How to manage group chat in the enterprise (hint: lightly)

Slack, Microsoft Teams, HipChat and a host of other collaboration tools are flooding into the enterprise. Here’s how IT is handling the deluge.

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There is a lot of chatting going on in corporate America these days, but not everyone is speaking the same language.

Group chat has been part of the startup culture for years. Young companies with young staff, particularly engineers in Silicon Valley, embrace it as an easy and effective way to communicate and collaborate, but they are hardly the first pioneers.

CompuServe was established as an independent company in 1979 and dominated the 1980's for chat and a host of other early online services. The popular IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and ICB (Internet Citizen's Band) protocols both date from the late 1980s, while one-time chat champion Yahoo Messenger made its debut in 1997.

Typically, chat was popular among technical teams, but was not officially sanctioned. (Ironically, IT employees were often part of those technical teams.)

All that has changed in the past few years as chat has gone mainstream. Slack is currently leading the latest charge, with Microsoft Teams aiming to capture some of Slack's audience. Atlassian, Basecamp, ChatWork and Cisco also have chat offerings in the mix, among many other players.

andrei soroker

Andrei Soroker

As group chat infiltrates large corporations, the IT department faces the prospect of how, or even whether, to manage these programs as formal collaboration tools. Should IT pick one program to standardize across the company, or let each department or business unit choose its own tool? How much control should IT assert? How can it maintain compliance without sapping productivity?

While there's broad agreement that group chat can be a productive collaboration and communications tool, there is also the potential for abuse. "It's called 'Slack' for a reason, right?" quips Andrei Soroker, CEO and founder of Sameroom, a product that aims to connect various chat programs together. "It plays into this idea that you can slack off more efficiently."

In reality, Slack's name evolved from the acronym for "searchable log of all conversation and knowledge," but Soroker's larger point is one shared among many enterprise teams -- group chat can be a powerful collaboration tool, or powerfully distracting.

Read on for insight from senior tech leaders on which aspects of chat need IT's attention and which they can safely ignore.

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