One of the grand old monoliths of computer technology has succumbed to peer pressure and plunged into the world of workplace collaboration and instant video conferencing.
IBM, the first company to make regular use of transcontinental video conferencing with its pioneering work in the early 1980s, has announced it will take a video calling partner and open its virtual assistant Watson to video calls.
Big Blue will make video platform Zoom available to users of its Slack-imitating collaboration app Watson Workspace. Things have changed radically over the 30 years since IBM’s halcyon days as a video innovator, however. The once dominant company has suffered through a prolonged run of declining sales, and finds itself starting from behind Slack, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and even Facebook across all the new office battlegrounds of workplace collaboration, virtual assistants, and video calling.
The idea of IBM video conferencing is no longer novel, and the deal with Zoom may end up being more beneficial to the video vendor than the hardware specialist. For consumers, though, any new video conferencing option is promising, even if this one seems to have arrived a little late.
IBM’s Complicated Relationship with Video
IBM has had an on-again-off-again relationship with video conferencing in recent years. It was once a leader in telecommuting and flexible office arrangements, but has since recalled its remote workforce and turned its back on video as a permanent way of working–it’s a stance that seems short-sighted given that some industry leaders believe half the U.S. workforce will telecommute at least half their working lives by 2030.
At any rate, while IBM wants its workers in the office, it has conceded employees should be constantly connected to each other through a unified communications approach. Spurred by the success of Slack, that approach now centers on a central communications app that includes messaging, video calls, shared documents, and continuous interaction. It’s a market space now so crowded with big players such as Google and Microsoft that we’ve predicted a bloody consolidation is on the way, potentially starting this year.
IBM and its app Watson Workspace may be the last big video conferencing entry into the field before we start seeing one or two dominant products emerge and many others fail.
Video Calling with Watson
Watson Workspace was launched in fall of 2016, which makes it curious that IBM waited until now to add a prominent video partner. The Workspace platform works on the basic Slack principle of group messaging integrated into a daily workflow. It’s intended as a single point of entry into an employee’s entire working day–a place to collaborate on projects and share that same project’s development across the office.
The difference is, of course, Watson. IBM wants to use its virtual assistant to filter out all the noise that comes from sharing an open portal with an entire team. Watson will help workers organize and prioritize the information they receive and make suggestions about who they should seek out for assistance and approval.
You can see the ideal version of Watson Workplace in action below:
The new partnership with Zoom means video conferencing will be embedded alongside Watson within the broader app. The goal is to encourage seamless transitions from chat to live face-to-face video calls–and to make video conferencing more accessible for internal and external meetings.
The trouble is, notwithstanding Watson’s ability to out-assist Cortana or Alexa, we’ve seen this all before. Skype has owned a stable of bots designed to do this very thing for years now, and Google and Amazon are already integrating their AI services into their own video platforms. Slack itself now has a competitive native video option integrated into its broad collaboration app.
In the end Zoom, not IBM, may be the real winner here.
IBM Video Conferencing via Zoom
We at VC Daily have recently put Zoom’s video offering up against a couple of competitors and given it first place each time. Compared to both GoToMeeting and BlueJeans it won our vote due to its price, depth of features, and clean, reliable presentation.
What it can’t compete with, however, is all-in-one apps like Watson Workspace, or more accurately, Skype Teams and Google Hangouts Meet. These apps covet the same video clientele as Zoom, but bring with them feature-rich and well-established tools like Office 365 and G Suite, and the collaboration function of Slack.
Zoom is unlikely, or plain unwilling or unable, to create such complex virtual office spaces, so the best approach for it and its video-only peers is to adopt a can’t-beat-’em-join-’em attitude. That means making deals like this one with IBM and as many other workplace clients as possible, and trying to provide a better dedicated video service than the ones those jack-of-all-trade giants can muster.
Such a deal also has advantages for IBM. It lets Big Blue concentrate its efforts on the broader offering and the prowess of Watson itself, which is what gives them a point of difference they can market. Our question, though, is: Would the fact that Watson is smarter than Alexa and Zoom is clearer than Skype make you change the way your office works? In the end, it might just come down to that question.