4 reasons Microsoft Teams will kill Slack… and 4 reasons it won’t

Microsoft Teams is going up against fan favorite Slack in the group communication and collaboration market

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Microsoft Teams is nearing its official debut. Designed as a hub for teamwork, the cloud-based Teams gives employees access to content, tools, people and conversations within the Office 365 environment. Groups and subgroups can communicate and collaborate using text-based chat, file sharing, and video and voice chats.

The big question is how Microsoft Teams will compete with Slack, a fan favorite in the hot enterprise team-collaboration market.

“If you look at the basics – if you took the two products as they are, side by side, without looking at any integrations or other ecosystem things – you wouldn’t really think one was overwhelmingly better than the other,” says Michael Fauscette, chief research officer at G2 Crowd, a peer-to-peer business software review platform. “There’s not a significant difference in the base product.”

Slack has momentum on its side, however, plus an open-platform approach and an arsenal of tie-ins to third-party tools that have served to win over users and entrench Slack within companies.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has built Teams on the strength of its Office 365 productivity suite, a known and trusted entity for IT departments. From a user perspective, built-in access to familiar tools such as SharePoint, OneNote and Skype for Business is a key advantage as Microsoft readies Teams for general availability. (A beta version of Teams is currently available for Office 365 customers with a Business Essentials, Premium or Enterprise plan; general availability is expected by the end of this quarter.)

Microsoft at one time considered paying a reported $8 billion to buy Slack. Instead it built its own Slack competitor. Here are four key opportunities for Microsoft Teams and four challenges as it dives into the chat-based collaboration market.

1. Killer opportunity: Microsoft is a trusted vendor

Microsoft’s reach and reputation as a vendor is one of its strongest advantages in the collaboration arena. A recent study from cloud access security broker (CASB) vendor Bitglass finds Office 365 is deployed in 34.8% of organizations.

“Pretty much every enterprise on the planet, if they haven’t already adopted Office 365, they’re strongly considering it for the near future,” says Rich Campagna, senior vice president of products at Bitglass. “Office is vetted by their security and compliance teams, it’s known to have high level of overall security on the platform, and Microsoft is a trusted partner. It’s well known versus the process of starting from scratch with a brand new vendor.”

2. Killer opportunity: Fills a gap in Microsoft’s collaboration toolset

Teams satisfies a need for fast-paced chat and weaves in nicely with the rest of Microsoft’s collaboration platform, says Dux Sy, chief technology officer of the public sector business at AvePoint, which specializes in the migration and management of enterprise Office 365 and SharePoint deployments. Yes, it’s yet another tool that’s put in front of employees, who may or may not be receptive, but “collaboration is becoming very complex,” Sy says. “That fast-paced element of collaboration – we now have a tool for it. I’m not saying it’s for everybody, but there’s the option.”

3. Killer opportunity: Office 365 tie-ins

For companies that use Office 365 tools every day, there are some compelling reasons to consider Teams. Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, OneNote, Planner, Delve, Power BI — they’re all tied into Microsoft Teams. In addition, Microsoft Teams is backed by the Microsoft Graph, a unified API endpoint for accessing data and intelligence from the Microsoft cloud, and it's built on Office 365 Groups, which create single identities for teams to make it easy for people to move from one collaboration tool to another.

Plus, it’s free for enterprise subscribers of Office 365. “It’s not just about features and integration,” AvePoint’s Sy says. “Dollars and cents are very compelling.”

microsoft teams hero screen Microsoft

Microsoft's new Teams group chat software is shown running on a Surface Studio.

There’s a good use case for offering a chat-based workspace inside of Office 365, Fauscette says, particularly among Microsoft shops that are starting from scratch with chat-based collaboration.

“That’s the perfect use case for Microsoft. If you’re already a Microsoft client, and you get it for free, and it’s inside of the stuff that you use every day, it’s a natural that you just introduce it,” he says. “It could easily develop a good following in companies where not that many tools have gotten into.”

Fauscette cautions not to overestimate the number of companies that are starting from scratch with a group chat application: “You’d be surprised at the number of companies that think they don’t have any tools and actually have five or six.”

Demonstrating the value of using Teams will be key to winning over end users. “There has to be something in it for them, though, or you’ll never get adoption,” Fauscette says.

4. Killer opportunity: Help from partners

One reason Slack has done so well is the openness of its platform. Hundreds of bots and apps fit inside the environment and link users to the tools they already use. Slack “opened up early and encouraged lots of partners to build lots of things,” Fauscette says. “That makes it become sticky and makes it easy to adopt.”

Microsoft can potentially benefit from the strength of its own partners. “[Microsoft] partners are really strong, and if they get on board with something, they tend to really push hard and make it successful,” Fauscette says.

