Messaging, Slack, and Facebook - It's Complicated

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Messaging, Slack, and Facebook - It's Complicated

By Jon Arnold, Principal, J Arnold & Associates  |  May 05, 2017

My last Rethinking Communications article focused on CPaaS – communications platform as a service – and how it seems to be displacing UC as we’ve come to know it. The collaboration space – however you define it – is a moving target, and as much as CPaaS may provide comfort for representing the current state of things, it’s not.

While it’s good to know the current state of CPaaS, messaging-based platforms are yet another strain that need to be in the conversation for a few reasons. First, I have written about them here before, but a lot has changed, even in the past few months. Second, none of these variations have hard-coded boundaries.

The CPaaS value proposition is built around open APIs that allow developers to build custom applications, and some of these are very much about messaging. Conversely, messaging platforms – aka team collaboration, aka enterprise messaging, aka workstream communications – are messaging-centric. There may be APIs involved, but that’s not the focus.

Look at the big picture: the collaboration spectrum

In short, it’s complicated, and before getting too bogged down in choosing one platform over another, you need to step back and consider what I call the collaboration spectrum. When UC came to market a few years back – the exact time is highly debatable, and some would say it’s been over 10 years – it was the first and only solution developed to integrate all our communications modes so we could collaborate more effectively.

For a while, UC was the market, but with both technology and workplace demographics changing, other variations have emerged. First generation UC platforms were premises-based, but with the cloud going mainstream, we now have the hosted version – UCaaS – UC as a service. Now, IT decision-makers had two choices to make – which UC offering to choose, and then which deployment model. Since then, the cloud has become even more disruptive in terms of the variety of offerings as well as who is offering them, and with that, we have more variations.

Three in particular must be considered for this analysis, but others exist depending on how you define collaboration. Two have been addressed already – CPaaS and enterprise messaging – with the third being CCaaS, contact center as a service. CCaaS is another variation altogether, and I will address that in my next column.

For now, the main takeaway is that whatever platform you consider for collaboration, it should be considered in this broader spectrum of options, as each offers a distinct set of use cases. This is important, not just to know about the range of options, but also how there will be some crossover of applications among them.

Messaging platforms – it’s bigger than Slack

I’ve written here about messaging before, but a lot has changed. While there is some overlap with CPaaS, these platforms will very much appeal to workers who find messaging a highly efficient way to communicate. This is where Slack has achieved great mindshare, and while it’s tempting to think of this as a millennial-based trend, it’s much broader. Digital immigrants are also avid messaging users, mainly because it’s so easy to use. As such, it’s starting to change how workers communicate and collaborate, and this is where things get even more complicated.

Once messaging becomes the go-to application for communicating – often at the expense of email and telephony activity – the parameters for a collaboration platform change significantly. When call control and real-time communication are no longer the core drivers, the field of potential providers opens up. Slack is the best-known example of purpose-built messaging platforms – and there are many others in that pool – players you wouldn’t normally consider entering the space. How about Google (News - Alert), Microsoft, and Facebook? They’re certainly household names, but not what comes to mind when thinking about messaging.

It’s understandable if the messaging discussion begins and ends with Slack, but as 2017 unfolds, expect to hear a lot more about Google G Suite, Microsoft Teams, and Facebook (News - Alert) Workplace. The dynamics among these offerings is actually quite complex, as they are all moving quickly to make strategic moves to minimize the impact of Slack on their communities. There’s a lot at stake here, as messaging platforms can be very sticky, and being based on the freemium model, things are happening fast.

Each one of these entries warrants further discussion, but for now, I need to emphasize how the collaboration landscape is evolving. In that regard, the title of my last piece applies equally well here – “Just When You Thought UC was the Answer”. Whereas CPaaS was the focus of that post, the story here is about messaging.

If your office environment has become very quiet lately – because the phones aren’t ringing and nobody is typing emails on their PCs – chances are they’re all messaging on mobile devices. If that’s the case, it’s time to think carefully about the collaboration spectrum, and to make sure you choose a solution that reflects how your employees are actually communicating.


Jon Arnold (News - Alert) is principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy with a focus on IP communications, and writes the Analyst 2.0 blog. Previously, he was the VoIP program leader at Frost & Sullivan.

Edited by Alicia Young
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