Team Collaboration: Why Everybody Is Rushing to Pick Up the Slack

Special Supplement

Team Collaboration: Why Everybody Is Rushing to Pick Up the Slack

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  May 05, 2017

Team collaboration is among the hottest trends in business communications today.

Companies are designing open workspaces in an effort to better enable collaboration. Just look at the new donut-shaped campus Apple is building. Its design mirrors the move away from top-down bureaucracy and emphasizes the idea of teams (or circles) of employees.

The desire to encourage team collaboration has given rise to a new strain of conference room called the huddle room to allow for more casual and sometimes ad hoc meetings. And both unified communications companies and newcomers like Slack offer tools to enable interactions with more than two people.

Some Survey Stats

IntelliCom Analytics (News - Alert) recently surveyed TMCnet readers about their use of team collaboration solutions. Close to half of the respondents of the January survey indicated that their organization was using a team collaboration solution on a sanctioned basis, with a slight edge favoring dedicated enterprise solutions over public services.

Here are some other details from the survey:

  • 10.1 percent said some of their employees are utilizing consumer services like Slack on an unsanctioned basis.
  • 21.9 percent said their organization is using a consumer-oriented service like Slack on a sanctioned basis.
  • 23 percent said their organization has deployed an enterprise solution like Cisco Spark or Unify Circuit on a sanctioned basis.
  • 32 percent said they are not currently using team collaboration in their environment, but are reviewing future options.
  • 12.9 percent said they are not currently using team collaboration in their environment and have no plans for doing so.

Pick Up the Slack

Cisco and Unify were early to the team collaboration space with their respective Spark and Circuit offerings. But Slack really set this category on fire with its team collaboration app.

“Teamwork applications is an emerging and super-high growth area that features Cisco's Spark and vendors like Slack, Cotap, and Redbooth,” Synergy Research wrote in March of 2016. “Collaboration continues to be a market that is characterized by a long list of disruptive and high-growth companies, with no less than 12 companies achieving year-on-year growth rates in excess of 25 percent. We have seen lots of new cloud-based applications which have gained traction in the small office environment, and I now expect to see many of these start to penetrate mid- to high-end enterprises.”

The rise of Slack and its ilk has prompted many of the existing players in the business communications and UC arena to start talking more about team collaboration, to introduce new and improved team collaboration solutions, and even to acquire their way into this space.

A year ago Cisco and Unify made a push into team collaboration. Meanwhile, most of the other providers in business communications were taking a wait-and-see approach to this space, said analyst Frank Stinson of IntelliCom Analytics. But over the past six months, he said, it has become clear that the unified communications as a service companies need to have team collaboration solutions.

Cisco’s development of Spark was a direct response to the rapid rise in the popularity of Slack, according to analyst Jon Arnold. And Microsoft Teams, a new chat-based workspace in Office 365, is part of the software giant’s answer to Slack, Arnold added.

Stinson said Avaya is addressing team collaboration through its Zang business. Mitel (News - Alert) last year launched MiTeam, a team collaboration solution that supports content sharing, messaging, real-time voice and video meetings, and white boarding. And unified communications as a service specialist RingCentral in June of 2015 acquired team collaboration company Glip.  

RingCentral Glip is good for the entire enterprise, not just for IT teams, which is the group with which Slack has gained the most converts, said Curtis Peterson, senior vice president of operations at RingCentral. He added that Glip is now integrated with the rest of the RingCentral unified communications suite.

Just as this magazine was going to print, 8x8 announced a team collaboration acquisition of its own. In early March the company announced it has purchased Sameroom.

“The team collaboration market is continuing [to] grow and messaging apps are outpacing other popular apps,” 8x8 said in its announcement. “However, most collaboration platforms place users in communications silos due to their inability to interoperate with each other.” But with Sameroom, users can stay in their home team collaboration service and simply connect with other users’ rooms on the same or different platforms.

Multichannel workspace solutions are what customers need and are the future of business communications, not one-off solutions like those offered by Slack and its ilk, according to representatives from 8x8, BroadSoft, and RingCentral who participated in a general session at the recent ITEXPO event in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Matt McGinnis, vice president of product marketing at 8x8, during that session commented that business apps like HipChat or Slack that give users another million notifications are not the answer. A workspace with integrated voice and other modes of communication is where things are going, he said, “and I think it’s going to change the world.”


But Slack is part of the larger trend of shadow IT. That is, the ability for workers to acquire and employ the productivity tools of their choice without requiring IT staffers to get involved.

Facebook & Google (News - Alert) Join the Fray

Google in March announced Hangouts Chat, which is now available through an early adopter program.

It includes dedicated virtual rooms so users can create lasting homes for their projects. Threaded conversations allow for easy tracking of team progress, and a filterable search tool help locate content in team interactions.

Hangouts Chat has deep integration with G Suite, allowing users to share content from Drive and Docs. It also supports bots, simple scripting using Google App Script, and will have integrations with such third-party applications as Asana, Box, Prosperworks, and Zendesk.

Google previously announced it was working with Slack on joint product and engineering efforts. In December it blogged that will strengthen the link between the content in Google Drive and the communication in Slack.

At the same time, Facebook – which Arnold noted is a total outsider to the enterprise world – is making a push into team collaboration.

In October Facebook launched its Workplace collaboration platform. It’s an app combining chat messenger, productivity features, and social networking capabilities in an effort to help teams work together online.

“It’s an app,” said Facebook leader Mark Zuckerberg (News - Alert), “but I think about it more as a way of running a company.”

More from Cisco & Microsoft

While everybody and their brother seems to be running at the team collaboration opportunity, unified communications leaders Cisco and Microsoft have been expanding on their offers in this space.

Microsoft has introduced a solution called the Surface Hub. It’s a large touch screen designed for videoconferencing and whiteboard sessions. Microsoft in October also talked about how it is bringing Skype for Business into its meeting room experiences with Microsoft Surface Hub and its Skype Room Systems, which are powered by gear from Crestron, Logitech, and Polycom.

And Cisco in January came out with some new Spark features and introduced the Cisco Spark Board. Users can employ the Cisco Spark Board for videoconferencing. They also can write on it with an electronic stylus and share their scribbling.

The new solution also features Cisco Proximity technology, which knows who users are as they enter the conference room, explained Marcus Schmidt, director of product management at West Unified Communications (News - Alert), a UCaaS company that relies heavily on Cisco technology. (As I’ve written in the past, Avaya offers something similar.)

“It’s pretty snazzy,” said Schmidt of the Cisco Spark Board, who in January was awaiting arrival of shipments of the new technology.

Edited by Alicia Young


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