Team collaboration apps are still hot stuff in UC circles. Established vendors are making room in the portfolios for them, service providers are variously reselling them or developing their own, and at least two companies have built complete next-gen UCaaS offerings on them.
Calling these apps "email killers" -- as the title of this package does -- exaggerates the impact they're having. Or does it? Are they entirely eliminating the use of email, with IT departments ripping out Exchange servers and throwing them into the dumpster? As satisfying an image as that is, this is certainly not the experience of most any company that has seen team collaboration apps take root among its workforce.
But are they reducing the amount of email that floods into inboxes and overloads end users? Are they replacing the use of email for specific projects or for specific groups of workers? By all indications they are, and in this sense team collaboration apps are in fact email killers.
I'd like to say this is the third-annual update of this slideshow, but that would also be an exaggeration. A year and a half has passed since I last refreshed it and, honestly, it's about time -- the info in the 2015 and 2014 iterations has become quite crusty. So here's the latest and greatest I've got to offer. Hope you find it interesting, useful, or both.
Like last time, I've updated the info in the profiles from the previous blogs, and rewrote the text that summarizes each of the apps. I'm not trying to list out all (or even most) of the features. Rather, I'm drawing some top-level points of comparison and -- because No Jitter readers are interested in this sort of thing -- explain how the app handles real-time communications.
I've also added a number of new profiles, for apps that hadn't existed in my first two passes. Specifically, I've added profiles on Zang Spaces, from Zang, an Avaya company; Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise Rainbow; BroadSoft Team-One; Mitel MiTeam; and Microsoft Teams -- so mainly classic UC vendors pulling up a chair to the team collaboration table.
As before, there are more team collaboration apps on the market than I can track here. If you know of or actively use another, please mention it in the Comments field below. Here's a number that readers called out last time and that have come to my attention in various other ways, for example. Some are project management mixed with collaboration, others are collaboration mixed with project management, and a couple are neither here nor there:
Fuze Spaces – LiveMinutes was acquired by Fuze, which was acquired by Thinking Phones, which changed its name to Fuze, which plans to relaunch the shuttered LiveMinutes app as Fuze Spaces later this year
Hangouts Chat – The team collab app Google introduced just last week for G Suite. Google hasn't detailed when it expects general availability, but is accepting applications for an early adopter program here
Taxonomy Before we go further, let's do a quick refresher as to what these team collaboration apps are.
Think of them as chat forums that let small teams of knowledge workers collaborate on specific projects. They inevitably have text chat capabilities, document storage, and integration with a growing number of third-party apps. And they usually have some kind of document annotation, project management, and task assignment capabilities.
Most have some kind of real-time voice and/or video communications baked into them or are available via integrations (which is why you're reading about them on No Jitter). And only occasionally are they available as premises-based or company-owned software, but rather are delivered as public cloud services.
OK, on to the apps... alphabetized by product (not company) name.
Circuit Unify was the first traditional UC solutions vendor to go whole hog into the team collaboration space. Circuit is now a mature product with a steadily increasing number of users and tight integration with existing communications systems that businesses have already adopted.
The major change since my last post about it is the introduction of multiple plans. Previously Unify offered just one take-it-or-leave-it plan (not counting the 30-day free trial). But now it has three, two of which are more affordable than the previous single one.
Circuit Meeting Room, a solution that integrates Circuit with video systems in conference rooms and lets users control video equipment via the Circuit interface
Auto-starting desktop app for companies preferring or requiring collaboration apps that are not Web-based
Apple CallKit and SiriKit support, so Circuit calls are native on mobile devices
Circuit deskphones, so Circuit better blends in to the overall corporate comms environment
Support for Jabra and Plantronics headsets
Unify has historically had integrations with fewer third-party apps compared with other team collaboration software. However, the list is in fact expanding, and now includes Dropbox, Google Drive, and other apps.
Voice and video chat have been native to Circuit since its initial release. Unify subsequently added a SIP connector that lets Circuit users dial out to and receive calls from the PSTN via any SIP-based PBX. This works by forwarding calls dialed to an end user's office or mobile number to the phone number associated with Circuit. On the roadmap is a one number feature that will let the phone number associated with Circuit serve as the end user's only number. This effectively lets Circuit replace softphone client software... at least for Unify PBXs since the advanced connector will only work with OpenScape Voice.
