Google G Suite, Microsoft Teams and Slack Connect – Which Vision for Collaboration to Follow?

21 Jul 2020

The “collaboration” space has always been hard to define, and while this reality has been a holdback for broad adoption, the enterprise market is past that, and the interest level has never been stronger. Every vendor and cloud provider has UC and/or UCaaS, and the range of offerings keeps expanding. Having lots of choice makes for healthy competition – and we really need that – but the subjective nature of collaboration puts the onus on decision-makers to get it right. There is no singular way to collaborate, and we really don’t have enough metrics to measure the expected outcomes.

To some extent, collaboration platforms are becoming commodified – they all can support voice, video, messaging, conferencing, file sharing, etc. If that’s all you’re looking for, you could just throw a dart at the wall, and wherever it lands, that provider can probably do the job. However, for anyone on a serious UC buyer’s journey, that least-effort approach won’t suffice, and that’s why the BCStrategies portal is here. As an analyst, I follow the broader market closely, and this post serves to provide some nuance for IT decision-makers in getting beyond a generic approach to collaboration.

During the past few weeks, three major collaboration platform providers have announced updates, with each taking a distinct approach. They have all come curiously during the same timeframe, and IT decision-makers need to pay to attention to these changes. Not only does the collaboration value proposition keep evolving, but so do the needs of home-based workers during pandemic times. Of course, many other collaboration providers are evolving as well, so there’s a lot to keep track of. These three recent updates, however, reflect different visions for collaboration, and to get the right fit, IT decision-makers need to carefully consider collaboration needs across the entire organization.

Slack Connect – a world without email

This update was announced on June 24, and is the strongest demarcation yet between those who want to dispense with email and those who still feel it’s core to collaboration. Of course, the former is central to Slack’s DNA, so there’s nothing new here. Slack has always been messaging-centric, but to access the enterprise market, the platform has needed to evolve. Connect is their latest iteration along this path, with the main update being secure federation, where internal channels can now be extended externally, up to 20 outside organizations. This certainly makes Slack a more attractive vehicle for supply chain efficiencies, but it also strengthens their collaboration story.

There’s a lot to like about Slack, and their email-free approach has made them a disruptor, and that has spurned much-needed innovation in the collaboration space. Email is a deeply ingrained habit, mainly because it has so much utility. However, like legacy telephony, email has hardly evolved, and as a collaboration tool, many are finding that the limitations and nuisances now outweigh the benefits. Slack has always believed there’s a better way, and having now achieved critical mass, this company needs to be in the conversation for the collaboration buyer’s journey.

As Slack has grown, so has the debate about whether it’s a complement or replacement to Teams. That’s a messy topic, since enterprises often want to settle on one collaboration platform. Slack cannot displace Teams, but there’s a winner-take-all scenario shaping up for the main hub around which work gets done. With Connect, Slack comes to market with a more complete enterprise collaboration platform, especially with Enterprise Key Management to ensure security, and managing workflows with outside parties, all without the need for email. That’s a big step forward, so Connect offers a cloud-native solution for enterprises looking to re-think collaboration. For more on Slack Connect and bigger picture implications, Chris Fine and I covered this ground in the July 2020 episode of our Watch This Space podcast.

Microsoft Teams – a video-centric vision for collaboration

Whereas Slack offers a messaging-centric vision for collaboration, it’s not surprising to see Microsoft take a different tack on the same problem set. Every player in this space has to respond with a specific competitor/s in mind, and that dynamic needs to be considered by IT decision-makers. Since Slack stands alone among the majors for sidelining email, they are essentially competing against all UC/UCaaS providers, and that’s a difficult mountain to climb.

Microsoft, on the other hand, is competing directly against Google for two reasons. One is to protect their desktop hegemony, upon which much of their fortune rests. Secondly, Outlook and Gmail are by far the dominant email platforms, and this duopoly isn’t going to change any time soon. As such, Microsoft is in no position to move off email to match wits with Slack, since Google is far more of threat to their enterprise business.

