Slack vs. Microsoft: Who's Really Got Enterprise Mettle?
Microsoft has thrown down the gauntlet with Teams, spurring interest from all corners. Is Slack, in particular, up to the challenge?
Every once in a while a product comes along about which everybody wants to have a say. Microsoft Teams is one such product, or so it would seem based on the number of pitches I received from companies volunteering to share their perspectives on this latest tool out of Redmond.
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, with Teams either being one of the worst-kept secrets -- or most masterful leaks -- in the entirety of the enterprise communications and collaboration space. By the time CEO Satya Nadella officially announced the chat-based workspace yesterday morning, putting to rest weeks of rumors, I'd already heard from a variety of its UC&C competitors and partners around the globe, each wanting to talk about Teams and what it signals about enterprise team collaboration and Microsoft's role in it.
To recap, Teams is what Microsoft calls a chat-based workspace for Office 365 (read related post, "Microsoft Shoots to Perfect 'Art Form of Teams'"). It supports persistent and threaded voice and video chat, and serves as a productivity and content hub for the Office 365 complement of products. It taps into the analytical machinations of Microsoft Graph to surface data, intelligence, and insight from the enterprise's Office 365 cloud solutions, and uses Office 365 Groups at its base to preserve context in information sharing and when moving from one collaboration tool to another. It's customizable, using open APIs and providing support for third-party integrations via the Microsoft Bot Framework. It is delivered from the Azure cloud, automatically provisioned with Office 365 and managed centrally. And it aims to meet enterprise security and compliance requirements with support for in-transit and at-rest data encryption, among other best practices.
But is it too late in coming, leaving Microsoft with a lot of catching up to do? Does it provide the right fit with how enterprise teams work, or want to work, today? Does it unnecessarily complicate life for enterprises that have standardized on Skype for Business for UC&C? Or is Teams the real deal, destined for widespread enterprise adoption?
These are the types of questions arising out of the perspectives I've received on Teams. And while I won't pretend to have the answer, I will say that I find the hubbub surrounding this announcement indicative of Teams' potential power. That thought, on the edge of my consciousness since the first "are you looking for insight on Microsoft Teams?" email landed in my inbox, grew to a dull roar yesterday after reading Slack's full-page "Dear Microsoft" ad/open letter in The New York Times (also available on the Slack blog).
With all the snarkiness you'd expect of (and appreciate from) the Slacksters, the company congratulated Microsoft on its "Big news!" and expressed how "genuinely excited" it is to have some competition (hear that Cisco?). And then it wrote:
"We realized a few years ago that the value of switching to Slack was so obvious and the advantages so overwhelming that every business would be using Slack, or 'something just like it,' within the decade. It's validating to see you've come around to the same way of thinking. And even though -- being honest here -- it's a little scary, we know it will bring a better future forward faster.
"However, all this is harder than it looks. So, as you set out to build 'something just like it,' we want to give you some friendly advice."
Slack continued its open letter by breaking down some of the lessons it's learned along the way about features, users, interoperability, and open platforms (because, you know, Microsoft hasn't amassed enough of its own knowledge on such topics in the three-plus decades it has on Slack). Re-affirming that it's "just getting started," the letter concludes:
- "So welcome, Microsoft, to the revolution. We're glad you're going to be helping us define this new product category. We admire many of your achievements and know you'll be a worthy competitor. We're sure you're going to come up with a couple of new ideas on your own too. And we'll be right there, ready."
If Slack was seeking to amuse with its presumptuousness, then it succeeded with me. Kudos to the company for its moxie. But the thing is, while it may be true that "millions of people" have flocked to Slack, they often haven't done so with IT's blessing -- and Slack still isn't telling a true enterprise story yet. Microsoft, on the other hand, has set up Teams to play a central role for the tens of millions of Office 365 users. And I have to think many an IT decision maker is going to like the notion of being able to support team messaging companywide as just another part of, or companion to, its existing cloud product suites while also allowing users to integrate their go-to work apps. Should push come to shove, Slack might just get the boot.
Microsoft might love to ring the death knell for Slack, the upstart that's been such a thorn to itself and other UC&C mainstays. But as Slack made quite clear in its open letter, it's not going down without a fight. A battle royal could be taking shape.