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As we enter the final stages of 2015, I reflect upon what has been happening in the collaboration space. We’ve seen the emergence of mobile collaboration and its impact on how people work. The workforce is more mobile than ever; this dictates flexibility in the collaboration tools people use to get their jobs done and interact with each other. An underlying theme throughout all of this change has been the emergence of collaboration platform as a service (PaaS) offerings.

As the overall PaaS space matures, unified communications and collaboration (UCC) vendors are investing heavily in acquisitions to integrate their communication and collaboration capabilities into business applications. This is a big driver behind collaboration PaaS.

During 2015, we have seen a flurry of activity by UCC providers to acquire PaaS capabilities that can embed communication and collaboration into business applications, processes and services. Cisco acquired Tropo, which had a PaaS platform; Unify opened up its Circuit mobile collaboration platform to a whole ecosystem of developers; Avaya acquired Esna, whose platform enabled communications and collaboration capabilities to be embedded in business applications. This is a significant trend as the collaboration market expands to include PaaS as the new way to deliver collaboration capabilities.

With context, content becomes the focal point around which people collaborate.

We are at an inflection point in the collaboration market, where business units are driving technology procurement decisions that focus on enabling people to interact and get their work done to support business outcomes. Several mega trends are converging to cause dynamic changes in the collaboration market. Cloud, mobile and the growing application program interface (API) economy are taking communication and collaboration out of proprietary stacks and embedding them into the business applications, processes and services that people do their work in. This revolution has caused the ongoing emergence of business-led API architectures with measurable business outcomes as the driving requirement.

For years, we’ve discussed contextual collaboration as the goal. The barrier has been proprietary systems that can’t be extended beyond a particular vendor’s technology stack. Questions often asked are: Why can’t the enterprise collaboration capabilities I use daily transfer over to the business applications that I live and work in? If I live in a customer relationship management (CRM) application all day, where is the capability to launch into a real-time collaborative chat, with audio and video, to create or annotate content while keeping the context of what we’re working on?

So, a key problem for business users is context switching. Due to the lack of a universal identity across applications, people traditionally had to leave their business apps and switch to a collaboration platform to communicate, thereby, losing the context of the interaction. The move to embed collaboration into business apps is a step toward fixing the lack of context that has plagued collaboration for years. With context, content becomes the focal point around which people collaborate.

We’re seeing many new communication and collaboration PaaS players emerging to enable business applications. Service providers are partnering with these vendors to build developer ecosystems around their services. PaaS has merged with infrastructure as a service (IaaS) in the cloud, democratizing the building and deployment of applications. This is why larger and traditional collaboration providers, such as Cisco, are making moves to not get left behind in this space.

We anticipate many more vendor moves in this area as business leaders and users continually require collaboration capabilities to be extended into the applications and processes they care about. This is about collaboration where it matters to people and helping them get their work done.

Dave Smith is the research director and lead analyst for collaboration at Aragon Research. Previously, Mr. Smith was a research analyst at Gartner, where he covered collaboration and web conferencing. Follow him on Twitter @DaveMario.

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