Being one of the first sessions at Enterprise Connect 2019, this set the tone for what to expect for the week ahead. Moderated by Zeus Kerravala, the panel was a great showcase for the current state of team collaboration, a fast-moving spacing that remains poorly understood. Joining Zeus was Lorrissa Horton, GM Cisco Webex Teams, Scott Van Vliet, Corporate VP, Intelligent Communications, Microsoft, and Christina Kosmowski, VP Customer Success, Slack.  Note that Microsoft Teams and Cisco’s Webex Teams are arguable the biggest names right now in team collaboration (for more information on those platforms, check out our head to head: Microsoft Teams vs. Webex Teams).

To set the table, Zeus explained how Unified Communications has lots of utility, but doesn’t address all collaboration needs. Team collaboration is more about making teams more agile, primarily using tools that are native for digital workers. This means making the team collaboration software easily accessible to both internal and external audiences, something that has long been a UC shortcoming.

In terms of design, he also noted how team collaboration offerings are organized by work stream rather by the user, with the intent being to share content quickly. UC has been more focused on supporting communications applications, and only more recently have workflows been part of the mix. There are certainly many use cases for team collaboration, and however you define it, the adoption trend is strong.

Zeus cited some of his research showing that 84% currently have some form of this in place now, and that’s up from 70% in 2017. He also noted that few businesses have standardized around a single partner for collaboration. The majority use 2, 3 and even more partners, and this pattern holds across the board – for SMBs, mid-sized enterprises and large enterprises.

While adoption is strong, it’s important to understand how team collaboration differs from UC, and to illustrate, Zeus reviewed how the factors driving buying decisions compare. Based on his research, below are the top purchasing drivers as well as features for each.

UC – top purchasing drivers:

  • 63% – save money on operations
  • 50% – save money on telecom costs
  • 28% – having communications-enabled applications

UC – top features:

  • 39% – ease of use
  • 23% – ease of deployment
  • 21% – having the best technology
  • 20% – interop with Skype for Business

Team collab – top purchasing drivers:

  • 52% – improve team collaboration/productivity
  • 25% – simplify file/content sharing
  • 22% – support mobile users

Team collab – top features:

  • 37% – file sharing
  • 26% – integrate audio and video for meetings
  • 21% – screen sharing

To build on this, the panelists brought a wide range of perspectives, and a fair bit of consensus in terms of what’s happening in the market. Here are three themes that stood out from the conversation.

  1. Can you have single vendor for teams?

Based on the above research data, this isn’t a likely scenario, and the panelists pretty much concurred. Scott from Microsoft noted that it’s hard to avoid having a mix of legacy and digital tools, and how it will take time to adopt and integrate Teams into other products. While Christina from Slack believes her platform can do it all, this is not realistic, so vendors really need to be open and support many applications that complement what’s already on the platform. Lorrissa from Cisco added that you need to create an open environment as everyone has their own preferred mix. Older tools are still deeply engrained, so they need to be supported as you add newer, digital applications.

  1. Is cross-platform integration happening?

There short answer is no, but it’s really a lack of desire. Vendors naturally prefer proprietary, walled gardens to lock in customers, but with cloud being so user-centric, it’s not a viable approach. More importantly, the panelists noted that there is no XMPP standard for everyone to align with, but in time, this will likely come. Until then, buyers will have lots of choice, but that cuts both ways. Variety reflects a healthy ecosystem to keep vendors honest, but as Zeus noted, we can easily end up with “too much sprawl”, which makes it harder for buyers to make good decisions.

  1. How do we free people from legacy tools like email?

This gets to the heart of the team collaboration value proposition, and there are no easy answers.  Between legacy and digital applications, workers lose a lot of time managing them rather than getting real work done. As such, the intention to make life simpler using team collaboration is difficult to support, and won’t be solved any time soon. Scott noted that this is really about a cultural change, and as the workforce trends younger, legacy applications will run their course – but clearly this is a long-term transition. Internally, Microsoft employees made the transition from Skype for Business to Teams in only four months, and while that speed is impressive, email usage has only declined, not been eliminated.

Panelists talked about “the new way to work” with team collaboration, but they also recognize that email still has a lot of utility, and it’s important for employees to still have this choice. As such, the concept of team collaboration will remain fluid, and really should be viewed as a complement to existing applications, not a replacement. This is a theme I expect to hear often here at Enterprise Connect 2019, and I’ll have more say in my next few posts.