And in addition to English, Circuit has been localized in German and Greek. This will help Unify sell the app internationally.
Flowdock Flowdock has a relatively unique corporate trajectory. It started off as a startup with a team collaboration app for smallish teams of software developers. Then it became part of a large software developer (Rally), which became part of a larger software developer (CA Technologies) -- which, in turn, exposed to a larger set of customers that includes large enterprises.
Judging from the company's website, the app looks pretty much unchanged for the past year or more -- same simple pricing plans, same low pricing, still tons of integrations. There's a fair amount of activity on the support community, so the app is clearly receiving a lot of attention from customers and SAP.
I've reached out to Flowdock for an update, but hadn't heard back as of press time. The company blog hasn't had a post in a year and the Twitter account has gone silent. So I can't mine those for info. But by all appearances all this remains a go at Flowdock. So let's leave this here for now. Check out my previous profile for more info.
Glip Glip's trajectory took an interesting turn when RingCentral acquired it in 2015. Before then it came only in a freemium model, with a core set of features that improved when you subscribed to one of the paid plans. This is still the case, and RingCentral has no plans to change it. It's the way you buy Glip without subscribing to anything else RingCentral offers. The other way you can get Glip is to subscribe to RingCentral Office, the provider's UCaaS service. In this case you get Glip Pro accounts for free, along with single sign-on access to RingCentral Office and Glip.
In the past year or so RingCentral has made some tweaks to Glip's various plans. Guest access, for example, is now part of the free plan instead of the first paid one. There's about a half dozen new app integrations, including New Relic and both business and consumer versions of Microsoft OneDrive. And signing up for Glip gets you a free trial of the RingCentral UCaaS service with 500 minutes free, if that's something you want.
Glip's real-time communications capability remains much as before. Users can place VoIP calls between Glip clients, with video chat powered by Zoom. Finally, the Glip interface is available only in English, with localization on the roadmap.
The most notable change, however, is in Glip’s real-time communications capabilities. Previously, real-time voice came in the form of VoIP calling between Glip users, with video chat powered by Zoom. Both of these remain, but Glip now has a native dialer as well, allowing it to be a full-fledged endpoint off of RingCentral’s UCaaS service. This lets users make and receive PSTN calls, as well as access various PBX features like call hold, call transfer, voice mail, and audio conferencing. Available via both desktop and mobile clients, the new voice functionality includes the ability to seamlessly transfer a call in progress between desk phone and mobile device. Additionally, the Glip interface is available only in English, with localization on the roadmap.
At more of a corporate level, Glip’s real-time comms enhancements go beyond a team collaboration app becoming a client to RingCentral’s UCaaS service. The company wants to present itself as a provider of “collaborative communications” services. As such Glip is undergoing something of a transformation within the RingCentral portfolio. Until now Glip has been more or less an add-on app that’s tacked onto RingCentral’s flagship hosted telephony service. Going forward it’s intended to be the primary interface RingCentral customers will use to access off voice, video, messaging, and other services.
HipChat Having initially carved out a niche among software developers, Atlassian has now positioned HipChat as a collaboration tool for more general corporate use, particularly among teams of HR, legal, finance, IT, operations, and marketing professionals. This is in part because Atlassian, which purchased HipChat in 2012, sells its Jira Core project management software to HR, legal, finance, IT, operations, and marketing departments, and HipChat is the sister application that provides collaboration functionality to Jira users. And it's in part because of Altlassian's 2015 acquisition of Hall, a HipChat competitor whose app had a broader target market. Notable customers outside the dev space include Expedia and Fitbit. (Atlassian also recently bought Trello, though that's more about project management apps than team collaboration proper.)
In the past year, the plans and features available in each have remained the same, as has the comparatively low $2/user/month price point. Noticeable is the increase in third-party app integrations, with HipChat now integrating with more than 130, up from about 90 when I last updated this slideshow.
