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I remember hearing some politician describe the legislative process by quoting an old Borscht Belt joke:

      “How’s your [husband/wife/etc.]?”

      “Compared to what?”

What this politico meant was that you couldn’t just talk about whether a proposed law was good or bad; what mattered was: What are the alternatives? How tolerable is the status quo?

I think the same thing is true with a lot of the decisions that enterprises make about their communications systems: Is New Product X a good product? Compared to what?

These musings came to me after a conversation I had recently with someone about Microsoft Teams, the Team Collaboration application due to replace Skype for Business on Microsoft’s roadmap over the next several years. During our chat, I got an interesting response when I told him I’d heard several enterprise IT folks express pleasant surprise that their users were already pretty happy with the current version of Teams -- defying the old maxim that Microsoft gets it right on the third try, whereas we’re really only on the second release of Teams, at best. Instead of describing how much better end users were finding Teams relative to Skype for Business, he started talking about how much easier it is to use for certain tasks than SharePoint -- Microsoft’s collaborative document-management system.

I realized that I’d actually heard some version of this particular comment in a few of the other conversations I’ve had with enterprise folks about Teams. I’d kind of let it slide by at the time, because I was focused on trying to learn whether Teams really was better than Skype for Business. But it turns out that some end users -- whatever they may think about the other aspects of Teams -- really like Teams because it lets them do what they’re used to doing with SharePoint, but more easily.

This dynamic is worth keeping in mind as we move into the next generation of cloud-based communications.

Another topic that came up in my conversation about Microsoft is the fact that some new features will only be available online -- which is something that I think enterprises will find across vendor offerings as they move into a hybrid cloud world. Even as some legacy features from the on-premises world will never be replicated in a cloud offering, similarly some new features will only be offered in the as-a-service version.

Then, on top of this trend, we’ll see features and functions that an enterprise can add to its overall communications environment via communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS), potentially in addition to the communications platform that it uses.

It all adds up to an environment that’s likely to be heterogeneous, and that’s before you even get to the part where your enterprise acquires another company or is acquired, at which point you inherit a whole bunch of stuff that’s completely different from what you’ve had.

In the end, wherever you’re trying to take your end users will depend a lot on where they’re starting from, and that will require a knowledge of what they do with the tools they have. Then when you roll out a new tool and ask how it’s doing, you’ll understand what it’s being compared to.