Not All Teams Are Built the Same: Page 2 of 2

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Threaded Conversations

Most messaging apps present various conversations as a single stream of messages in chronological order. Large groups can get noisy.

A threaded conversation refers to the ability to branch replies off specific messages. It's more complex than it sounds both technically and in terms of user interface. For example, new messages can become harder to find because they may not appear on top of the conversation thread. Most consider a threaded conversation a smoother, less cluttered experience than a single stream of messages within a channel, but to some degree it's also about personal preference.

For those who desire it, Microsoft's support of threaded conversation presents a compelling distinction that favors its Teams solution. Ironically, Google disrupted Microsoft's email model with threaded messages -- now it's Microsoft's turn to use threading as a competitive differentiator.

Whiteboards and Meeting Rooms

Microsoft also last week announced the general availability of a new whiteboard app for Windows10. Microsoft's software-first approach allows users to collaborate in a free-hand, graphical way. The app supports smart objects and works with a standard Windows 10 stylus. At this time, the app is restricted to Windows 10 devices, but an iOS and Web version are coming. This app replaces the whiteboard app previously launched on the Surface Hub.

Cisco offers the Webex Board device that can supplement or serve as a meeting room system. Although it lacks some features such as smart objects, the combined hardware and software provides a tightly integrated experience that can detect users and share content across all Webex clients.

Microsoft and Cisco see their Teams apps as clearinghouses for synchronous and asynchronous conversations. Today, our conversations -- including meetings -- are more likely to continue across different modalities. Both offer global conferencing services with a soft client and in-room solutions. Webex Teams additionally offers whiteboard and local content sharing (Webex Share) within a single application.

It's safe to assume that Cisco opted to rebrand Spark to Webex Teams to leverage its leadership in conferencing more fully. Cisco offers a broad selection of room systems, all now natively integrated into Webex. Microsoft relies on multiple third parties for hardware and interoperability services, but does offer some powerful software-based services, including translation and transcription.

Encryption

Cisco and Microsoft take very different approaches to encryption (see related No Jitter post). Microsoft uses the more common method of separate encryption cycles for storing and transmitting data. As Microsoft controls server-side encryption, it retains control of customers' data just as it does with OneDrive and Office 365 email.

With Webex Teams, Cisco supports an option that only decrypts customer data in the client, leaving data always encrypted in the cloud. The customer can retain complete control and ownership of its data. With Webex Teams, for example, even Cisco administrators can be precluded from accessing customer data.

Network Services

Microsoft is building out communications services for Teams. It already offers dial-in numbers for global conferencing and offers UCaaS capabilities in North America. That means Microsoft can replace third-party UC solutions and separate carriers with a single, bundled Teams service.

Cisco also has global dial-in numbers, and shares a similar vision regarding integrated UCaaS, but intends to do so through its ecosystem of Cisco HCS and BroadSoft providers as well as its installed base of customers with Cisco UC solutions. Cisco is expected to share more details regarding the BroadSoft integration at its November Connections conference.

Microsoft and Cisco also offer a bring-your-own carrier option to add telephony to their hosted Teams environments.

These are some of the key differences between the Teams apps from Cisco and Microsoft. Of course, these aren't the only two options. Compelling workstream collaboration applications are also available from RingCentral, Unify, Slack, Facebook, and others... and more offerings are expected.

These solutions represent a significant change in the way organizations communicate and collaborate. They tend to be more central to workflow, as they contain people (directories, teams, contacts), content (documents, integration to other apps) and communications (real-time and asynchronous).

As the available options increase and mature, there are significant differences to consider. I've outlined some big differences here, but it's a long list. Most of the available solutions have little resistance to adoption. Customers should also evaluate data ownership and migration options should they opt to change solutions in the future.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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