The most important enhancements, IMHO, are around video conferencing and deployment options. Previously supporting one-to-one video chat, HipChat now has native video conferencing, based on technology from Atlassian's acquisition of Blue Jimp, for up to 20 participants. It rolled this out first for the online app, and then for the server-based version of the software.
And while HipChat has been available for a while as software that enterprises can run on servers, a new deployment option lets enterprises host the HipChat software in their own data centers. This lets businesses not only own and operate their own team collaboration application, but also deploy it in a way that maintains high availability and makes it highly scalable.
MiTeam Mitel introduced its team collaboration app around this time last year. MiTeam first worked only with MiCloud Office, one of the company's UCaaS service that's based on the Telepo platform Mitel acquired back in 2014. Now it also integrates with MiCollab, the UC software for MiVoice that Mitel sells for on-premises deployment and that powers its MiCloud Business and MiCloud Enterprise services. As a result, MiTeam is now available to pretty much all Mitel customers. (Man, getting to the bottom of any Mitel offering involves untangling a whole string of MiThis's and MiThat's.)
Rather than walking the freemium path common to so many team collaboration app developers, Mitel has chosen to make MiTeam available only to customers of its other PBX and UC solutions. So no matter how much you ask -- no matter if you beg, cheat, or steal -- if you ain't got MiVoice or MiCloud then you ain't getting MiTeam. Also unlike many other team collaboration apps, MiTeam doesn't have multiple tiers or plans. One set of features is available to any and all MiTeam users... with one exception. If you're subscribed to the lowest MiTeam Office plan or have the lowest-priced MiCollab license, then you don't get guest access. But otherwise it's the same -- no lower MiTeam tier with restrictions on file storage, number of conference attendees, trouble tickets, etc. As for real-time comms, MiTeam supports voice and video chat among MiTeam users, but Mitel has no plans to provide PSTN calling directly from the app. The thinking is that this is a persistent messaging app for a system or service that already provides PSTN calling, so why bake that into MiTeam? Finally, MiTeam has been localized in about a dozen languages. This will be important to the international set of MiVoice customers, as well as to MiCloud Office subscribers as the service expands internationally.
Moxtra To me, Moxtra has one of the more interesting approaches to team collaboration apps. This isn't immediately obvious if you look only at the app itself, which provides all the persistent workspaces, conferencing capabilities, app integrations, and other stuff you'd expect. Moxtra added unlimited storage to all plans, but put a throttle on how large a file can be uploaded on the free plans. And the app has been localized in 22 languages, up from 13 a year or so ago.
Moxtra sells its app from its website, through resellers that customize it to varying degrees, and through white label partners that hide the fact their team collaboration apps are from Moxtra. I know of at least a couple team collaboration apps based almost entirely on Moxtra technology. So the company has become something of a behind-the-scenes player in this space.
But selling its standalone app is not what Moxtra really focuses on. The majority -- like 95% -- of its focus is on delivering the APIs and SDKs that let developers embed one or more components of the multilayered Moxtra platform into their apps. For example, Trello makes Moxtra collaboration, messaging, and video conferencing capability available via its project management app (though this may change now that Trello is owned by the same company that owns HipChat). And Avagmah, an India-based developer of online education software, has embedded the messaging and task management components of the Moxtra platform into its cloud-based learning management system.
PureCloud Among all the team collaboration apps I'm looking at here, Genesys's PureCloud service (formerly from Interactive Intelligence) has perhaps had the most significant changes since the last Email Killers profile I drafted on it. It's not that PureCloud has had the most new features added, though there are plenty of those: group ringing and fax, single chat rooms with up to 1,000 participants (that's a huge chat room!), audio and video diagnostics, and increased localization (up to 14 languages). Additionally, the video conference participant cap is about to quadruple, from five to 20.
But a more fundamental change to PureCloud impacts its positioning against other team collaboration apps. To appreciate this, let's first revisit the three previous PureCloud plans: Collaborate ($9.99/user/month), Communicate ($19.99/user/month), and Engage ($99.99/agent/month). If you just wanted an alternative to Slack, then you bought Collaborate. If you wanted that and a hosted PBX service, then Communicate. And Engage threw hosted contact center into the mix.
