Team Chat Apps: Hype vs. Reality
Team chat applications are gathering a lot of interest, but enterprise adoption remains low -- giving IT time for proactive evaluation and planning.
Arguably the biggest development in the UC space over the last year or so hasn't even been UC -- rather it has been the rise of team chat applications that offer an alternative environment for collaboration outside of the traditional IM chat windows and email inboxes.
Nemertes Research defines team chat apps as those that:
- Offer persistent group collaboration spaces that include text chat, document sharing, and often voice/video/desktop sharing
- Are typically available via mobile app stores or via a browser as a cloud/software-as-a-service (SaaS) product
- Enable easy inclusion of team members from inside and outside of the corporate firewall
- Offer a freemium model designed to get users hooked, and then pay for additional functionality such as security and management
This approach for corporate apps to enter the workplace isn't new. Skype made enterprise inroads more than 10 years ago thanks to its easy ability to enable IM chats with individuals from outside of the company. Early Web conferencing apps largely were purchased by workgroups without IT involvement. Yammer, now part of Microsoft Office 365, leveraged the freemium model to drive social adoption into corporate workgroups. What has changed in the last year or two is the plethora of available applications, the mobile-first focus of so many app developers, and the demand for text-first employees to have the same capabilities at work that they enjoy through text messaging services like Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Apple Messages, and more.
Leading the team chat charge has been Slack, which now claims more than a million active users. Behind them are more than a dozen similar apps offering everything from on-premises operation (HipChat), to real-time conferencing (RingCentral Teams -- formerly Glip -- and Fuze Spaces) to task management (Asana and Redbooth) to many, many more. Even the UC vendors have gotten into the game -- Cisco with Spark and Unify with Circuit, to name two. (View slideshow, "The Email Killers: 10 Cloud-Based Team Collaboration Tools).
So with all this market momentum, enterprises must be marching in droves to embrace team chat, even replacing their UC and email platforms lest they find themselves behind the times, right? Not exactly.
Earlier this year Nemertes interviewed approximately 50 IT leaders representing 45 companies across a range of sizes and verticals. We asked them about their plans for and attitudes toward team chat apps. What we found isn't surprising; the hype curve of any new technology almost always exceeds the adoption curve (well, except for iPads and iPhones). Just 2% of participants had formerly adopted team chat apps as an enterprise IT-provided service. Another 21% had active evaluations or pilots underway.
Among the group of those having evaluations or pilots underway, early users were likely to be IT professionals who wanted to increase their own understanding of the app, or software developers who needed the ability to easily collaborate in or near real-time with external programmers, often across widely diverse geographies. For this latter role, email and IM weren't enough -- they needed the ability to maintain group conversations, easily add new people into the group and let them then view the discussion history, and take advantage of the hooks that many team chat apps offer into external file sharing, workflow management, and task management applications.
That leaves 76% of participants with no active plans to evaluate team chat apps -- many weren't even familiar with them, especially those in large corporations where big software vendors like IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP dominate.
When we asked participants how they viewed the emerging team chat app space, given that its SaaS-nature enables employees and workgroups to easily use apps without corporate IT approval or governance, 18% named security as the primary concern. Those we spoke with, especially in regulated industries, were most concerned about the ability to retain (or expunge) conversations, the use of encryption, and the ability to remove those who had left the company or project team from having the ability to continue to view conversations. For these individuals, things like single sign-on, encryption at-rest and in-motion, and archiving are critical requirements that many SaaS-based team chat apps simply don't yet support.
A plurality of participants (38%) said they view the space with interest, but they don't yet have an opinion on how team chat apps will affect their collaboration strategies. When we asked if participants thought that team chat apps would replace existing collaboration tools like UC, email, and Web conferencing, just 9% said, "Yes," while 41% thought team chat would augment existing apps. Some expressed reservations that adding another collaboration app to the available list of IM, Web conferencing, email, file sharing, video, etc. collaboration apps would generate confusion and resentment, especially if different teams adopt different apps, or if workers find themselves collaborating with multiple external partners, each using its own app.
At this point collaboration leaders should make themselves aware of the team chat space and how it is quickly developing. Already you are likely to find pockets of individuals using one or more of the SaaS-based apps, fueling demand on IT to provide an "authorized" solution that aligns with security and information governance needs. Talk to your existing strategic partners to understand how they are tackling the space, and be prepared to evaluate smaller startups who may fulfill a niche in your collaboration portfolio.