Fixing the digital workplace fragmentation issue. Discussion with Richard Hughes (Broadvision).

A few weeks ago I wrote about the issues raised by the fragmentation of the digital workplace. That’s a very important matter and I had the chance to go further into it during a discussion with Richard Hughes, Director of Social Strategy at Broadvision. We talked about his solution called Vmoso and the importance of not only having collaboration tools talking to each other but also to have them integrated with other enterprise applications.

Hi Richard. Could you tell me what Vmoso is exactly?

Richard Hughe
Richard Hughes, social strategy director, BroadVision.
Credit: Professional Images

It’s an integrated business communication and collaboration platform that helps people work together more efficiently. That’s not just about making it easy to send each other messages, it’s about organizing all the information that’s generated in those discussions so that it’s easy to find and navigate– not just now, but also months after the discussion has finished. I like to say that Vmoso is where knowledge management meets mobile collaboration.

What kind of solutions can be unified in Vmoso?

There are five main components of Vmoso.

  • Messaging – both short-form, like instant messaging, and long-form, like email.
  • File sharing – most “real work” involves sharing files of some sort, and that needs to be completely integrated in to the same access control system as the messaging.
  • Social networking – some communication is obviously between small groups of people, but other communication is more blog-like, where a much wider audience can read and comment on the content.
  • Task management – when you ask someone to do something in Vmoso, you can be precise about who needs to do it, who’s included just FYI, and when it needs to be done by.
  • Contact management – maintaining your address book of all the people you work with.

It’s clear that the digital workplace is a very fragmented environment. Did you design Vmoso as the response to this fragmentation? And, more broadly, what’s the strategy behind Vmoso ?

Yes, addressing fragmentation is very much one of the goals of Vmoso. I’m really pleased to be asked about fragmentation, because it’s a subject that doesn’t get anything like as much attention as it should. People talk a lot about email’s failings, which you could summarize as (1) information overload – too many messages and inadequate ways of managing them, and (2) lack of accountability – the way you constantly have to chase people and ask them why they never replied to your email or did what you asked them to do. Most people recognise these issues, but they find it much harder to agree on the solution. There’s always another shiny new mobile app that they think will rid them of email’s problems. But everyone picks different apps, which leads to more and more fragmentation of communication and organizational knowledge across all sorts of different, incompatible services.

It’s worth considering the difference between “communication fragmentation” and “knowledge fragmentation”. If the people within your company use 10 different instant messaging tools to send “I’ll be 10 minutes late” messages, does it matter? Not really. But if those communications are carry corporate knowledge that you might need to go back to months or years later, that’s a much more serious problem. Which system was that sales contract approved in? Do you even have access to it any more now the person who wrote it has left the company? Knowledge fragmentation is a very serious risk to companies, and people have fallen into it with the good intention of trying to solve email’s problems.

So Vmoso is aiming to address all three of these business communication challenges, overload, accountability and fragmentation.

Why did you adopt a « mobile only » approach? Fragmentation happens on every screen

Vmoso isn’t mobile only – it works equally well on both mobile and desktop web browsers. But the question raises a really important point. Lots of new communication tools are “mobile-first” or even “mobile-only” – mobile is where all the buzz in the technology industry is at the moment, and mobile is increasingly the preferred communication platform for consumers.

But business communication is a little different. Sure, there are certain types of worker who have benefited immensely from mobile – people likes sales reps or field engineers who are always out of the office. But we have to remember that in a lot of companies, the majority of workers are still desk-based – they’ve got a mouse and a keyboard and a big screen, and they’re naturally going to use that for communication instead of their phone.

So mobile is essential for business communication these days, but mobile-only would discriminate against a lot of workers. So instead of “mobile-first”, I prefer terms like device-independence and location-independence. Vmoso gives users the ability to choose the device and location that suits them best for the task in hand, enables them to switch seamlessly between devices and get a consistent experience wherever they are.

So, Vmoso is not limited to Broadvision’s products but can integrate with many other solution?

Yes, the Vmoso mobile and web apps are built entirely on the Vmoso API, so it’s entirely feasible to integrate it to your existing enterprise apps, either for backend data integration, or to add Vmoso into the user interface of your app.

So, for example, that might be simply to give access to a file store – we integrate with Google Drive so that you can select files you have stored in Google and make them form part of a discussion on Vmoso.

Or it might be something much more sophisticated – we’ve done an integration with SugarCRM so that a Vmoso discussion could take place in the context of a customer service case. CRM systems are great for recording who the customer is, what they asked, and what you did about it. But they’re much weaker about the collaboration that goes on in order to resolve the case. Consider, for example, the customer of a telco who has reported a fault their line and needs an engineer sent out to look at it. Even a small-scale collaboration between the customer service agent, the engineer and the customer can become very inefficient when there’s no single source of truth about who said what. So if every CRM case has a corresponding Vmoso discussion the communication is far more efficient. For the customer service agent, the Vmoso discussion is integrated into their CRM interface; for the engineer it’s available from their mobile device; and the customer could use the Vmoso web or mobile apps, or participate through email thanks to Vmoso’s email integration.

Those are the types of real-world collaborations that Vmoso is trying to make more efficient, and integration is vital to these, because the enterprise systems of record often form the context which triggers the collaboration.

Do you see Vmoso as a collaboration solution, which is Broadvision historical market or do you think it also compete with Identity Management Solution… and, in this case, how does it compare to solutions like Okta or complement them?

Vmoso is definitely a communication and collaboration solution. I wouldn’t describe it as identity management. Obviously there’s an overlap between collaboration and identity, but we’d usually expect an organization to have an existing identity authority – something like Active Directory. You can certainly use Vmoso without a directory server, but even in that case I wouldn’t describe it as identity management.

What are the other market challenges addressed by Vmoso? 

I’ve talked a lot about communication inside an organization so far. But Vmoso is also about improving the way organizations communicate with their customers, and their business partners. A lot of new collaboration tools are purely internally-focused, but Vmoso is very much about bridging the gap between internal and external communication.

As a consumer, it can be really frustrating communicating online with your phone company, your electricity supplier, or even big retailers. If you phone them, you get stuck in automated response systems; if you email them you can have to wait 48 hours or longer for a reply; and customer service via social media is often just a marketing façade in front of the traditional service channels. Vmoso gives companies an opportunity to provide their customers with a single point of contact for customer service discussions where all the previous history is retained for both sides to see.

Do you already have measured benefits for your clients using Vmoso?

Our assertion is that Vmoso can save you an hour a day by making the way you communicate and collaborate more efficient. Of course, the exact figure will depend a lot on the sort of job you do. McKinsey published a report called “The social economy: unlocking value and productivity through social technologies” on just how much time “knowledge workers” spend on communication and searching for information. They estimated that social technologies could raise productivity by 20 to 25%. The report is nearly 4 years old now, but it’s as relevant today as it was in 2012. It’s precisely the inefficiencies identified here – time spent communicating and searching for knowledge – that Vmoso addresses.

Of course, one of the things that makes it difficult to quantify the exact benefit is that nobody (well, almost nobody) ever measures how much time they spent with their old, inefficient system. They know something is wrong, but struggle to measure it accurately. So one of the parts of our Vmoso implementation methodology is to start with an audit of the tools and processes in use now, and from this identify where improvements are most likely to be found. Then, as the project goes on, we measure against those objectives defined at the start of the project.

BD : Thanks a lot Richard.


Image Credit : Puzzle by dotshock Via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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