Brian Riggs
Brian is a member of Ovum's Enterprise team, tracking emerging trends, technologies, and market dynamics in the unified communications and...
Read Full Bio >>

Brian Riggs | November 08, 2016 |


Playing Defense: Microsoft Teams to Protect Office 365 from Slack and Spark

Playing Defense: Microsoft Teams to Protect Office 365 from Slack and Spark Microsoft's team collaboration app won't kill Slack not because its features are somehow inferior, but because of how it'll be sold.

Microsoft's team collaboration app won't kill Slack not because its features are somehow inferior, but because of how it'll be sold.

Microsoft last week issued its formal response to Slack and the slew of other apps that have burst onto the team collaboration scene over the past couple years. And not a moment too soon, because I don't think I could stand seeing many more apples-to-oranges Skype vs. Slack and Yammer vs. Slack comparisons.


No Jitter editor Beth Schultz has already written an overview of what Teams is all about, so I won't go into any of the details here. Suffice it to say, if you're looking for an alternative to Slack and Cisco Spark -- a cloud-based collaboration app for small teams that's IT-friendly and has persistent chat, per-project workspaces, document sharing, integrated voice and video, out-of-the-box app integrations, etc. etc. -- Teams should do ya.

While that's pretty much what Teams is, what it's not is a "Slack killer." Let me explain...

Product Category Without a Name
But first, a couple words about marketing and branding... It fascinates me that after years on the market and dozens of apps available there's still no consensus on what to call this kind of software. I've settled on "team collaboration" because... well, why not? The apps help small teams of mainly monitor-gazing knowledge workers collaborate on specific projects. But I'm not married to the term and don't actively promote it over No Jitter blogger Dave Michels' "workstream communications," Tata's "dynamic workspaces," or Cisco's "enterprise messaging." Vive la différence, if you'll pardon my French.

Microsoft calls Teams a "chat-based workspace," a term that also gets at but doesn't quite perfectly describe these apps. I don't think it's good enough to abandon "team collaboration," so I'll keep using that phrase to plunk all these kinds of apps into a single bucket.

Defensive Move
OK, back to my main point -- that Teams in its current form won't kill Slack. I don't say this because Teams is somehow lacking in features and functionality. As far as I can tell -- and it's just from what I've read since I don't have access to the Teams preview yet -- the new Microsoft app compares very favorably with Slack in terms of its messaging, document sharing, communications, and other capabilities. They're not identical, but what two team collab apps are?

So it's not that Teams won't kill Slack because its features are somehow inferior, but because of how Microsoft has decided to sell it. Slack, like so many other team collaboration apps, is sold in a freemium model. You can use the app and get a basic set of features -- two-way calling, 5GB of file storage, 10 app integrations, a cap on the number of messages you can search through -- for free. Pay $8 per user per month and you've got group calling and unlimited storage, integrations and search. Pay $12 and you get still more. But anyone can access it. Anyone can use it. And the app stands on its own, rather than being part of some larger software suite you've got to buy into.

It's a model that most every other team collaboration app developer has followed. Even Cisco -- which now sells Spark in a subscription bundle that also includes WebEx, UC Manager, and a conferencing server based on Acano technology -- lets all and sundry use a free version of Spark if that's what they want. This let Cisco complete head-to-head with Slack since anyone looking for a team collaboration can start using Spark -- with no strings attached to any other Cisco products -- as quickly and easily as they can start using Slack.

Strings are quite firmly attached to Teams, on the other hand. And they lead straight back to Office 365. That is to say, Teams is not available for just anyone to use. It's part of the Office 365 suite, standing alongside Exchange Online, Skype for Business Online, OneDrive for Business, and the various office productivity apps. As such, the target market for Teams begins and ends with Office 365 subscribers.

It's a clearly defensive move on the part of Microsoft. By making Teams available only to Office 365 subscribers, the company is trying to dissuade Office 365 customers from adopting Slack or Spark or any of the others. Of course there's nothing that prevents Office 365 customers from doing so. But why pay for team collaboration from Cisco or Slack or whichever vendor when you can get it 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.

But the approach won't let Microsoft take the offensive and compete against Slack and Spark in the larger team collaboration market. Microsoft may be able to ward off the threat of Slack from within its customer base, but it won't be able to displace Slack in companies that aren't already committed to Office 365. And for this reason Teams will never be able to kill Slack, only wound it by slowing its spread within Office 365 shops.

Why So Late?
It's curious to me that it's taken Microsoft this long to introduce Teams. Slack burst onto the scene in late 2013 with an early version of its team collaboration app available for free. Cisco reacted immediately. In December of that year it purchased, a start-up competing head-to-head with Slack and whose technology would form the basis of Spark.

In early 2014 Slack started generating revenue with tiered pricing plans, and its momentum was starting to snowball. Unify reacted immediately. It set developers to work redesigning Project Ansible into a team collaboration app, and a few months later announced Circuit as an enterprise-friendly alternative to Slack.

Granted, it took Cisco and Unify a considerable amount of time after their respective announcements to get working versions of Spark and Circuit ready for actual use. But they were seemingly years ahead of Microsoft in responding to the Slack threat. And this from "hardware vendors" making most of their money from routers, on the one hand, and PBXs, on the other. You'd think that a software developer already having multiple types of corporate messaging apps in its portfolio would have reacted sooner.

But the market for team collaboration apps was and remains in its early stages. For a while it seemed like it might be a fad, so maybe Microsoft thought it would come and go before it had a chance to respond. Or maybe the company had adopted a wait-and-see approach, taking notes at the many go-to-market changes Cisco, Unify, and others needed to make after launching their apps. Maybe it's the fact that Slack has also been taking its own sweet time to launch an enterprise plan that's been "coming soon" for well over a year. Or that a year will have gone by between the time Avaya announced and finally releases Spaces. (I'm told it should be available sometime in early 2017.)

I mean it's not like others seem to be in a huge hurry. So, I suppose, Microsoft isn't overly late to a party that is still trying to figure out what it's all about.

Follow Brian Riggs on Twitter and Google+!
Brian Riggs on Google+


September 26, 2018

Join Kevin Kieller, Microsoft UC&C expert, along with Ribbon Communications and Polycom, for an update on Microsoft Ignite, and a focus on critical things you need to know about your voice depl

August 29, 2018

Moving your voice services to the cloud introduces new challenges for 9-1-1 services. These include the need to serve multiple locations, and the increased mobility that comes with having a phone t

August 8, 2018

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a reality for your contact center. But to turn the promise of AI into practical reality, there are a couple of prerequisites: Moving to the cloud and integr

March 12, 2018
An effective E-911 implementation doesn't just happen; it takes a solid strategy. Tune in for tips from IT expert Irwin Lazar, of Nemertes Research.
March 9, 2018
IT consultant Steve Leaden lays out the whys and how-tos of getting the green light for your convergence strategy.
March 7, 2018
In advance of his speech tech tutorial at EC18, communications analyst Jon Arnold explores what voice means in a post-PBX world.
February 28, 2018
Voice engagement isn't about a simple phone call any longer, but rather a conversational experience that crosses from one channel to the next, as Daniel Hong, a VP and research director with Forrester....
February 16, 2018
What trends and technologies should you be up on for your contact center? Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center & Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2018, gives us the lowdown.
February 9, 2018
Melanie Turek, VP of connected work research at Frost & Sullivan, walks us through key components -- and sticking points -- of customer-oriented digital transformation projects.
February 2, 2018
UC consultant Marty Parker has crunched lots of numbers evaluating UC options; tune in for what he's learned and tips for your own analysis.
January 26, 2018
Don't miss out on the fun! Organizer Alan Quayle shares details of his pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon, TADHack-mini '18, showcasing programmable communications.
December 20, 2017
Kevin Kieller, partner with enableUC, provides advice on how to move forward with your Skype for Business and Teams deployments.
December 20, 2017
Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, shares his perspective on artificial intelligence and the future of team collaboration.
December 20, 2017
Delanda Coleman, Microsoft senior marketing manager, explains the Teams vision and shares use case examples.
November 30, 2017
With a ruling on the FCC's proposed order to dismantle the Open Internet Order expected this month, communications technology attorney Martha Buyer walks us through what's at stake.
October 23, 2017
Wondering which Office 365 collaboration tool to use when? Get quick pointers from CBT Nuggets instructor Simona Millham.
September 22, 2017
In this podcast, we explore the future of work with Robert Brown, AVP of the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work, who helps us answer the question, "What do we do when machines do everything?"
September 8, 2017
Greg Collins, a technology analyst and strategist with Exact Ventures, delivers a status report on 5G implementation plans and tells enterprises why they shouldn't wait to move ahead on potential use ....
August 25, 2017
Find out what business considerations are driving the SIP trunking market today, and learn a bit about how satisfied enterprises are with their providers. We talk with John Malone, president of The Ea....
August 16, 2017
World Vision U.S. is finding lots of goodness in RingCentral's cloud communications service, but as Randy Boyd, infrastructure architect at the global humanitarian nonprofit, tells us, he and his team....
August 11, 2017
Alicia Gee, director of unified communications at Sutter Physician Services, oversees the technical team supporting a 1,000-agent contact center running on Genesys PureConnect. She catches us up on th....
August 4, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, has lately been working on integrating enterprise communications into Internet of Things ecosystems. He shares examples and off....
July 27, 2017
Industry watcher Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares her perspective on this acquisition, discussing Mitel's market positioning, why the move makes sense, and more.
July 14, 2017
Lantre Barr, founder and CEO of Blacc Spot Media, urges any enterprise that's been on the fence about integrating real-time communications into business workflows to jump off and get started. Tune and....
June 28, 2017
Communications expert Tsahi Levent-Levi, author of the popular blog, keeps a running tally and comprehensive overview of communications platform-as-a-service offerings in his "Choosing a W....
June 9, 2017
If you think telecom expense management applies to nothing more than business phone lines, think again. Hyoun Park, founder and principal investigator with technology advisory Amalgam Insights, tells ....
June 2, 2017
Enterprises strategizing on mobility today, including for internal collaboration, don't have the luxury of learning as they go. Tony Rizzo, enterprise mobility specialist with Blue Hill Research, expl....
May 24, 2017
Mark Winther, head of IDC's global telecom consulting practice, gives us his take on how CPaaS providers evolve beyond the basic building blocks and address maturing enterprise needs.
May 18, 2017
Diane Myers, senior research director at IHS Markit, walks us through her 2017 UC-as-a-service report... and shares what might be to come in 2018.
April 28, 2017
Change isn't easy, but it is necessary. Tune in for advice and perspective from Zeus Kerravala, co-author of a "Digital Transformation for Dummies" special edition.
April 20, 2017
Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, shares insight gleaned from the firm's 12th annual UCC Total Cost of Operations study.
March 23, 2017
Tim Banting, of Current Analysis, gives us a peek into what the next three years will bring in advance of his Enterprise Connect session exploring the question: Will there be a new model for enterpris....
March 15, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, discusses the evolving role of the all-important session border controller.
March 9, 2017
Organizer Alan Quayle gives us the lowdown on programmable communications and all you need to know about participating in this pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon.
March 3, 2017
From protecting against new vulnerabilities to keeping security assessments up to date, security consultant Mark Collier shares tips on how best to protect your UC systems.
February 24, 2017
UC analyst Blair Pleasant sorts through the myriad cloud architectural models underlying UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, and explains why knowing the differences matter.
February 17, 2017
From the most basics of basics to the hidden gotchas, UC consultant Melissa Swartz helps demystify the complex world of SIP trunking.
February 7, 2017
UC&C consultant Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, shares pointers for making the right architectural choices for your Skype for Business deployment.
February 1, 2017
Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares a status report on the UCaaS market today and offers her perspective on what large enterprises need before committing to UC in the cloud.
January 26, 2017
Andrew Davis, co-founder of Wainhouse Research and chair of the Video track at Enterprise Connect 2017, sorts through the myriad cloud video service options and shares how to tell if your choice is en....
January 23, 2017
Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center/Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2017, tells us what we need to know about the role cloud software is playing in contact centers today.