Collaboration

IBM predicts demise of traditional offices

During his VoiceCon Orlando 2008 keynote, Mike Rhodin, General Manager of IBM Lotus software, predicted five future trends that IBM believes "reshape the way businesses and workers communicate and collaborate." Bill Detwiler, TechRepublic's Head Technology Editor, offers his insights on which predictions are likely to come true and asks for your opinion.

During his VoiceCon Orlando 2008 keynote, Mike Rhodin, General Manager of IBM Lotus software, predicted five future trends that IBM believes "reshape the way businesses and workers communicate and collaborate."

VoiceCon Orlando 2008 - Michael Rhodin keynote

Considering IBM said earlier this month it will invest $1 billion over the next three years in the unified communications market, the company better hope their predictions come true and lead to a "fast-growing unified communications market."

In a March 19 press release, IBM outlined Rhodin's predictions. Here's the list and my take on whether I think they're likely to come true. I'd love you hear your opinions.

  1. The Virtual Workplace will become the rule. This is probable, but not a guarantee. According to IBM, "social networking tools and virtual world meeting experiences will simulate the feeling of being there in person." In a May 30, 2007 press release, Nemertes Research published the results of in-depth interviews with 120 IT executives. Nemertes found that 62 percent of participants plan to increase the number of their branch-office locations, and on average, branch offices will grow 11 percent in 2007. Furthermore, more than 80 percent of companies have at least some employees who work away from their supervisor and/or workgroups, and on average, classify 27 percent of their employees as virtual. Nemertes believes global expansion, employee attraction and retention, merger and acquisitions, cost savings, and environmental concerns are all driving the growth of branches offices. Yet, some companies have recently scaled back their virtual workforce. In mid-2006, HP required that some IT workers return to an office. In late 2007, AT&T recalled scores of teleworkers. As with most new technologies and systems, telecommuting isn't right for every workplace or worker.
  2. Instant Messaging and other real-time collaboration tools will become the norm, bypassing e-mail. I agree with IBM on this one and believe two factors are driving this trend. First, when compared with IM, group chat, and desktop sharing, e-mail is an inefficient means of quick communication or group interaction. Second, younger individual joining the workforce are more comfortable with and even prefer real-time communication tools like texting and IM.
  3. Beyond Phone Calls to Collaborative Business Processes. IBM believes "companies will go beyond initial capabilities like click-to-call and presence to deep integration with business process and line-of-business applications, where they can realize the greatest benefit." Wow. That's a mouthful. But, I think IBM is predicting that organizations will integrate UC functionally in other software such as sales applications, supply chain systems, accounting systems, and so forth. This is already being done, and I see no reason the current trend won't continue. I agree with IBM on this one.
  4. Interoperability and Open Standards will tear down proprietary walls across business and public domains. I'd like to see this happen, but I'm more pessimistic than IBM. Standards like IP networking and the Internet's decentralized model have spurred innovation and fueled tremendous growth. But, when there's money at stake-large amounts of money. Companies tend promote their own standards and leverage their monopolies to protect profits.

New meeting models will emerge. This prediction is a given. It's actually not a predication, but an acknowledgement that things change. Regardless, the trick is to know which models will succeed and then offer products and services that support those models.

So that's IBM's list of five predictions for the future of unified communications and my take on the likelihood each will come true. What do you think?

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

12 comments
JDSAL
JDSAL

I've seen a significant rise in telecommuters for various companies and I think it is a cost effective and attractive means for distributing employees. I think it works well for a mobile sales force in where they work from home to cover the local region instead of from a central office. I could see this extending to call centers where a vast majority of the agents work from their homes and tie into the callcenter via voip and presence applications. However, I think we, IT professionals, will very likely be bound to the main offices and etc. I guess someone has to be there to shovel more coal into the boiler so to speak.

markinct
markinct

I think most people see this as working from home... I do... but until real, no kidding broadband becomes the norm, "telecommuting" will be limited. A gamer in Japan can get 100 mbps service to his apartment... in order to play Lost Planet or Halo. In order to SECURELY move the volume of data required to be as productive remotely as we are in our offices, our DSL and cable connections will have to get significantly faster...