The downside of being so dominant is that Microsoft is a target for everyone. This is where the plot thickens, since the collaboration umbrella covers so many critical applications. Microsoft can’t best Slack on the messaging front, but they really don’t need to, since it’s not the driver for Teams. While Outlook helps Microsoft neutralize Google for Gmail, they have to compete on several other fronts, and right now, nothing is bigger than video.

Slack isn’t really a video player, but everyone in the collaboration space is competing now with Zoom on this front. Microsoft has had video long before Zoom came along, but the stakes are much higher now, since Zoom has validated the value proposition for a video-centric collaboration platform. Zoom cannot compete full-on with Teams, but they sure are pulling a lot of video traffic away from the Microsoft universe.

As such, it’s not surprising to see video being front-and-center for the latest Teams update. New features like Together Mode and Dynamic View are really cool, and show real innovation in a fast-changing market. For better or worse, COVID-19 has made video a must-have capability with work from home, and we’re all learning what works and doesn’t work when using this mode all day long. There were several other notable updates to Teams in this announcement, so don’t get me wrong – Teams isn’t just about video.

Microsoft has to protect its leadership position, and these particular updates offer a strong counter to Zoom, which can really only compete with Teams on this front. IT decision-makers have many good reasons to switch to or stick with Teams, but if you’re looking for a complete collaboration solution with cutting-edge video capabilities, that’s the ground Microsoft is staking out here.

Google G Suite – a world with email and a lot more

If you’re looking for the best of both worlds from above, you’d probably land on G Suite. Even more recently than the Teams update, Google has shared its latest vision and version of G Suite. Like Slack, Google is a product of the cloud, but unlike Slack, they recognize – and embrace – the reality that email remains a core channel for collaboration.

The love-hate relationship most of us have with email is a thing, and it’s not going away. Gmail has a long-held loyal following, including many Outlook converts, and it remains their strongest calling card for gaining a foothold in the enterprise. Google has had a history of false starts – remember Wave? – but they now have a pretty complete solution to match Teams and even appeal to Slack users. We may not think of Google for enterprise collaboration in the same breath as Teams or even Webex, but the numbers suggest otherwise. G Suite now has over 2 billion users, with over 6 million businesses paying for it, so getting traction is not a problem for Google.

Of course, G Suite is much more than Gmail, and they’ve done a great job of integrating it with all the other collaboration applications. So, for email-centric end users, they can call team members and launch ad hoc meetings within Gmail. Not only does this elevate the utility of email, but G Suite takes it from a standalone application to being tightly integrated with all the other tools needed for collaboration. In this regard, the shift is similar to what VoIP did for telephony – by integrating voice with other applications, telephony was able to remain relevant in a digital workplace.

You don’t have to look far to see how Gmail is just one part of today’s G Suite. If email is going to be a key driver for your collaboration buyer’s journey, G Suite will check this set of boxes. That said, there’s always more when talking about Google.  G Suite brings the full set of integrations across all the core collaboration applications, both for native elements like Meet for video, but also third-party pieces much like what Slack does.

That aside, Google is arguably further along than any collaboration player in the AI arena - not just from the consumer world, where they are clearly a leader – but now in the enterprise, where it’s being used to drive smart collaboration in ways that not even Microsoft can match. Add to that their dominance in search – between Google and Bing, only one has become a verb – and with Android for mobile devices, it’s not hard to see how G Suite can resonate strongly with cloud-native, mobile-first workers.

Add Gmail to the mix for digital immigrants, and the broader G Suite storyline starts to diverge from Teams, and goes well beyond Slack Connect. I’m not saying G Suite is better, rather that the vision is different, and for IT decision-makers, these distinctions are important.

Not only that, but across all three of these, there isn’t a mention to be found about desk-based telephony, PBXs or IP phones. So, if your buyer’s journey is being driven by a phone system replacement, or migrating to cloud-based telephony, your thinking is going to need a re-set. Telephony isn’t going away, but it’s no longer a key value driver for collaboration, especially with COVID-19 still in our midst.


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