In order to understand what this new post-pandemic landscape may look like, let’s first take a look at the emergence of enterprise collaboration and how it has risen rapidly in the last five years and subsequently spiked in the current climate.
Slack and Zoom flagged the beginning of a new technology trend around 2015, catching much of the tech giants off-guard. They are now moving rapidly to catch up – innovation discussions have now become business-critical decisions. This trend has been coined as enterprise collaboration and has seen massive growth. For example here is Slack’s DAU graph:
In shaking up the collaboration market, Slack and Zoom inevitably stirred the giants and now battle lines are being drawn up with Microsoft Teams (formerly Skype) & Cisco Webex teams (formerly Webex) wading into the fray along with Google Meet (formerly Hangouts) along with other smaller players. The victor will likely be crowned in the near future and the spoils divided up much like the desktop, browser and smartphone platform wars in the past.
COVID-19 has now made collaboration (or at least Zoom) a household name by thrusting the need for connectivity with family and friends beyond something Facetime and WhatsApp can facilitate. On the enterprise side, businesses are fighting fires and seeing productivity and value generation fall through the toilet and so are flocking to tools like those mentioned above.
What was a vitamin is now a painkiller, to coin an investor phrase. This massive adoption, driven by an immediate global need, has happened because decades of technological advancement had already been laid out to facilitate it. Technology often precedes market need and in this case it is the need for video streaming that has quietly evolved in the background as our consumption has dramatically increased over the last decade thanks to platforms like Youtube, Instagram, Netflix etc.
But let’s not forget the effects of smartphone video recording, improved broadband infrastructure and thus higher bandwidths, web standards (sort of) and even the internet being crowned as a human right. So even though Zoom’s valuation is skyrocketing, software always benefits from network effects, standing on the shoulders of giants and all that.
So it’s pretty clear how we got here and how this pandemic probably brought mass adoption of these technologies forward by a few years. However, again, quietly in the background we are seeing new technologies emerging that support the next stage of data consumption, one in particular is relevant to our discussion. 3D data.
But why will people need 3D data you may ask? Well just like video technology came to prominence through huge consumption increases over the years, first with internet video and then the explosion of video-enabled smartphones I believe we are moving (slowly) into this next phase of consumption.
Some good examples are current face tracking technologies that use computer vision to provide 3D experiences for the user. Now we have an explosion of ridiculous but immensely popular face filtering apps. Apple and Google are throwing their weight behind 3D scanning on mobile with support for the AR kit from Apple and AR Core from Google.
Remember – technology normally precedes perceived need. Although a lot of the current apps and content are superfluous, they are proving out all the back-end tech what vendors like Google, Apple and Microsoft (with the Hololens) need in order to commoditize 3D content and give consumers a need to buy those shiny new AR glasses that are just around the corner and will provide the next evolution in how we interact with computers.
Back in enterprise, by using Slack, Zoom, Google docs you can get a team up and collaborating with 2D data very rapidly. I know this as we extensively use Hangouts, Zoom and Slack at Masters of Pie to get our 2D work done, like spreadsheets and Scrum boards.
But what happens if your data is 3D, highly complex like a jet engine or a new reusable rocket? What happens if you have thousands of highly skilled experts, from many different departments needing to work on this data over many years? How do you enable remote working to keep your business running under pandemic conditions? You may think you are stuck with Powerpoint and Skype but luckily immersive, collaborative technology has been quietly evolving over the last five or so years.
Now we are again seeing the convergence of technologies that can provide a viable 3D solution to the sudden need for remote working during a crisis such as this (and beyond). The Hololens 2 marks a commitment by Microsoft to deliver quality augmented reality into enterprise with massive adoption being seen by the US Military. 5G and Wi-Fi 6/E are now available with device support either here or on the horizon in 2020. With these new wireless frequencies larger amounts of stable data can be pushed down the pipe. This enables collaboration of 3D data not just in the browser (as can be currently achieved with 4G/Wi-fi) but we can push data from the cloud directly to these new immersive VR/AR devices.
Once the crisis is past us, the dust settles and people start going back to work, those with complex 3D data who have adopted the above technologies will be better prepared if there are future enforced lockdowns – or even if there are not. At the very least this dramatic and unstable time has been a wake up call to businesses that not all their processes need to be onsite. Pandemic or not, they will begin to see cost savings by reducing travel of experts around the world to help train, assemble or maintain complex, expensive products . Talent can be hired globally and still be connected to the team. Designers can work concurrently on complex projects, minimising errors that are discovered at the expensive end of a product’s lifecycle. These are just a few of the examples this next generation of enterprise collaboration tools can offer.
By combining cutting edge immersive and collaborative technologies, enterprise can not only survive, but thrive in this strange new world and beyond.