Microsoft Teams joins crowded collaboration apps market

Collaboration has long been the secret of human success, from catchy phrases like “united we stand, divided we fall” to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel depicting human unity as something even a god would fear. Ancient stories speak of the power of human collaboration and use a number of analogies to teach us the importance of teamwork. We now live in a time where they say distance is dead, and with the successful launch of a number of collaboration apps that make the need for a physical workspace a thing of the past, space may be dead, too.

tower-of-babel

Let’s face it, until a few years ago, office collaboration was all about emails, instant messengers, calendars, documents, and the intranet. With the big social media boom, a lot of people noticed that a message on Facebook or WhatsApp got a much quicker reply than the traditional email sent to [email protected] Though Microsoft predominantly ruled over this sector for the majority of the time most of us have been alive, open-source software that’s MS Office capable has been quick to catch up. OpenOffice by Apache, StarOffice by Sun Microsystems, and LibreOffice were the first few to make a dent on Microsoft’s monopoly of the market, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As social media and cloud computing spreads, the need for more all-encompassing office collaboration apps is also spreading, with initiatives like BYOD and virtual offices coming up at every management meeting.

Social media goes professional

With the hugely successful nature of social media apps like Facebook and Twitter, the need of the hour was to change the nature of work-related applications from emails and Word documents to make it more of a social experience. When we look at Facebook, what is it exactly that drew every single living person with an Internet connection to it? I mean we already had emails and we could already exchange photographs with each other. But what Facebook brought was the sheer convenience of posting a picture just once and having the ability to share it with everyone and get everyone’s “likes,” opinions, and comments in one place. This is the level of transparency and convenience that was needed at the workplace: just one PowerPoint presentation to load at one place and get the entire team’s views, inputs, and opinions.

Social media for the enterprise

Though social media had already been “invented” and software was no stranger to the enterprise, the bold step to merge the two was still a stroke of genius that probably left a lot of tech gurus and IT professionals saying, “Why didn’t I think of that!” It just goes to show that when we think the human race is saturated with ideas, more just keep coming.

It’s Yammer time!

Yammer was initially launched as an intercommunication tool for the genealogy website geni.com. But on Sept. 8, 2008, it opened its doors to the public and was a booming success. So much so that Microsoft ended up buying the company four years late for $1.2 billion. That’s like getting the ultimate compliment and about 1.2 billion times better than a pat on the back. Obviously, like any new market, the “enterprise social media” sector was quickly filled by a number of new players, each with its own unique collaboration apps.

Project management and inner peace

Anyone into yoga knows what an asana is, and the trendy app from Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz is named just that. The name was probably chosen to denote peace of mind, which not only comes from yoga but also from having good project management. Asana allows teams and projects to be handled and managed without the traditional back and forth of official emails. Virtual workspaces are created where team members can add notes, signal completion, put in requests, and update data as they see fit.

Another great generic project management tool is Trello, launched in 2011 as a closed beta. In the summer of 2012, it hit 500,000 users and launched an Android app. Trello now has over 10 million users, which just goes to show that there’s always room for improvement in a growing market and people are just waiting for something better to come along.

Department-specific tools

Though Asana and Trello are generic, and great for the enterprise, there was also a need for more department-specific collaboration apps. This led to the launch of a number of great applications such as Confluence, Basecamp, HipChat and Jira. Let’s take a quick look at what they actually do for the enterprise. Confluence and Basecamp are both great project-management tools. Confluence is more like a wiki with a broad range of features and add-ons, while Basecamp is a great document management tool. Basecamp’s strength lies in its simplicity, which makes it a lot easier to work with a large number of documents and clients at the same time. Confluence costs quite a bit more, and with the price tag comes a lot more flexibility. Apart from letting you manage your documents, it also allows you to create workflows for them, which is useful if you have documents that need to be actioned, like a holiday or a resource request.

More than a messenger

HipChat is a lot more than just an instant messenger app. With 5GB of cloud storage, SMS messaging, video calling, and screen sharing, it’s not a surprise that this app is said to manage 60 messages a second. Another reason for its success is the integration with a number of third-party tools like Jira (named after Godzilla), which is the ultimate tool for tracking and fixing bugs and is very popular among developers. And with ServiceNow coming up with department-specific solutions like IT, HR, marketing, finance, and so on, this sector has certainly become a crowded space.

Slack, Facebook Workplace, and Microsoft Teams

satya-microsoft-teams-2-webComplacent is one thing that the enterprise is not, and the all-encompassing messenger app Slack shook up any complacency when it was launched about two years ago. Since then it has been hailed as the hottest startup in recent years and has been valued at over $4 billion. Probably more powerful than a bank’s computer 20 years ago, this application lets you integrate Skype for video calling, and apart from letting you chat in groups and in private, it also lets you upload and share files. This is probably why Microsoft reportedly tried to buy it for $8 billion but later decided to spend the money developing their own collaboration app, called Microsoft Teams.

You can’t have a party and not call Microsoft and Facebook. Microsoft Teams is not really like Yammer, but rather like Slack with all the MS Office goodies packaged in. They’re also sticking to their old philosophy by not featuring cross-platform compatibility or integration with other tools — at least for now. Facebook Workplace, on the other hand, just launched a slightly customized and tidied up version of Facebook for the workspace. Given the advantage of already being integrated in everybody’s life, the announcement of Facebook Workplace was not really surprising. With everyone jumping on the bandwagon, it’s rare to see two giants take an opposite approach. Microsoft has gone with traditional enterprise mentality and launched Teams as a feature of every Office 365 subscription. This is probably targeting their current base of customers who are going to be using their products anyway and are concerned with integration into their existing model. Facebook and Slack, however, have intentionally gone in the other direction and distanced themselves from the traditional enterprise application. This is probably why they’re both so popular among startups: They seem to be hip, cool, productive, and very powerful.

Collaboration is key

Since the whole point of collaboration apps is to be able to work with other people, cross-platform compatibility and integration are key. The collaboration apps that play best with others are the ones that will stay. While developers have Jira and IT and support teams have ServiceNow and HipChat, in choosing an app for your enterprise you need to consider what’s best for all departments. When choosing a collaboration app for your employees, what’s important to remember is to choose software that’s cross compatible. The reason that this is so important is that this is a sector that’s wide open and new startups are coming up with new ideas every day. It is important to keep your applications open and compatible so that you’re not working in your walled garden while everyone else moves on to the next big thing. Open-source and cross-compatible software is also much more economical and makes sense, especially for startups on a budget. Cross compatibility also ensures that you never have to build your entire system again from scratch.

Photo credit: Freerange Photos

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