“If the partners are on board, they’ll definitely help drive that adoption pretty quickly.”

1. Killer challenge: Slack’s head start

An estimated 33% of enterprises worldwide have tried Slack, and the pace of adoption puts Slack among the fastest-growing enterprise cloud services, according to the Bitglass study. “There’s a huge amount of interest in Slack, and we’re not seeing any signs of that slowing down. Microsoft Teams is just getting started,” Campagna says.

Enticing companies that are already using Slack to switch to Teams won’t be easy. “It really depends on what you’re using Slack for” and how many applications are integrated with Slack, Fauscette says. A company might think it has few Slack tie-ins, only to discover dozens exist because of the ease of linking. “Over time [Slack] ends up like a spider web that spreads here and there and connects to different things,” Fauscette says, “which is of course the reason they did it this way.”

Another issue to consider is the potential loss of engagement if companies try to steer committed Slack users to Teams. “In some companies there would be a mutiny, I think. In others it’d be a quiet revolution,” Fauscette says.

End users aren’t alone in their attachment to Slack. Oftentimes it’s IT that introduced and is committed to Slack, Fauscette says. “If look at the applications that are opened up and tied into Slack – things like GitHub, Bitbucket, HubSpot, Heroku, Pingdom – there are literally hundreds of developer tools that are tied into Slack.”

In addition to being widely deployed, Slack has an appeal that’s hard to ignore. “Slack is cool. People want to use the cool app. That can be powerful,” Campagna says. “Five years ago, it didn’t matter what the employees wanted. IT could force what they wanted on them, from an applications standpoint. Definitely that world is no longer the reality.”

“The cool factor does play into this quite a lot,” Fauscette says.

2. Killer challenge: What to use when

Office 365 users already have Outlook, Yammer, Skype – do they really need another way to communicate with colleagues?

Getting end users to adopt Teams means understanding how all the collaboration tools differ. AvePoint’s Sy likens it to when end users need to create a table, they don’t have to be told whether to build the table using Word, Excel or Access. “You don’t think about it,” Sy says. “We’re not there yet, for sure, around collaboration, but that’s the goal.”

Getting there will require explicit direction. 

“I think it comes down to the organization – both IT and the business – putting together some guidelines,” Sy says. “IT’s role and responsibility is to provide guidance, and the way they provide guidance is very specific use cases within the organization." Otherwise, people will be too busy to learn Teams, and they won't see the value of it. “IT has to make it easy for users to do the right thing," Sy says.

3. Killer challenge: Governance and compliance

One area of potential exposure and risk – for any group-based collaboration platform, not just Teams– is with data governance and compliance. Microsoft offers Office 365 Security & Compliance Center to help companies manage compliance features across Office 365 for their organizations, and with the cloud-based Azure Information Protection, administrators can define rules and conditions to classify, label, and protect documents and emails.

But “IT has to be very familiar with what the capabilities are and where they stop,” Sy says. For example, an enterprise can set policies using Office 365 Compliance center to alert IT if documents containing Social Security numbers or credit card numbers are shared in OneDrive or SharePoint. IT needs to understand the lag time, however. “It doesn’t mean that if someone uploads a document with Social Security numbers in it that’s it’s going to pick it up right away. It will find it, but after a period of time,” Sy says.

“For some companies that may be ok," Sy says. "But if you’re in a highly compliant environment, you’re government or you’re a regulated industry, that might not be good enough.”

4. Killer challenge: Balancing security and adoption

Sharing content with users outside an organization isn’t a new dilemma. Slack and Teams allow external sharing and collaboration, as do other Office 365 services such as OneDrive and SharePoint. That doesn’t mean it’s not a challenge, however.

“With cloud apps, it can be so easy to collaborate. It’s great for users but kind of a pain for security folks,” Campagna says. “That’s one of the big things that IT wants to put controls around and get control over. What’s going to go outside of our company if we enable this app? Do we have any controls over it?” What things are available publicly that shouldn’t be?”

Unmanaged devices are another issue. “Unlike a premises-based application, anybody on any device on the planet can download a Teams app or add their Office 365 email to a phone or a laptop and then gain access to these applications," Campagna says. Managing risk from that standpoint is another issues for enterprises to consider.

“These apps have a wealth of information in them that’s being exchanged among employees, and to allow that information to be downloaded to an unmanaged devices that IT has no control over becomes a big issue,” Campagna says.

It comes down to balance. “There’s almost always some amount of struggle or opposition between the needs of the users and the needs of the security team. To a large extent, the cloud app vendors are motivated to get as much adoption as possible, and sometimes that can come at the expense of security functionality that they build in,” Campagna says.

This story, "4 reasons Microsoft Teams will kill Slack… and 4 reasons it won’t" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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