The productivity tool Slack has taken the world by storm. The web-based enterprise collaboration platform has made...
its way into organizations of all kinds recently, and has made ad hoc teaming and communication a standard.
Slack emerged as an answer to a crowded, but ineffective enterprise collaboration marketplace. While many tools had flooded the market by the time of Slack's launch in 2013 -- from Jive to SharePoint -- users remained frustrated by a lack of ease of use and a lack of integration between collaboration applications and the other apps they used for work. As a result, users often failed to use sanctioned collaboration tools, and even used their own rogue systems. When Slack came on the scene, it offered respite from this cycle of application fatigue and user revolt. Slack addressed usability problems and its users found it intuitive, easy to use, easy to work with in their native application environments and easy to build functionality from.
But, of course, Slack is but one enterprise collaboration application, and it has largely stuck to its roots in collaboration and chat rather than having broader designs to add content management capabilities; it relies on third parties for those functions. So, too, while Slack is building out integrations with other providers, it doesn't lay claim to other business productivity functions, such as video chat, document management or integration with back-office tools like Excel, OneDrive for Business or social media. Enter Microsoft Teams, which is angling for Slack's role in the marketplace, while also offering a wider array of functionality.
Which option makes more sense for enterprises? Let's compare them.
Communications and enterprise collaboration functionality
Slack and Teams share a primary mission: To facilitate collaboration in the enterprise through the ability to create spontaneous communications within ad hoc groups or between individuals.
Slack and Teams both enhance chat from its former basic leanings, offering the ability to append documents, images, spreadsheets and other artifacts to collaborative discussions, and making team-based file storage available to facilitate project work.
With both platforms, communications can be as broad as enterprise-wide and as limited as person-to-person. Between those two extremes, both platforms can restrict messages to subgroups within a group, as needed. Also, both feature configurable notifications to keep collaborative partners up to date on the latest messages. Both also enable the search of archived messages.
One of Slack's breakout features (which helped drive its rise in adoption) is its smooth incorporation of social media: It is easily customizable for use in social media marketing, a use case that in itself makes Slack a stand-out platform.
But Slack does not support threaded conversations -- email-style subdiscussions that help organize complex conversations that involve multiple participants. This void comes despite promises over the past year that this feature will soon be available. Teams offers this kind of capability and, in addition, offers in-line reply messaging -- another feature that adds structure to highly detailed dialogue -- which Slack does not.
Any effective enterprise collaboration platform enhances productivity in an organization, saving time, eliminating confusion and organizing project resources for optimal team use. But it ends there for Slack, which is essentially a chat platform, rather than a source of business functionality.
Teams, however, is part of the Office 365 platform, and offers deep integration with the platform's business functionality. Other O365 apps can be nested in Teams processes: Skype meetings, for instance, can be conducted from within Teams, and OneDrive is immediately accessible, adding both organization and integration to collaborative file usage.
In addition, Teams is integrated with Office Graph, Microsoft's artificial intelligence functionality that underlies Office 365 and services like Delve, making collaboration in Teams a business process that can be tracked, evaluated and optimized.
Integration and operating system compatibility
Integration with other platforms is always a core attribute for an application, but it has been the key to success or failure for collaboration apps. Slack took an early lead on application integration, tapping into other platforms (social media channels, in particular) and rolling out native iOS and Android apps. In addition, Slack offers easy communication beyond the enterprise -- for instance, when it's desirable to bring an outside vendor or consultant into a dialogue or project -- because Slack is stand-alone. Moreover, it's cleanly integrated with Google Docs and Dropbox, further enhancing its file-sharing capabilities across distributed teams.
In December, Slack partnered with Google to enable new functionality and integration, including features such as bots for notifications, support for Google's recently launched Team Drives, document previews, permissioning and more.
Teams is also mobile-enabled, enabled for Mac OS and boasts easy access to platform-external data interfaces through O365's native integration capabilities, which are considerable. But cross-platform user interfaces are fundamentally limited, even among Microsoft users: To be part of a Teams team, users must be using not only O365, but also one of the pricier Business versions of the platform.
Beyond this limitation, Teams is attracting plug-in development from other business platforms, such as Hootsuite, Asana and Zendesk, but it is still playing catch up.
Ease of use
Another critical feature of Slack is its user experience; it is exceptionally clean, simple and clear, and this has fueled its enthusiastic uptake.
Teams looks and functions a lot like Slack, but has the parallel challenge of maintaining the UI look and feel of Microsoft's Office products. While very similar to Slack, and certainly not unclear, it seems cluttered by comparison.
While some may fault Teams for its clunkier UI, this may not be fair. The bottom line is its integration of so many partner tools makes it best in class in terms of productivity -- but it also makes it necessarily somewhat clunkier to use and a less seamless experience for the user.
Pricing models for Slack and Teams are quite different, which makes comparison difficult.
Slack comes in three flavors: Lite, Standard and Plus. Lite is free and supports unlimited contacts; two-person calls, but no group calls; 5 GB file storage for a team; and limited search and app integrations. Standard is $8 per user per month, supporting unlimited messages and integrations, 10 GB file storage per person, support for group calls, guest usage and usage statistics availability. Finally, Plus is $15 per user per month with 20 GB file storage per person and 24/7 support.
Teams has no such scaled usage and is free for users of Office 365 Business Essentials, Office 365 Business Premium and the Enterprise E1, E3 and E5 plans. (It will also be made available to customers on the E4 plan before that plan it is phased out.)
Winner: Toss up, depending on various factors
(Note: Teams will be fully available in Q1 2017, but is currently available only as a trial.)
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