 2017:

1. Growth of both mega-app and APIs to integrate with the BYOA single-purpose apps.

The collaboration tool eco-system is becoming more interdependent and flexible. The planetary mega-apps provide different gravity centers, often endeavoring to handle almost every aspect of your workflow and project management. Spinning around these mega-apps is a wide variety of other celestial bodies – the single-purpose apps, like networking or document management apps. The sheer volume of all these apps means the consumer (your employees) has easy access and capability to choose exactly the tools they want to use. So do your clients. The result is that the collaboration mega-apps will become more open than ever, expanding their API directories to integrate with more single-purpose apps and accommodate the growing BYOA nature of today's corporate IT. This is great news. A more, dare I say, collaborative approach by the mega-tools will save them from becoming content or management information silos in their own right. Without integrations, the mega-tool would, simply become the walled garden it's trying to escape.

2. More contextual team messaging.

Collaboration tools will accommodate the fluid nature of teams by creating more discussion channels that provide better context to their discussions. The means of communication — messaging, real-time chat (text and video) — are already here. But hundreds of chat apps like Slack and Yammer have had real challenges with members being able to find relevant parts of the discussion – or to even know that a certain discussion occurred. Many team messaging apps have become more like Twitter streams – filled with hundreds of messages, and not all of them relevant to work at hand. Team members need to catch the discussion as it's happening or end up sifting through the chat logs to try to find the relevant pieces of the discussion. We'll start to see messaging threads evolve to be anchored directly to work product, so context is immediately available for people joining the conversation. Connecting conversations to context will allow anyone interested in that work product to see all past discussions touching it, even if they weren't part of the original discussion. We'll also see collaboration tools create more space for people to have 1:1 chats or threaded discussion for subgroups of larger teams as needed that all connect back to the right context.

3. More real-time collaboration.

Part of more effective team messaging will be how it supports more real-time collaboration for teams. Geographic distribution of team members continues to grow as technology makes it easier to collaborate across time and space. Screen-sharing and document editing within collaboration tools lets teams iterate more quickly. Virtual white boards and group video chats will let virtual teams brainstorm and work with momentum through the messy creative process – expect these real-time collaboration features to crop up in many more products in 2017.

4. Rise of intelligent collaboration bots to automate tasks and conversations.

Alexa, Cortana, and Siri are already familiar names. Bots scan the email on our phones to notify us when it sees what looks like an event, and ask if it should it to our calendar. These sorts of communication and task bots will come to collaboration tools – in some ways they’re already here, in simple form. They'll be able to scan a discussion thread and schedule tasks and meetings based on what it reads. Team members will be able to use bots to retrieve a document or search a thread and surface other relevant data in real-time.

5. Extract deeper insights from company's collaborative practices — the rise of AI in business intelligence.

Bots will be helpful here too. As artificial intelligence capabilities grow, including the ability for bots to accurately process natural language, collaboration tools will offer business intelligence on how your company, or certain teams within your company, collaborate. This business intelligence will be able to find where team work is breaking down, and where it is thriving. Eventually this AI could help businesses improve operations by identifying effective recipes for collaboration. Where collaboration is working, what sorts of processes are improving efficiency and productivity, and which are just the feel-good, "we had a meeting about that" collaborative red herrings.

6. More visual UI makes collaboration tools more intuitive.

Improved visuals will come in two ways. First, the mega-tools will become easier to use by becoming more visually intuitive. The ubiquity of apps has created clear expectations about how they should work. Tapping, scrolling, or swiping – we instinctively look for the visual markers that tell us which of these actions will get us deeper into the data or functionality of an app. Expect more use of visual clues that build on well-known user behavior models.

The second area is how visuals will be used to communication information. We know humans process visual data faster and are more likely to remember it, than pure text. This was the thinking behind the data dashboard craze of the '90s. Visual data design will become more tightly integrated in collaboration apps to communicate states of progress, priority, active work product, and real-time action for the whole organization.

7. Integration with more IoT devices.

As more devices get connected to the Internet, collaboration tools will be able to process and use that information.

  • Need to know where an errant team member is before a meeting? Just ask your internet connected assistant to track them down for you. And when the meeting finally starts, that same “assistant” is transcribing those meeting notes for your team.
  • Need to “drop in” on a colleague in another office? Just “knock” on their office wi-fi camera to instantly start a videoconference.
  • Run an industrial or production business? You can track monitor, control and analyze devices in a factory with a coworker halfway around the world without leaving your desk.
  • Have a meeting coming up with a colleague for a tour of the new office? It’s the future, you’re not even really “there”, you’re attending the tour as a video collaboration robot.

8. Augmented and virtual reality become more common in the workplace.

Augmented reality has had its downs-and-ups, from Google Glass' failure to Pokémon Go!'s wild success. AR has come a long way. In 2016, surgeons are already collaborating on surgery using AR as an educational tool. In 2017 we’ll see AR become much more prevalent in the medical sciences, and in several other industries as well. While it’s still early to tell how this technology will translate to “desk work”, expect 2017 to bring lots of potential applications to light.

Virtual reality will become more physical. Headsets can put everyone in a virtual conference room together and it will seem as though you're all in the same room. And although vision and hearing are the first of our senses VR addresses – touch and smell aren't far behind (remember Sensorama?). But for VR to become truly ubiquitous, wireless technology will need to catch up — and it will, just a bit further down the road. Just imagine the new experiences this technology will offer brands and customers to create and engage in entirely new ways.

9. Expected and measurable ROI on collaborative tools.

Like the second phase of "we've got an app for that," the novelty of collaborative tools has gone. Such tools will now have to be able to quantify the value they add to your business's productivity and bottom line vs. how much of a distraction they become. The tool may be speeding up project timelines, shrinking staffing needs, or having some other positive, quantitative impact. In 2017 expect these tools to start leveraging this data to prove their worth.

Notice a theme?

The consistent theme these trends share is connection. 2017 is going to see tools, team members, discussions, workflows, and content connecting in new, and more importantly, truly productive ways. We want our work and collaboration tools to integrate into our work lives with the same seamless ease as Netflix suggests what movie we might want to watch next.

Will we arrive there in 2017? In some cases yes, in others, perhaps not quite. Regardless, we're going to have a heck of a ride!