Where Are We with Team Collaboration?
One longtime industry watcher gives us the 4-1-1 on team collaboration.
I write about collaboration. You read about collaboration. We can find many opinions about collaboration's enterprise penetration and use. Some of the comments are hype. Others are tempered. No matter what your opinion, you need to evaluate the state of collaboration.
Toward that end, I reached out to Sandra Gustavsen, an analyst who has been researching business communications vendors and their solutions for about 20 years. The traditional on-premises business phone systems and related applications have been on her radar for a long time. She also tracks the newer cloud-based unified communications services from pure cloud providers and established telecom vendors.
Specifically, I asked her about the emergence of new team collaboration tools that enable easy access to multiple collaborative technologies within a single user interface. Team members, wherever they are working, simply log into a virtual "room" or space where they can easily collaborate in real time. Much can be said for centralizing a project's conversations, interactions and documentation, and the value that has for a project's successful management and completion.
Here are Sandra's thoughts, in an edited version of our conversation.
On who is adopting team collaboration tools, and why
Market research firms are just beginning to track the market impact and adoption, and companies offering these collaborative tools are reporting an uptake. RingCentral, for example, is reporting "significant traction" of its cloud-based team messaging and collaboration application, called Glip by RingCentral, which is included at no additional cost in all RingCentral Office packages. The company cites three times the usage since June 2015, when it acquired Glip.
And Unify says "momentum is building" for its software-as-a-service (SaaS) collaboration platform, Circuit, particularly since the company introduced multiple pricing packages, including a free plan that supports up to 100 users. It makes sense to offer a free version that, coupled with ease of use, will encourage adoption. Once work groups are hooked and see firsthand the time-savings and improvement to managing and completing projects, these collaborative tools will become the norm.
On team-based collaboration's potential as an email killer
When it comes to any kind of teamwork, it is easy to see why these new applications are being cited as "email killers," or at least good alternatives to email as a primary means of communication. Sifting through multiple strings of email messages among multiple people is time-consuming and cumbersome when trying to manage a project and keep track of assignments and related materials. Consider the time-savings involved when the entire project history is stored and easily accessed in a single, centralized place, and how easy it is for new team members to join in and get up to speed. Team-based tools also have another dimension that is important to effective collaboration -- the human element of face-to-face interaction through video. Some surveys indicate that these new team apps actually cut down on the use of email by as much as 40% or more.
On the meaning of "workstream messaging"
Providers, developers, and industry analysts have been using different names to refer to this category of collaborative tools. "Virtual workspace," "persistent workspace," "virtual room," "workstream communications and collaboration," "team messaging" and "team collaboration" are some examples. One analyst writing for No Jitter rightly pointed out the redundancy of "team collaboration" and suggested " workstream messaging" as a more accurate description. Whatever the name, these solutions facilitate collaboration among disparate team members and enable the effective management of projects in real time through voice and video meetings, chat sessions (messaging) with context, task management, screen and document sharing -- all stored and organized chronologically in a single, centralized virtual workspace (or "workstream" or "room") and accessible by all team members at any time, including by those outside of an organization.
On the vendor landscape
A range of team collaboration apps are now available, including many on the market for years from cloud-only providers (e.g., Slack, Redbooth, Atlassian HipChat, and others). Recently, BroadSoft acquired Intellinote, adding a team collaboration tool to its portfolio of cloud-based unified communications and collaboration services. Traditional telecom manufacturers (nearly all of which have now added cloud service to their portfolios) are quickly getting on board, too, with new team collaboration applications that are accessed as subscription-based cloud services. Several applications are now available or coming soon from established vendors, including Unify Circuit, Cisco Spark, Interactive Intelligence PureCloud Collaborate, Fonality's partnership with Intellinote, Mitel MiTeam, and Avaya Zang Spaces. More will follow in short order, with some apps developed in-house and others gained through partnership or acquisition.
On going cloud or implementing on premises
Cloud-based solutions have inherent benefits. Trying out new applications and technologies is one of the biggest benefits since businesses can quickly take advantage of new technologies without the difficulty of deploying additional software or equipment. The majority of established vendors (those with premises and cloud solutions) are introducing team applications as a cloud-based service for a monthly subscription per-user fee. Mitel is one vendor, however, that is planning to introduce MiTeam (available for MiCloud Office subscribers today) as part of the company's MiCollab UC application and included with a Premium UCC license for Mitel's MiVoice premises-based systems.
On pricing structures
Typically, team collaboration solutions come in multiple pricing packages depending on the level of capabilities required. Vendors often offer a free plan with a basic or essential feature set. Aside from the free plans, I have seen pricing for standalone team apps ranging from $4 to $15 per user, per month.
Some of the vendors bundle team apps into their cloud subscription plans. Mitel, for example, bundles its MiTeam app into its MiCloud Office Premier ($24.99/user/month) and MiCloud Office Elite ($29.99/user/month) user packages, so the subscription price includes MiTeam plus calling features, voicemail, and unified messaging, softphone, long distance calling, and more. Glip by RingCentral is included at no additional cost within all RingCentral Office plans, which start as low as $19.99 per user, per month for the Standard Edition (pricing is tiered according to the number of users; this price is for 100 to 999 users if the customer pays all 12 months upfront). Offering a free version or including the team app at no extra cost within a subscription bundle will help grow adoption and make these apps a standard and expected way of doing business.