Today the latter two plans remain. PureCloud Communicate is still on offer as a UCaaS offering. PureCloud Engage has been rebranded as just plain PureCloud, now costs a third less, and offers a number of new features. But it's otherwise the same. (Customers can connect either of these to a PBX on-prem, or can get voice services in the form of PureCloud Voice.)
However, shortly after Genesys bought Interactive, it withdrew PureCloud Collaborate as a standalone offering. While PureCloud Collaborate is still available as a free team collaboration app for PureCloud Communicate customers, only subscribers to the UCaaS service have access to it now.
This has significant ramifications on the role the company plays in the team collaboration app market. That is to say, unlike Interactive, Genesys isn't really going to play in the market. It has no app for IT departments that want an alternative to Slack. Or rather, IT departments would have to adopt the company's hosted UC service in order to get access to the Slack alternative for which they might be looking. And, really, that's not going to happen.
Is any of this bad for Genesys? Probably not. When Interactive launched PureCloud, it wasn't known as a provider of Slack-like collaboration apps or of UCaaS services. Taking one of these off the table will let it focus on the other. And -- given its customer base -- UCaaS is probably the larger opportunity.
Rainbow It took me a while to get my head around Rainbow because it isn't just a team collaboration app. Well, it is. But it isn't. But it is.
Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE) is really offering two Rainbows... a double Rainbow, if you will. Rainbow Hub, a set of APIs and a communications platform-as-a-service option, lets developers embed messaging, bots, voice and video conferencing, and screen and file sharing into various apps. The Rainbow app, on the other hand, is a team collaboration and UC app that's the result of ALE itself utilizing these APIs.
Rainbow (the app) became generally available in late 2016. It replaces TeamShare, the team collaboration app that ALE launched a couple years back and that I profiled when I updated this blog last time. (Or does it? TeamShare still shows up on the ALE site, so maybe it's not quite transitioned out yet. Regardless, I removed it from the slideshow this time around.) ALE sells Rainbow in a freemium model, with the free bit available now and the premium bit to launch in or around June.
Like other team collaboration apps, Rainbow provides persistent project-specific workspaces. It offers WebRTC-driven voice and video, presence, messaging, file sharing, and other features you'd expect from a team collaboration app. It can also serve as a traditional UC client. That is, while it doesn't have a tradition buddy list UI, Rainbow users can view each other's presence, IM each other, escalate messaging sessions to voice or video, share screens... all the sort of things you'd expect from a corporate IM client.
Whether used for team collaboration or as a more standard UC app, Rainbow can exist as an island -- providing comms and collaboration between Rainbow users only -- or integrate with PBXs -- allowing Rainbow users to see the telephony presence of PBX users, make and receive PSTN calls, and access various PBX features such as call hold, call transfer, and voicemail. PBX integration currently supports ALE systems via a native software agent, and Cisco, Unify and (soon) Avaya systems via software running on a separate server.
Haven't read enough about Rainbow? Here's another blog I wrote about it.
Slack Slack occupies the space that all other team collaboration apps want to be in: unmatched brand recognition, viral adoption among users, hockey stick growth figures, created and operated by a sexy unicorn. As of early this year, Slack counted about five million daily active users, with 1.5 million of them paying for their accounts. That's up from just over one million daily active users, and 300,000 paid subscriptions in mid-2015.
The main change at Slack -- which is certain to shake all other developers given Slack's role in the market -- is the introduction of its long-awaited enterprise plan. Enterprise Grid was perpetually on the horizon. In 2015, it was expected to launch by early 2016, and in 2016 it was expected to be available in 2017. It's meant to be the IT-friendly face of an app whose viral adoption among end users has long frustrated CIOs requiring more centralized control over communications and collaboration software. To this end Enterprise Grid secures data stored on Slack, meets various regulatory compliance requirements, and provides centralized billing.
