Proliferating enterprise collaboration tools reshape the workplace

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Microsoft Teams takes aim at Slack

Microsoft's new collaboration tool makes sense for Office 365 customers, but it would be a tough sell for companies using a different platform and alternate chat tool.

When Microsoft releases its chat-space workplace called Teams for Office 365 in early 2017, it hopes to take a...

chunk of the collaboration market currently belonging to industry leaders like Slack.

While the first glimpses of Microsoft Teams intrigue industry analysts and consultants, they said its potential to knock Slack off its perch isn't as likely, as Teams users will also have to be heavy users of Office 365.

"I don't think it's a matter of competing with Slack. You need Office 365 to work with Teams, so for Microsoft, it's a matter of keeping people in Office 365," said Joshua Trupin, research vice president at Directions on Microsoft, an independent IT planning and information service in Kirkland, Wash. "But it's very obviously built to compete with Slack. Its interface and feel is quite similar to Slack in many ways."

For some, it won't be worth moving from Slack no matter how closely Teams may resemble the popular collaboration platform.

"Slack is the main tool everyone at the company uses to communicate with everyone else -- it's more prominent than email," said Jonathan Wasserstrum, co-founder and CEO of New York-based TheSquareFoot Inc., a commercial real estate marketplace. "Slack is like a verb here, 'Slack me back.' If I went to my employees tomorrow about implementing a cost-savings measure and removed Slack -- it's not worth the risk."

The release of Microsoft Teams does signify that collaboration tools are growing in popularity in the software space, as companies try to diversify the communication techniques beyond employee email.

"This validates a different type of collaboration for teams or groups that is more conversational-centric," said Mike Gotta, a research vice president at Gartner. "There's a bit of consumerism trend, where people are more comfortable messaging and work is becoming more dynamic and nonroutine, which lends itself to conversation."

I don't think it's a matter of competing with Slack. You need Office 365 to work with Teams, so for Microsoft, it's a matter of keeping people in Office 365.
Joshua Trupinresearch vice president, Directions on Microsoft

Microsoft outlined four aspects of Microsoft Teams: chat, a central hub for workspace, customization options and encrypted data for security purposes. And while its goal may be to remove Office 365 users from Slack, it also may have a negative effect on existing Microsoft collaboration tools.

"It's more of a Yammer killer than a Slack killer," Gotta said. "You do have a Venn diagram overlap of Yammer Groups and Microsoft Teams. Microsoft has to do a better job of providing guidance of getting Yammer more positioned as a cross-organizational community tool and have Teams be for purposeful activities of a particular group. That would pull apart the overlap."

Trupin explained, "This definitely re-creates what many people wished Yammer felt like. I don't see a long future for Yammer as a strong stand-alone product of interest."

Teams vs. Slack

For Microsoft Teams to compete with Slack, Gotta said, it would have to beef up its business partnerships to increase plug-in and customization options -- something Slack has in abundance, compared with the embryotic Microsoft Teams. Microsoft is promising Teams will ship with more than 70 connectors and 85 third-party bots out of the gate, which is dwarfed by the 750 applications with which Slack is integrated.

"What's interesting about Slack is [its] library of apps. People can have this tool be a chameleon and fit the way I work based on the things I add to it," Gotta said. "What Microsoft has to do is execute well on the business partnerships to a degree where the integration is rich. Just having minor integration is the biggest risk for Microsoft. For Teams, it's the last mile of that user experience and the way people work."

The third-party plug-ins and applications Slack supports are one of the main selling points for Tim Burke, director of IT for BetterCloud, a New York-based cloud security and management company that uses Slack.

"While we have cut down on email significantly, the biggest value we've seen using Slack is the integrations that we've connected through the service," Burke said. "We have a channel that automatically posts every new hire, every new sale, every renewal, when BetterCloud makes the news, etc. It has replaced about seven different daily emails that no one ever read, or email chains that devolved into reply-all disasters."

One advantage Microsoft Teams does have over Slack is potentially the same thing holding it back from a larger piece of the market: the ground-level integration with Office 365.

"Something Microsoft can do that others wouldn't be able to as easily is pull existing content into the Teams interface to make it more useful," Trupin said.

Marketing and sales departments can pull in relevant content from campaigns and leads that exist in Office 365 and have quick, concise collaboration around it through Teams. Yet, it's that same integration that could keep companies that aren't heavily reliant on Office 365 to stay away from Teams.

"The value arrives when Slack or other group chat applications are set up properly and integrated well," Burke said. "[Teams] is definitely a compelling sell to organizations on Office 365. Teams looks really easy to flip on and includes some great product integrations to start."

How Office 365 fits in

Regardless of its attempt to become a player in the collaboration space, Microsoft Teams could be a success if it keeps Office 365 customers more engaged in their existing platform.

"This is definitely another step in making Office 365 more interesting for users and keeping companies engaged with it," Trupin said. "For every service, it's a goal to not just sell it, but have it be consumed. That's the No. 1 point toward renewal."

On the day Microsoft Teams was announced, Slack took notice of the similarities. In a blog post on its site, the company said it is "genuinely excited to have some competition," and the advantages of Slack were "so overwhelming that every business would be using Slack, or 'something just like it.'"

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