There has been a veritable explosion in workplace sharing platforms in the past five years, with some doomsayers proclaiming that the likes of Slack and Dropbox would spell the end for the trusty email.
Slack exploded into the collaboration market six years ago, triggering a wave in the market that has seen a number of established players refresh their own offering.
Cisco launched Spark in 2015, before folding it into WebEx last year; while social media giant Facebook has had a stab at the market - last year appointing distributor Distology for its Workplace by Facebook offering.
But it is Microsoft that has had arguably the biggest impact on the market. Recently published research by Spiceworksshows that Teams, which launched in 2016, has now surpassed Slack's market share.
Skype for Business was still the most-used workspace platform with adoption of 44 per cent, but Teams had jumped ahead of Slack into 21 per cent of the surveyed businesses, leaving Slack with 15 per cent.
This is in contrast to 2016, when Teams was in just three per cent of surveyed businesses.
Rufus Grig, group strategy director at comms VAR Maintel, told CRN that this astronomic adoption rate of Teams is due to Microsoft including it as part of its Office 365 bundle.
He has observed that customer deployment of the tool is done on a departmental basis, rather than a company-wide mandated adoption.
"The fact that Microsoft had that enormous Office 365 base to which it effectively gifted Teams, means that it had this pre-existing market there to put the workplace collaboration tools into," Grig said.
"We've found that adoption among customers is from departments and internal teams getting together and playing around with it."
Kelvin Kirby, CEO of Technology Associates, added that the attraction for many customers is that Teams comes free with Office 365, but he warned that they have to realise the platform is not designed for long-term work.
"Teams is great for short-term collaborative projects because it was created with those in mind - it wasn't designed for long-term projects," he said.
"We are encouraging customers to use SharePoint rather than Teams because it provides more functionality and capability and has more of a governance structure to it."
Usurping the crown
Collaborative apps have become increasingly popular among businesses of all sizes, and Spiceworks' research indicates that large businesses have been leading the charge. In 2018, 70 per cent of large companies were using collaborative chat apps, marking a 17 per cent increase from 2016.
However, over the two-year period mid-sized companies have enthusiastically embraced the comms tool, jumping 38 per cent to 61 per cent in 2018.
The ubiquity of Office 365 among businesses of all sizes gives Teams an advantage over its competitors, but the lack of training and management of the feature can lead to problems for IT departments, according to Kirby.
He explained that an individual can set up a group, or even multiple groups, for a project but that these tend to be abandoned once a project is completed.
"That becomes a problem because there is then a wealth of sites to be managed by the IT department, who didn't create them and aren't sure whether to archive them, delete them or how to handle them," he stated.
"You can get a certain amount of online storage space, depending on what size of customer you are. You can buy extra storage, but you don't want to do that just to cope with a plethora of abandoned Teams sites.
"I think that will slow down adoption rather than accelerate it as customers begin to realise that it's not designed for long-term projects."
Kirby also noted that customers are demanding more control over what happens to their data, documents and structure, which is why he points them towards SharePoint.
Last year, Microsoft announced that Skype for Business would be parked in favour of Teams, which would be the primary client for meetings and calls in Office 365, and that a number of Skype's features would be incorporated into Teams.
"One of the things that will accelerate Teams in companies is that it is now more or less a replacement for Skype, so embracing that kind of functionality is now all done through Teams," said Kirby.
"The online presence capabilities are quite useful. But there needs to be a layer of management in terms of how you use the Teams sites."
There is a theory that Microsoft might be premature in executing this plan, seeing as Skype for Business is still the favoured chat app among organisations.
Maintel's Grig believes the vendor played its hand too soon and that Skype for Business still has a number of features superior to that of Teams, which he said isn't yet ready to become the flagship communications tool for Microsoft.
"I think Microsoft made the announcement to take the wind out of Slack's sails and I'm sure it is the right strategy for them but I think they went too soon," he said.
"It made our customers sit up and wonder ‘what is the strategic direction of this?'
"Teams looks like it has a bright future but at present it isn't necessarily all there yet and now Microsoft is saying that Skype for Business - which is pretty all-conquering - is going to be put on hold in favour of Teams.
"Both apps are now close for feature parity, but they need to have the two run parallel for some time to come."
Ian Clarke, product manager at Daisy, believes that the move has been made to insert a clear divide between the vendor's two chat apps.
"I think that moving all the features into one app that is distanced from its free public offering of Skype is a good move," he said.
"Certainly the amount of confusion between Skype and Skype for Business will disappear and Skype will be seen for home use, while Teams will be seen for work use."
Teams is forecast to experience the most growth in the space, with 41 per cent of organisations expected to use Microsoft Teams by 2020, with challenger Slack expected to experience a slight increase of 18 per cent adoption.
Email remains the undefeated leader of workplace communication, with 99 per cent usage, according to Spiceworks' figures, but collaborative work platforms are increasingly being seen as supplemental to email, particularly in large organisations.
The popularity of these apps is expected to increase as a younger generation, reared on social media and comfortable with the interactivity of collaborative apps, enters the workforce.
Clarke said that younger employees often opt for the chat apps over email, and use word of mouth to encourage others to use the apps.
Kirby agreed with this sentiment, stating that he has also observed younger employees move towards collaborative platforms.
"Because of the way social media apps are being designed and used, the younger generation is being brought up with a different approach to working," he explained.
"I think we'll see apps like Teams become more prevalent because they emulate a way of working that people have grown up with through social media."
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