After several years of swift uptake by users, collaboration software has become an increasingly integral part of how work is both organised and carried out.
As more businesses lean on tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams and others, IT leaders are looking to deploy a new breed of collaboration tools company-wide to boost productivity and connect disparate teams.
During 2017, team collaboration software matured as an enterprise option with the launch of Slack’s enterprise edition for large-scale deployments and Microsoft launched Teams to put group chat in the hands of many Office 365 subscribers.
Numerous other vendors moved to capitalise on the opportunity carved out by Slack with their own group chat offerings – such as Atlassian’s Stride – even as Cisco and Facebook continued to build out their existing platforms.
“Collaboration is hot. It will stay hot,” IDC research director Wayne Kurtzman said. “Collaboration platforms embody the opportunity of digital disruption. They are people-powered, use new behavioural metrics and positively affect standard business KPIs. And that trend will continue."
The stage is now set for a competitive market as more companies invest in software to connect their employees.
“We are still early in terms of companies having enterprise-wide deployments, but you will see in 2018 that there will be a fair amount of momentum behind large-scale deployments,” said Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Nemertes Research.
Group chat as the central hub for office productivity
One of the major trends to emerge in the last year or so is that group chat is fast becoming the central hub of productivity.
That’s reflected in the strategy of various unified communications vendors, said Lazar. For example, Microsoft plans to phase out Skype for Business, with Teams gradually becoming its core communications tool. And RingCentral acquired Glip to make it its main client for communications.
“Where team collaboration apps used to be seen as an adjunct, now you are starting to see a lot of applications rolling into them,” said Lazar.
“If I am working with my team, I am living in the team app. But if I want to share a document, I share it in the team app. If I want to open an app, I launch that – potentially even through the team app. So that becomes the digital workplace hub.”
Video conferencing is another aspect of communication that’s being rolled into team collaboration platforms, with screen sharing becoming more advanced, too, said Richard Edwards, service director and distinguished analyst at Freeform Dynamics.
“The most significant [change] looking into 2018 is the ability to switch between exchanging short messages and maybe a few file attachments to being able to go into a group conference call and maybe even escalate that and do a bit of screen sharing and bring in third parties much more easily than would be the case today,” said Edwards.
Despite an ever more competitive market, large-scale, integrated adoption of collaboration tools at the enterprise level remains to be done.
Most companies are using these tools in silos across teams, with little strategic planning around who uses what. A group of developers might be using one tool, for instance, while the marketing department is using another.
That will likely change as team collaboration becomes more popular; IT admins will have to take a more thought-out approach to deployments.
"It is starting to change,” said Lazar. “The conversations I am having with IT leaders is that they are starting to try and think a little bit more proactively and they want to plan for rolling out these applications in the next year or two.”
Helping to drive these kinds of investment decisions: the realisation by businesses that they are starting to reap the benefits of connecting teams and making it easier to share information and ideas.
“They see the value, they see that collaborating in the context of a team space is a whole lot easier than trying to use email,” said Lazar.
“It is much more intuitive [and] aligns with the needs of mobile workers…. The context of being able to converse within a space reserved for a specific topic, versus having to have everything sitting in your inbox, is just a much better way of working.”
Slack’s challenge: attracting large corporates
In many ways, Slack is responsible for the growing interest in group chat, which is reflected in the company’s impressive growth.
In September, the company announced that it has six million daily active users, up from five million in January, and $200 million in annual revenues. It has increased the number of people paying for its services, too.
Also, the company reached 50,000 paid team users, up from 38,000 in January, and two million paid individual users, up from 1.5 million at the start of the year.
Earlier this year, Slack began to actively target deployments at large business with the launch of its Enterprise Grid product.
The enterprise edition includes advanced security controls and user and administrative functions for an unlimited number of workspaces. It is designed to support deployments at companies with tens of thousands of employees with separate but connected workspaces.