RFink
RFink

I would love that. :) I would love to see the day that happens. Of course that would require management to get rid of its "clock watcher" and "If I can't see you." mindsets.

caremeld
caremeld

"The Virtual Workplace will become the rule." This is so typical. In my IBM Global Services group, IBM is spending all kinds of money to relocate employees to a central location, having decided that physical proximity to teammates is important. Not sure why it's important to be close to our US peers, since the trend has been to lay off 60% of US employees in this group and replace them with folks in Hyderabad and Bangalore. Apparently, global delivery works except when it doesn't. But, hey, we've all given up trying to apply any kind of logic to IBM management.

don.gulledge
don.gulledge

I've been around a while and have worked many different siutuation as a consultant and an employee. It all depends upon who you work for and how their mindset determins what you can do. I love working remotely and being able to visit a client at will to get the on-site part of doing a project. I can work, take a nap, work, mow the grass, work, take a nap, eat, work and watch Star Tek (if there was one), work and go to bed. Work at my own pace in my own way. Total freedom. However, rarely has that ever come to pass. And, when it did, you were expected to produce much more than would be normal in the eight hour day. Employers that do give this kind of freedom usually expect more in return. However, overall the mindset that seeing you work is believing you work still mostly prevails. The new tech has freed up the managers (the business manager types) so they can wheel and deal remotely in real time and I see them getting the freedom much more than us poor IT guys. I think that working remotely takes a special type of person not unlike a sales position takes a special type or a truck driver. As pointed out earlier, many are social animals and require the social interactions along with the work. I think what is missing is balance. When I was in school, our professors were given one day a week they could hire out to a company as a hired gun. They had to teach the other four. For the most part, I think it made our faculty much better because it made a situation where you had the best of both worlds, professors that were able to work for companies and were not dead in the head. I think US companies/government need to adopt the same concept where you would work 4 in the office and 1 out or 3 and 2 or some workable combination. Then, you get the best of both worlds. You'd still have to gauge the work and eliminate those that would take advantage of it. But, I think I can do a week's work at home in two days as compared to the week in the office. Depends on what I'm working on and how much dependence I have on the office. I believe it's doable, but everyone thinks of it as either out of the office or in the office. But, not both.

robert.a.salinas
robert.a.salinas

It works in our environment today. I work in California, my team mates are in other states and in other countries and my management is on the other coast. My clients are the same way. The systems I support are are between 1500 and 2500 miles away from me depending on which data center you are referring to. It has worked for us for a few years now. Not much of a prediction.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

Managing remote workers takes a different approach to be sure. But, I wouldn't count on some micromanagers giving up watching the clock just yet. Presence technology, being able to tell where individuals are and whether they are online or not, will enable managers to watch employees almost like they were located in the same office. I've seen demos of Presence products that allow you to put yourself in Private and Work modes. Could this be the next area of workplace competition? Sally was in Work mode more hours this month than Bob, so she gets the promotion.

CG IT
CG IT

We like being around people even when we we aren't that craxy about the job.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

I teach electronic classes via a community college. The problems inherent in the virtual classroom are in my experience invariably due to problems with communication via solely electronic methods (sans video). Students who need the visual cues inherent in face to face communication fare quite poorly in virtual classrooms. While the similarity between the virtual classroom and the virtual workplace may or may not be questionable, I suspect that the persons who need the visual cues of face to face communication will fare equally as poorly in the virtual workplace. FWIW I'm uncertain as to whether or not a video interface would have any positive effect in the virtual model. edit: change a word edit again: did not post at the level I thought I did... oops.

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

they are centralizing the decentralization??? Maybe it is just an excuse to rid themselves of people without laying off? Think about it, move to this location, or leave! many will decide to leave. Then, afterwards, setup those that stayed in virtual offices...

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm assuming we're not talking about having a tracking bracelet like Martha Stewart had. How could my boss tell if I'm working?

Meesha
Meesha

. . . I believe it is the type of current technology and how you use it that makes the difference. Half my teams are virtual and we've found productivity gains in our processes. We use IBM Lotus Sametime in Websphere and yes there are still some minor gaps but we've learned to use them in our interactions.

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