Other new stuff in Slack includes:
More app integrations in the Basic plan: from five to 10
More storage: from 5GB/user to 10GB/user in Standard and 20GB in Pro
Greater security (mandatory two-factor authentication in the Standard plan)
Voice and video calling is now native, presumably based on technology from its acquisition of Screenhero. Slack still doesn't integrate with PBXs and cloud-based telephony services, as can its rivals of the UC vendor variety. But its users can now escalate text-based chat sessions to voice or video as needed.
Spaces Generally available since just a few days ago, Spaces marks Avaya's debut into the team collaboration space. It's part of a new suite of services, developed by the company's Zang subsidiary, that includes CPaaS, UCaaS, and soon cloud-based contact center and video conferencing services as well. But strictly speaking, Spaces' origin story begins with Esna Technologies, which had started developing it before Avaya acquired the company in 2015.
Spaces is available in a freemium model characteristic of many other persistent workspace apps. You start with a limited amount of storage, a limited number of meeting participants, and limited access to support... then get more as you pay more. Spaces supports PSTN connectivity, but only in the form of audio conferencing participants dialing in from mobile phones and land lines. It has no native dialer or integration with a premises- or cloud-based PBX that makes traditional UC functionality available from within the app. That said, Avaya has combined Spaces and Zang Office (the UCaaS service) at an offer level. The backend system recognizes when a user with a Zang Office Power account (costing $32/user/month) logs on, and alerts him or her of the complimentary Spaces Plus account (normally $5/user/month). Ditto with Zang Office's Basic and Standard plans, which come with Zang Basic accounts. (The Basic plan is free, so presumably users could get it anyway.) And it's my understanding that some Spaces functionality will be baked into Zang Office. So someone subscribing to one of the higher tiers of Office will be able to launch persistent messaging sessions without setting up a separate Spaces account. Zang Spaces is available in English for now, with localization on the near-term roadmap.
Spark When it comes to team collaboration apps, Cisco is playing a different game from most others. At one level, Spark is the platform that powers the next-gen (do people say "next-gen" anymore?) UCaaS service that competes head to head with all the other UCaaS services on the market. You can connect deskphones to it, you can connect video room systems, you can get a core set of PBX features, you can dial out to the PSTN. I know companies -- not many, mind you, and not very large -- that have entirely replaced their PBXs with Spark.
At another level, Spark is a team collaboration app like any other. It's core technology came from Collaborate.com, a startup that Cisco acquired way back in 2013. Spark subscribers don't need to go whole-hog UCaaS, but instead just use it as an IT-friendly Slack alternative plain and simple. The app provides persistent workspaces, searchable content, desktop video for up to just three participants in the lower-cost plans and more participants with the higher priced ones. It has been localized in 16 languages, which will help Cisco partners sell Spark internationally.
Cisco is a bit cagey about the prices of everything except the M1 plan. So the $12 figure above comes from the Cisco site, and I've cobbled together everything else from this Cisco partner's website, write-ups from Sandra Gustavsen of G Business Systems (here and here), and this blog from Bill Haskins of Wainhouse Research. They're all a bit different from each other for whatever reason. And Cisco ain't helping by not just listing them all out on the Spark website. But the prices above seem to have us within the ballpark. And if they're not... well, I'm sure I'll hear about it sooner rather than later.
One of the more interesting additions to Spark lately is Spark Board, a video-capable interactive white board that's a lot like other video-capable interactive white boards out there... except for Spark. And for Spark customers that will make all the difference. Why it's interesting to me is that it only supports Spark. You can't attach it to UC Manager or HCS or any of the infrastructure that powers Cisco video conferencing systems. It's just for Spark. Given Spark's installed base relative to any of that other stuff, you can see Cisco's ambitions here. Spark is where Cisco is centering its coolest development efforts. So customers might want to consider boarding the Spark train.
Team-One Team-One is new to the BroadSoft portfolio, but not new to the team collaboration space. It's based on BroadSoft's 2016 acquisition of Intellinote, an app that's been generally available since 2014.
In some ways Team-One is quite similar to Intellinote. Anyone -- not just folks whose company uses a BroadSoft-based telephony service -- can set up a subscription and start using the application. When purchased as a standalone service, Team-One relies on Zoom for video conferencing, a relic of the Intellinote days, and is unable to make and receive PSTN calls. That is, the application supports VoIP calling, but only among other Team-One users.
