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Team Collaboration Battle Intensifies over App Integration

Enterprise team collaboration contenders Facebook, Microsoft, and Slack are engaged in a battle of one-upmanship, with the latest competitive pushes aimed at integration supremacy.

Facebook's enterprise-targeted collaboration solution, Workplace, is scarcely two months into general availability, but the company is already planning its next move, for example. This week at the TechCrunch Disrupt event in London, Julien Codorniou, Facebook's head of Workplace, took the stage for a fireside chat with TechCrunch's Josh Constine, and revealed that Facebook will evolve the newborn Workplace solution into a full platform that will soon support integration with other enterprise apps for capabilities such as CRM, email, and file sharing.

At launch, Facebook announced more than 1,000 enterprise customers were already using Workplace, which had been in beta since January 2015, and momentum has been strong since then, Codorniou said. He then rattled off a handful of new enterprise customers signed on in just the past couple weeks. On the list, and reportedly being launched this week, is AirAsia, a Malaysian airline with more than 20,000 employees, all of which will be using Workplace -- "from the CEO to every crew of every flight," Codorniou said. Also in the hopper is the entire Singapore government, which will be on-boarding more than 150,000 employees to Workplace.

What Facebook touts with Workplace is the ability to connect everybody in a company -- from the CEO down to the baggage handler, as would be the case at AirAsia. As such, everybody has a voice, Codorniou said, and the more connected an enterprise becomes, the more productive it can be.

But as TechCrunch's Constine noted, while Facebook's Workplace launched with a few enterprise security-oriented integrations (Okta and Microsoft Azure Active Directory, for example) as well as service partners like Deloitte and Edelman for onboarding assistance, it didn't have a fully built-out app platform for integrating with third-party applications in the same way that Slack does. And that can be limiting when it comes to improved productivity.

Facebook doesn't intend for that to be a limitation for long, as Codorniou announced. Its intention is to grow Workplace just as it has done with Facebook: by first building out the network, driving adoption, retention, and customer satisfaction; and then enabling services to be built on top of the network.

Facebook just launched Custom Integrations, a "Version 0.1 platform," to enable enterprises to build applications on top of the Workplace platform, Codorniou said. Citing early use cases, he said some companies have begun integrating Workplace with their intranets so they can automatically publish into the Workplace newsfeed. Another company, in the Nordics, is building a cafeteria app on top of Workplace so it can publish photos of what's on the menu for the day, again directly into the newsfeed. And other companies are connecting directly to Salesforce. "Whatever you are using internally, you can connect Workplace to these applications and provide a great experience to your users," he said.

"It's just the beginning. It's really just week No. 2 for us. ...It's a long journey," he said.


Microsoft Teams and Slack's Enterprise Efforts
While Facebook's Workplace certainly seems off to a great start, at least from Codorniou's perspective, you can't forget about the other tech giant to recently join the game, Microsoft. Unveiled last month, its Teams collaboration tool, with ties to Office 365, will undoubtedly be a significant contender in the battle for team collaboration market share. Being an enterprise technology mainstay for decades now, Microsoft fully understands the value of integration.

Teams offers a variety of options for users to integrate with external services and applications. As detailed in its Microsoft Teams Developer Preview announcement, Teams offers three options for integrations: tabs, which surface a full site or Web service directly into Teams; and connectors and bots, for embedding interactions directly into channels.

Examples of tabs include dashboards and data visualization, documents, and group task management apps. Connectors can be used for things like tracking Twitter feeds or collaborating on a coding project on GitHub. Bots can enable information retrieval and task completion in Teams, Microsoft says, and are created using the Microsoft Bot Framework, the same thing developers use for building bots on Skype for Business and Office 365 mail. "Your bot can enable people to do things like give kudos to team members; create lightweight surveys; answer natural language questions about sales and customer usage data; or manage tasks and schedules," Microsoft stated.

While Teams won't be ready for general availability until the first quarter of 2017, Microsoft revealed that many developers and partners have already committed to building apps for the Teams platform. These include Zendesk, Asana, Intercom, Hootsuite, Polly, Meekan, and Workato.

Slack, too, has been the champion of integrations, positioning the team collaboration tool as a platform capable of integrating the rest of your necessary enterprise tools -- although Slack itself doesn't yet offer an enterprise version even though it's been talking about doing so for well over a year, as you may recall from our October post, "Prepping Team Collaboration for Enterprise Scale." (The wait may soon be over; Slack CTO Cal Henderson recently told ZDNet that Slack Enterprise is currently in beta and is scheduled to launch in early 2017. With the release, the expectation is that enterprises finally will have the tools they need to manage sprawl as well as management and provisioning capabilities.)

Meantime Slack just announced a partnership with Google to offer integrations to its shared customers. The partnership will involve a Google Drive Slack bot, improved file sharing, the ability to connect Slack channels to Team Drives, the integration of Google Docs to enable previews in Slack, and the kicker -- the ability for company admins to provision Slack directly from the G Suite admin console. These integrations are slated for availability in the first half of 2017, which, when taken along with its plans to release its enterprise version in the same time period, seems to signal to me that Slack is truly ramping up for its entry into the enterprise.

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