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Building Groundswell Around Team Collaboration

If you follow Silicon Valley scuttlebutt, then you know Slack is once again the talk of the town. Inquiring minds wants to know whether the team collaboration startup is entertaining suitors like Amazon and Google -- or whether such gossip is merely meant to foster investor interest in a next funding round.

Whether or not any truth lies behind these latest rumors, this much we know: Team collaboration tools hold great promise for the enterprise. This is not mere speculation. As I've previously shared, results of a No Jitter Research survey of 422 enterprise IT professionals shows evidence of the increasing value organizations are placing on team collaboration apps. More than three-quarters of respondents said users within their organizations have adopted team collaboration apps, and nearly as many said the benefits of such apps are either underestimated or clearly identifiable (see survey results slideshow here).

Beyond the numbers, verbatim responses are enlightening, too. As one respondent shared, "I believe that collaboration apps are likely to evolve in the near future to become the main apps in the workplace." Another wrote, "I love using team collaboration applications within the workspace since that helps in getting quick feedback from the team members. This makes the process of writing long emails redundant and useless (unless necessary)." And, a third, more succinctly stated: "a must-have in a modern organization."

Yet, we can see the relative newness of this business application type reflected in licensing preferences and spending estimates among those respondents whose organizations use team collaboration apps. A quarter of respondents said their organizations are using free versions, while another quarter have coughed up the money for basic editions. A smaller percentage of respondents (17%) said they are spending on premium plans. The remaining third of respondents are getting team collaboration as an add-on to an existing software suite from their primary UC or office productivity provider.

Furthermore, many respondents -- nearly half, in fact -- said they don't know how much their enterprises are spending monthly, per user, on licensing for team collaboration apps. But among those who do, more than a quarter (27%) aren't shelling out anything on these tools. Rather, as noted above, they're either using freemium versions or getting team collaboration capabilities as freebie add-ons to existing UC, office productivity, or other software suites. Of those who are spending and provided a cost estimate, 15% said they're plunking down up to $14.99 monthly per user, with only eight percent spending upwards of there.

Vertical Draw

Findings such as these can make you wonder about the market opportunity, from an industry perspective. What would motivate an enterprise to spend resources on a standalone team collaboration app when it could 1) use a freemium tool like the non-enterprise version of Slack or 2) get a free add-on? The uptake of an option such as the Symphony secure team collaboration platform provides one answer, and that's in a needs-based vertical groundswell around one or another application.

In Symphony's case, financial firms are beginning to coalesce around the use of this platform, purpose-built to meet this industry's particular security and compliance mandates. In the financial trading ecosystem, for example, Symphony is proving an invaluable means of communicating internally and externally in a highly secured fashion, as I heard recently from a managing director at a global securities firm. Because of the "Chinese walls" and surveillance capability it builds around team messaging, Symphony quickly got the blessing from this firm's compliance and information security teams, and has subsequently been replacing other chat apps as the go-to means of communications, he told me.

The industry uptake has surpassed even Symphony's own estimates, David Gurle, founder and CEO, told me in an interview earlier this year. In 2016, Symphony amassed 150,000 paid subscriptions at 130 companies, beating its target by 50,000 subscriptions, he said. Gurle attributed the growth to the "network effect -- customers talk to their partners and customers, and use moves from business to business... and now we have a broader base."

And usage -- the lack thereof so often an app killer -- is noteworthy, too, with 96% of paid users active within the tool daily, Gurle reported. Meantime, the free version of Symphony has roughly 40,000 active users monthly, he added.

Symphony set a goal of doubling its 2016 paid subscription base, to 300,000, for 2017 -- and why not? The opportunities keep blossoming.

Earlier this month, for example, Symphony and Thomson Reuters announced they would be integrating their platforms "to foster collaboration and information sharing across the financial services industry," and in May the company secured $63 million in new funding, which it said will go toward accelerating global adoption, propelling platform innovation, and expanding into new markets.

Might one of those new markets be another industry vertical? Don't count that out. Having proved its model works in financial services, Symphony is considering taking its platform into other sectors, Gurle told me. Healthcare comes to mind, given the similar need for security and compliance. To me, the question of "where will Symphony go next?" is just has interesting as "will Slack be acquired?"

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