Alternately, Team-One can be purchased as part of the BroadCloud hosted service BroadSoft sells through providers. As a BroadCloud add-on, Team-One delivers a number of features not available in the standalone app. Users can call out to a PSTN number, receive calls, and when a video session launches BroadCloud is what powers it. Additionally, Team-One integrates with Hub, BroadSoft's contextual communications software that searches for and presents users with relevant information when they make calls or join conferences. So if I've just dialed into an audio conference using BroadCloud, Hub will find messages and documents stored in third-party apps connected via Hub and make them easily available to me.
Team-One is available in English for now, with localization to start in 2017. And it's currently hosted only in U.S. data centers, with international expansion commencing in 2017. This will be important since BroadSoft has such an international reach, with many providers outside the U.S. selling hosted UC services based on its technology. For example, Telmex in Mexico and Telstra in Australia (as well as Verizon) are using Team-One internally. But for them to sell it as a service to businesses subscribed to their BroadSoft-based services, localization and international data center deployments are musts.
Teams It took Microsoft a while to finally dip its toe into the team collaboration app waters. Perhaps it's been waiting -- as I have been, to be perfectly honest -- to see if this whole team collaboration thing is just a fad that would go away on its own accord. Or maybe it wanted to make sure none of its myriad other messaging apps -- like Yammer and Skype for Business -- really couldn't be a viable alternative to persistent workspaces. Regardless, with Teams now generally available as of this week, consider Microsoft fully immersed in the market.
Microsoft is doing something a bit different with Teams. It's not a freemium service, and even the paid plans aren't for just anyone to use. That is, there's no way for any Joe Schmo to download the app and start using it. Rather, Teams is part of the Office 365 suite, and tightly integrated into its various apps. Microsoft describes Teams as a "true hub" for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, OneNote, Planner, Power BI and Delve, each of which are integrated with Teams so users can access them from the persistent workspaces they create.
As I've written previously, by making Teams available only to Office 365 subscribers, Microsoft is trying to dissuade Office 365 customers from adopting Slack or Spark or any of the others. Of course it can't prevent Office 365 customers from doing so, but why would you pay for team collaboration from Cisco or Slack or whoever when you can get it for free -- and presumably more tightly integrated -- with Office 365? It's a perfectly valid approach, and one that should appeal greatly to current and future Microsoft customers.
Office 365 has an international user base, and Microsoft is designing Teams accordingly. It has been localized in 18 languages, and its support for the EU Model Clauses and other non-U.S. compliance standards will appeal to businesses overseas.
Wimi A Paris-based startup with offices in San Francisco as well, Wimi has been in the team collaboration app space since 2010. It sells mainly to SMBs and smaller-sized groups within larger companies. Wimi reports having about 65,000 active daily users, some of whom are from very recognizable companies, such as AT&T, Intel, and Starwood Hotels.
When Wimi first launched many of its subscribers used the app mainly to share, transfer, and sync documents. Wimi responded to this unexpected use case by rejiggering its paid plans so they kick off with one -- called Doc, appropriately enough -- that's very document-centric, as well as providing group chat and other communications features. Other plans add things like productivity services for teamwork such as agile task management, calendaring, video chat and screen sharing, LDAP integration, and document recovery. It's localized in French, German, and Spanish.
Notable features include Wimi Drive, which makes files posted in workspaces available even when users are offline. Optionally, security- and compliance-conscious companies can run the Wimi software on premises. And Wimi offers a number of training services that help users understand and effectively use team collaboration apps with which they may previously have been unfamiliar. In the past year, changes to the various plans have centered around increasing the amount storage that's available to individual users.
Learn More at Enterprise Connect Many of the products in this slideshow will be available for demos in the Expo Hall at Enterprise Connect 2017, coming March 27 to 30, in Orlando, Fla., while many discussions of team collaboration trends and technologies will take place during the conference program. If you're attending Enterprise Connect and looking to learn more about team collaboration apps, be sure to check out these sessions: