Team Collaboration Apps Diverging: Are You Headed Down Right Path?

Team collaboration apps -- like those profiled in my recent slideshow -- are on increasingly divergent paths. Businesses adopting them need to carefully decide which to start with since each app could take them in a significantly different direction in terms of what communications functionality it provides.

  • Some will integrate tightly with one vendor's premises-based telephony system, another will integrate with several, and others won't integrate at all
  • Some will integrate with one provider's UCaaS offering, another can itself serve as a UCaaS offering, and others will have nothing whatsoever to do with UCaaS
  • Ditto on integrating with various vendors' suites of business software, with various developers' process management apps, with various video conferencing systems, and with various CPaaS offerings
  • And many have advanced co-editing, document collaboration, and task management capabilities that are more or less unique

The Slack Effect

The root cause for these divergent paths, I think, is Slack. In mid-2014 the company reported about 100,000 daily active users, up from about 16,000 when the app launched in February of that year. The figure is now five million and continues to rise. This is despite growth stemming mainly from viral adoption, as opposed to CIOs and IT departments embracing Slack and deploying it companywide.

Over the past couple of years, Slack rivals have added security, compliance, and data retention tools to make their apps IT friendly in a way Slack wasn't... and Slack adoption continued its phenomenal rise. They added analytics, consolidated billing, and consolidated management... and Slack adoption continued. They added real-time communications functionality not found in Slack... and... well, you can tell where this going.

Get details on 14 team collaboration apps in this slideshow

Slack has now addressed these weaknesses. Real-time comms is now native to all plans, at least among Slack users. And -- after much delay -- the IT-friendly enterprise plan made its debut this past January.

Concerned they face an unstoppable force, Slack rivals have devised a number of other ways to stand out and deliver what Slack doesn't offer now and is unlikely to down the road. Following are what I consider the primary paths that they're taking forward. (Some of the apps, by the way, appear in more than one category below.)

The PBX path. The online team collaboration app becomes an add-on to an otherwise premises-based telephony or UC system.

  • Unify has long since integrated Circuit with its own OpenScape Voice platform, as well as with Cisco and Avaya systems
  • Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise's new Rainbow app works with multiple vendors' PBXs
  • Cisco has a hybrid deployment option specifically aimed at connecting Spark to Unified Communications Manager
  • Mitel MiTeam is the workstream messaging app for MiVoice Business, as well as its various cloud-based services
  • I've intentionally omitted Microsoft Teams, since it integrates with Skype for Business Online, but not Skype for Business Server deployed on-prem

The UCaaS path. This path has a prominent fork in it. One way leads to team collaboration as essentially an app for a UCaaS service, much like the PBX path above. The obvious examples here are:

  • RingCentral offers Glip as an add-on to an otherwise telephony-centric service
  • Genesys (formerly Interactive Intelligence) offers its team collaboration app as an add-on to its UCaaS service. See the next set of bullets below for details
  • Various hosted comms providers offering Cisco HCS-based services use Spark Hybrid to connect the two
  • Mitel MiTeam is the workstream messaging app for MiCloud services and MiVoice systems, as well as various prem-based Mitel systems
  • Microsoft Teams fits here to the extent that Teams is part of Office 365, Office 365 has Skype for Business Online, and Skype for Business Online can be enhanced with Cloud PBX and PSTN Calling to become a UCaaS service
  • Fuze (formerly ThinkingPhones) will presumably head in this direction too, when it relaunches the shuttered Live Minutes app as Fuze Spaces later this year
  • Team-One is the workstream collaboration app for BroadSoft-based telephony services, whether based on the BroadWorks platform or the BroadCloud service.

The other fork in the UCaaS path leads to team collaboration becoming the foundation of a comprehensive UC service

  • Cisco has clearly taken this route, with customers starting with Spark Messaging for team collab and upgrading to Spark Calling for a basic but essentially complete UCaaS platform
  • Prior to its acquisition by Genesys, Interactive Intelligence had taken this approach to team collaboration. Businesses started with PureCloud Collaborate for teams and, if they wanted, upgraded it to ININ's UCaaS offering, PureCloud Communicate. That's now changed. You can no longer buy PureCloud Collaborate separate from PureCloud Communicate. Collaborate is essentially a team collab app for Communicate... so PureCloud now belongs in the other UCaaS section above

The CPaaS path. Team collaboration is born out of and -- to some degree at least -- technically related to a separate CPaaS offering. These apps are aimed at different types of customers trying to accomplish different things -- CPaaS for developers building new apps or enhancing existing ones with comms, team collaboration for IT departments providing an app employees use to work together on projects. But they're related at some level, particularly in how they integrate with third-party apps.

  • Avaya is a good example of this. Its Zang Spaces collaboration app is part of a suite of services that includes the Zang Cloud, a CPaaS platform. Using Zang Cloud in the backend, Spaces either lets or will let users send SMS messages or dial into audio conferences from the PSTN
  • Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise's team collaboration app -- Rainbow -- was born out of the same group behind the company's CPaaS platform -- Rainbow Hub. Many of Hub's APIs are behind the Rainbow app's various messaging, communications, and bot functionality.
  • Moxtra doesn't fit here perfectly, but it's either this or start a new section just for it. Moxtra doesn't offer CPaaS per se, but the majority of its business is centered around embeddable code that lets customers write various bits of its team collaboration software into their otherwise collab- and comms-less apps.

The software suite path. Team collaboration is part of a larger suite of business apps.

  • Microsoft Teams, as mentioned above, is part of Office 365. Buy the latter and you get the former as part of it. And Microsoft has tightly integrated Teams with SharePoint, OneNote, Exchange, and other Microsoft apps.
  • Atlassian sells HipChat alongside various Jira project management and Confluence document collaboration apps. They're sold separately, but integrated tightly with each other and supported by the same company.

  • CA sells Flowdock as a standalone app, but has also included it in some of its software bundles. For example, CA Agile Central (the former Rally stuff) has a pricing tier that includes Flowdock.
  • BroadSoft Team-One is part of a suite of online apps that includes UC-One, CC-One and Hub. So I guess it could fit in this section too.

The project management path. Team collaboration is essentially a feature for an app otherwise designed to manage workflows. It helps people involved in those workflows work together instead of obsessing over all the real-time comms stuff that interests No Jitter readers like you and me.

  • Redbooth has headed in this direction, and is now billing itself as an online task management and project management app complete with a native Gantt chart generator.
  • Huddle is as much about project and process management as it is about team collaboration. The free plan includes features like task assignment, completion checks and reminders, document version control, and document approval, while the paid plans add customized task filtering.
  • Citrix Podio has a similar story, with various plans delivering task management, automated workflows, and advanced workflow orchestration. (I'm not even sure what advanced workflow orchestration is... but is sounds impressive, so it must be impressive.)

Businesses looking to adopt a team collaboration app first need to determine what their employees hope to accomplish with it. If it's mainly for project management, they may not need an app with advanced UC integrations. Whereas if it's for more advanced chat capabilities than corporate IM apps can provide, then apps with advanced task management functionality will be overkill.

Regardless, as CIOs and IT departments prepare to fork out real money for team collaboration apps, they will want to carefully assess which one will be the best fit. Because aside from some fairly basic persistent workspace features, it's becoming increasingly difficult to draw apples-to-apples comparisons across some of these applications.

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