Popular Channels are Always in Flux, Keep them Covered in Intelligent Communication Fabric

You can’t have a serious discussion about conversational AI or hyperautomation without talking about communication channels. Interactions with an organization, whether coming from a team member or a customer, might use any number of channels: website, social media, email, Slack, MS Teams, telephone, SMS, video call, rich web chat, etc. This means every organization has to maintain their own menagerie of solutions that are often held together by the digital equivalent of duct tape and zip ties.

Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of huge players vying for control of all the communication channels, but none of them have been able to pull it off. Both Microsoft Teams and rival Slack integrate with a variety of other productivity tools like Asana, Trello, and Zoom, which can organically become their own communication channels for specific use cases within an organization. There are also curious integrations like Disco—”a solution that rallies your entire company around your core values … give public shout-outs and congratulate your colleagues in real-time”—that feel more like advanced functionalities. Despite the cornucopia of integrations, both Teams and Slack are customarily eviscerated for subpar functionalities on various Reddit threads, where people point to other solutions, like Discord, as a better team collaboration platform. Originally a platform for gamers, Discord also has its detractors, but can, of course, be integrated by users of Microsoft’s XBox. 

Even Apple, with their taut and contained ecosystem can’t put a seal on communication (after all, people might want or need to use their iPhones to join conferences in Teams). These mega platforms and tech companies might come close to monopolizing communication, but communication channels are trendy. New channels often emerge in the form of new products that change the way whole segments of the population interact with technology and brands. TikTok, for instance, had 1.2 billion monthly active users at the end of 2021 and is expected to hit 1.8 billion by the end of 2022. While TikTok’s user numbers are still dwarfed by FaceBook and Instagram, the app is far more popular with younger users.

This is noteworthy because, before SMS became the big thing it is now, kids were using it to communicate with friends. Parents caught on and started texting other parents. Before long parents started texting other adults, and SMS became a channel that businesses had to account for. 

This isn’t to say TikTok is going to seize the marketplace (though Microsoft did try to buy it). Niche players come and go. Occasionally they are gobbled up by big companies hoping to monopolize. Ultimately, it’s an arms race that won’t ever be won because new channels are always going to emerge. The collateral damage of massive corporations trying to monopolize something without edges is a marketplace full of organizations staggering forward under the weight of dysfunctional communication layers.

Most companies currently have some version of communication fabric, but these are patchwork quilts, not dynamic, smart sheets. Perhaps the most “intelligent” aspect of intelligent communication fabric is that its very existence acknowledges that there will never be a monopoly on communication channels. Its goal isn’t to control every channel but to connect them all in an ecosystem where channels become part of vast orchestrations that automate all kinds of processes. This flexibility future-proofs operations by allowing organizations to make solutions interchangeable. 

Not only is intelligent communication fabric a base requirement for achieving a state of hyperautomation, it’s also a logical reaction to the ebbs and flows of the communication landscape—optimizing the reality of the situation. Channels will come and go (Vine, Friendster, MySpace, Google Buzz …). Platforms will come and go (Internet Explorer, Windows phone, Sidecar …). Instead of merely accepting this paradigm organizations should give it a full and hearty embrace.

Tools exist that allow organizations to build their own intelligent communication fabric, setting them free from being the thimble in someone else’s game of Monopoly. Once hyperautomation takes hold (Gartner coined the term and considers it an “inevitable market state”) there won’t be much point in trying to monopolize communication channels. Everyone will be freely picking and choosing from a thriving network of channels, sequencing the ones they need, when they need them—plugging and unplugging at will.This means solution and platform companies won’t be able to succeed by bundling everything together in a closed-off box. They’ll have to focus on the quality and novelty of their individual channels and products, and they’ll be competing on a leveled playing field with individual software creators who are bringing their own ideas to market. This shift will have sweeping, long-term consequences that could fill a book—I actually did just that in Age of Invisible Machines (Wiley). What’s critical to understand, however, is that it doesn’t make sense to settle on one vendor and nobody has to anymore.

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