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?

By Bill Detwiler

Bill Detwiler is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic 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 support specialist in the ...