Team Collaboration Piques Providers' Interest
As enterprise interest in team collaboration grows, service providers are looking for ways to add such apps to their portfolios.
Viral adoption remains the most common way that team collaboration apps like Slack wheedle their way into enterprises. A handful of employees start using an app to work on a specific project, then others in the organization cotton on to how much better it is than email and perhaps other IT-sanctioned apps, and it spreads throughout the company.
This is changing, of course, with Cisco, Unify, and others selling team collaboration apps directly to IT buyers, Avaya and Mitel about to do the same, and Slack prepping to introduce its long-delayed enterprise plan. And now service providers are at various stages of getting into the game.
BroadSoft and Intellinote
Most recently here is BroadSoft's acquisition of Intellinote, a small startup that introduced the beta version of its team collaboration app in late 2013. It followed this in 2014 with a freemium model that provided more storage and workspaces to paying customers. And in 2015 Intellinote offered the app as a paid-only service, with prices starting at $10 per user per month, that continues to today.
In terms of features and functionality, Intellinote has much of what you'd expect from a team collaboration app: shared workspaces, one-to-one and one-to-many messaging, cloud storage, task management, open APIs, and integration with dozens of third-party apps. Differentiators include a solution for field service technicians and the ability to have break-out conversations around uploaded content, such as an image file, that's been added to an activity stream.
At first, BroadSoft's acquisition of Intellinote will have minimal impact on the app. Eventually, however, BroadSoft's UC-One will replace Zoom as the platform that powers Intellinote's real-time voice and video capabilities, and there's talk of some kind of integration with the Transera cloud-based contact center software that BroadSoft acquired earlier this year. So think of it in terms of an integrated application suite that includes UC-One, Intellinote, and Transera... with more details to be announced in November at BroadSoft's Connections conference.
At Connections, Broadsoft said it also plans to lay out changes to how Intellinote is sold. For now, things remain the same: Sign up and pay for the service via the Intellinote website. This is identical to the way team collaboration apps -- from Slack to Unify Circuit to Smarttag -- are currently sold, and it's a model that works well for small or informal groups within a larger company. I suspect -- and I've now entered speculation mode -- that Intellinote will appear as an option for BroadCloud customers. So an enterprise subscribing to a telephony-centric BroadCloud-based service would have a number of optional cloud-based apps it can order, Intellinote among them.
If this plays out, team collaboration apps -- Intellinote specifically -- could find themselves part of a number of service providers' portfolios. Because while BroadSoft sells its BroadCloud managed UC service directly to the enterprise, a wide range of service providers resell the service, in many cases with their own branding, as well. Providers with BroadCloud-based services range from large operators like BT, Telecom Italia, Verizon, and XO Communications to smaller providers like InVoIP in the U.S. and WaveNet in the U.K.
Again, this is purely speculation on my part. Verizon has given no indication that it's planning to add an Intellinote-powered team collaboration app to Virtual Communications Express, nor has XO for IP Flex. But that's at least one perfectly logical outcome of BroadSoft's latest acquisition.
Deutsche Telekom and Circuit
Deutsche Telekom is one provider that already has dipped a toe into the team collaboration app waters. Specifically, the carrier has added Unify Circuit to Managed Workplace, a hosted multitenant UC (telephony, instant messaging, desktop video conferencing) offering based on Unify's OpenScape Voice solution. Circuit adds a team collaboration element lacking in this SMB offering and, frankly, from most hosted UC services.
Rather than having Unify host the app itself and providing it for Deutsche Telekom to resell, the operator is deployed Circuit in its own data centers -- which is pretty much required to adhere to Germany's strict data protection laws -- and manages the app itself. As far as I know Deutsche Telekom is the only service provider self-hosting Circuit, but the expectation is that others will follow. Verizon's name consistently comes up when Unify talks about service providers interested in Circuit, for example.
RingCentral and Glip
If Deutsche Telekom is dipping a toe into the team collaboration app waters, RingCentral has dived right in. RingCentral acquired Glip a year ago, making it one of the few providers with a team collaboration app of its own. Glip operates separately, letting it continue to develop and sell its SaaS-based app with minimal interference from its corporate parent. But in the past year, RingCentral has tightly integrated Glip with Office, its UCaaS service that's sold mainly to SMBs but can provide telephony and conferencing to businesses of most any size. This integration includes single sign-on, so logging on to RingCentral Office logs users into Glip as well. And users can launch RingCentral Meetings sessions for voice and video from within Glip.
Glip Pro, which otherwise costs $10 per user per month, is available at no cost to all RingCentral Office subscribers. It's not clear how many RingCentral customers are in fact using the team collaboration app since the provider isn't sharing any numbers. But the Glip integration certainly helps RingCentral differentiate its services -- something that will be increasingly important as the UCaaS provider continues to expand outside the U.S. (see related story, "RingCentral Ramps Up Enterprise Efforts").
I don't think, however, that many service providers will replicate RingCentral's M&A approach to team collaboration apps. Rarer still will be team collaboration apps entering the portfolio as the result of internal development, as I know at least one large operator is currently working on.
I just don't think these apps -- Slack being the exception -- are generating enough revenue to pique providers' interest enough to make the investment. Service providers are less interested in developing and supporting the SaaS apps themselves and more interested in selling connectivity, security, storage, and other services around them. So most providers will likely take an approach similar to the one they have already taken with Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365, Box, and so forth. That is to say, most will leave apps to the app developers, and integrate with the ones with the largest market presence.
Service providers like to play it safe, and this is the safest way to add team collaboration to their mix of communications, collaboration, and workplace services.