You’re already familiar with computer-centric communications. Electronic communication has existed for decades, evolving and adapting to its current ubiquity. Enormous amounts of text and voice communications are now carried by networks and servers. And communicating by electronic voice and data transfer is a core part of every facet of life, including business, personal, recreational, and civic.
But not for everyone. One of my peers frequently says, “I don’t do meetings or phone calls. I use computers.” Yet over the past six months I’ve seen this man:
- Present a PowerPoint slide deck in both WebEx and GoToMeeting
- Share his screen with GoToMyPC and VNC
- Participate in video conference calls with Skype, Lync, and Google Talk
- Send SMS and group MMS messages
- Broadcast his current location, activities, interests, and solicitations for companionship on Twitter and Facebook
- Call friends and relatives from his iPad with Voice over IP software
How is this not the same? How does he assert his aversion to meetings and phone calls yet participate in countless activities that are nearly identical?
The difference is in the cloud. Rather, the difference is the advantages of using the cloud to unify communication. Those advantages changed his definition of meetings from an uncomfortable chore to an enjoyable experience that adapts to fit his communications needs.
The concept of communications is far too broad to analyze in one big piece. I could compare digital to analog, voice to data, phone to PC to in-person, 1:1 to 1:many, and so on. But to best make sense of how the cloud helps facilitate all these, I’ll divide the problem into synchronous and asynchronous communications. And for each I’ll explain how the cloud is really the best way to go. In this context, synchronous simply means nearly real-time or interactive communications: a phone call, simultaneous document editing, and text chat. Asynchronous means delays are all right during the communication like you see in e-mail, recorded video, shared files, and SMS messaging.
Using the Cloud to Leverage the Field
Having an interactive conversation remains a necessity, but our definition of a conversation adapts as our culture and world changes. For example, consider a business with research and development in Israel, project management in the United States, and manufacturing in China. This model is common today, but not long ago this model was considered impractical, largely due to difficulties in communication between the resources. How would this model work today?
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Simple: You leverage cloud computing. Cloud offerings offer rich synchronous communication, and they deliver interactive voice, video, and data sharing by hosting the complex server hardware and software resources necessary to make it seem simple. These cloud communication services enable you to leverage the single common denominator in today’s tech world: network bandwidth. To meet the synchronous communications needs of your worldwide project team, you can use a simple cloud-based platform like Skype.
And let us not forget that other important feature: cost. Most cloud-based synchronous communications platforms are inexpensive to deploy and manage, and they charge based on use or feature requirements. Even better, there are other platforms such as Skype and Join.me that are completely free.
Tying It All Together
As a well-known paradigm, e-mail is the easiest example of asynchronous communications. But since e-mail is really designed for sharing text and the occasional attached file, it has tremendous limitations. SMS and MMS messaging have begun to overtake e-mail for asynchronous communications, but they too are relatively limited. Cloud solutions have broken these boundaries with a new marketing term: the collaboration solution.
A collaboration solution isn’t mysterious or convoluted–it’s a one-stop shop for a slew of asynchronous communication features including file server, calendar, message board, and task manager. At first glance, you may think that you already meet these needs, and you’d be both right and wrong: You already host separate services that individually meet most of these needs. The benefits of having a single cloud service that binds these together cannot be underestimated. Tying a project milestone to a calendar reminder, a set of files, and a discussion thread about the milestone is a boon to efficiency and nearly impossible when using separate legacy platforms.
Interestingly, there is an important similarity between asynchronous and synchronous cloud communications platforms in that most are inexpensive and many are free. Some, such as Microsoft SharePoint, actually function better in a cloud-hosting scenario due to the complex requirements for deployment and maintenance. It’s usually better to sign up for a monthly subscription and have all of this in place before you’re finished closing the browser window.
Keep It Simple
Now, it would be difficult to expect any single communications style or method to fulfill all the needs of your organization, just as you can’t tell your family to use e-mail instead of using the phone or SMS messaging. However, you can greatly simplify communications by using the strength of the cloud for your communications platform.
When I recommend a communications platform, I’m looking to get the biggest bang for the buck. That is, I look for the fewest services and applications that deliver everything my users need. So a VoIP application is useful, but a VoIP application that also enables video chat, SMS, screen sharing, group communications, and file sharing is even better for my users. Delivering two cloud services to users is generally sufficient to cover most communications needs. In my experience, I usually choose one service that delivers great synchronous communications, while the other excels at asynchronous.
Will every user use every feature of every cloud service that I provide? Hell no! But I’d rather deploy and teach users about a single cloud application than a dozen, even if the majority use a fraction of the cloud’s potential.