It would be easy to say the biggest collaboration news of the year is the escalating battle between Microsoft's Teams and Slack's eponymous collaboration platform. But it wouldn't be precise.
The battle is emblematic of the big story in collaboration this year: Digitally-connected employees are bog-standard; multivendor enterprise collaboration in chat workplaces is the norm. Slack is no longer a disruptive technology; it's just a tech company scrambling to keep its valuation and market share now that the concept has been proven and competitors have figured out how to roll out their own chat collaboration workspaces.
That's not to say the battle between Slack and Microsoft Teams isn't relevant. Both companies have been citing customer counts as proof of adoption: Last month, at Microsoft Ignite in Orlando, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said 350 organizations with over 10,000 users apiece were using Teams. That's more than double its March 2019 blog entry celebrating Teams' second birthday with 150 organizations boasting 10,000 or more users.
Slack said it had 105,000 paid customers, albeit less than the 106,700 analysts had anticipated. Its numbers can't be directly compared to Microsoft's, but the stories both companies tell with their engagement numbers point to one observation: Thousands of people are using chat collaboration spaces as their primary space for communicating with colleagues and working together.
In recognition that the chat collaboration workspace is the new combination operating system/company watercooler, enterprise vendors have been going out of their way to make sure workers know they're cool with the brave new Slack, Teams, Google Hangouts and Atlassian world. More importantly, these companies recognize that it's a multiplatform, multivendor world. There were two big trends in the collaborative workspace this year.
Easy file access became a priority for workspace players. In April, Box and Microsoft teamed up on an Outlook plug-in to make files hosted in Box's storage service accessible to Outlook users, with the end goal of letting Outlook users select files from Box, set the right access permissions and securely attach shared links within Outlook messages.
Also, Dropbox debuted a desktop workspace, unrolled the capability to combine files, work software and teams, and introduced the ability to create, access and share Google documents, spreadsheets, slides and open Microsoft Office files. Vendors are resigned to a world in which enterprise customers mix and match platforms; now, a company's competitive differentiator may be how easily it allows its customers to set up workflows that allow conversations, information and files to move between vendors.
The push to move conversations from email to chat showed that vendors recognize email's ongoing role in the enterprise — and its effectiveness as a nudge for actionable behavior. For example, not did only did Slack enable users to be messaged within Slack the minute they get a meeting invitation in Outlook, it also introduced a Gmail add-on for Slack to let users send emails into Slack channels and direct messages (DMs) directly from their inbox.
Google revamped its messaging strategy for G Suite customers, introducing a Hangouts Chat feature in Gmail so people could move conversations where contextually appropriate. As ITPro Today reported: "In an effort to keep workers’ attention in one product, Slack’s new integration with Office 365 allows a Slack channel to automatically update based on your Outlook calendar, for example, or share OneDrive files. In Gmail, you can now send emails from Slack and send instant messages from Gmail."
The most significant takeaway from these two trends in collaboration is that the enterprise is increasing its focus on capturing and using data effectively. The so-called "digital transformation" of the enterprise is an umbrella term for the process of using data-driven technologies to change or create business processes. Chat collaboration encapsulates a few internal business processes — capturing the information contained in employee communications, facilitating the collection and retrieval of information for employees and fostering a space where employees can use data to produce things vital to the company's line of business. Now, collaboration is at the heart of digital transformation.