Slack and Microsoft may be battling for dominance in the booming team collaboration market, but most organisations rely on both applications - and some companies use even more.
Those are some of the results of a survey by Mio, an Austin, Texas-based startup that sells software to enable communication between different messaging tools. Mio polled 200 IT decision-makers at organisations ranging in size from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of employees.
The company found that 91 per cent of businesses use at least two messaging apps and Slack and Microsoft Teams are present in 66 per cent of the organisations surveyed.
“Remarkably, we are also seeing the same companies that are now using Microsoft Teams increase Slack use in parallel,” said Mio CEO Tom Hadfield.
Hadfield pointed to a number of reasons organisations would use both Slack and Teams. A business might acquire a company that relies on Slack, for example, while certain job roles are also drawn to a particular tool. (Slack tends to be popular with tech-savvy employees, for instance.)
“We believe that is because most IT decision-makers are trying to accommodate their engineering teams and others who love Slack, while also trying to standardise the rest of the company around Microsoft Teams, because it integrates so nicely with Office 365,” he said.
Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst at COMMfusion, said the survey results reflect recent trends in enterprise messaging, with specific chat tools being chosen for different business needs.
“In many cases, the developer teams have adopted Slack on their own,” said Pleasant, noting that IT teams then tend to select Microsoft Teams for a wider rollout.
Messaging apps are frequently adopted without corporate approval, too. “In many situations, groups have adopted Slack on their own without IT being involved,” said Pleasant. "Many companies have [four to seven] collaboration tools that people are using. Some are trying to bridge the solutions rather than replace all of them.”
Slack leads the pack
Overall, Slack is the most widely used app, according to Mio, with 65 per cent of the companies surveyed using it. Skype for Business was cited by 61 per cent, and Microsoft Teams was cited by 59 per cent.
Slack, which officially listed on the New York Stock Exchange today, has more than 10 million daily active users and 85,000 paid customers.
User experience continues to be a strong point for the company’s software, which 31 per cent of respondents saying Slack has the best UI. Cisco’s Webex Teams was also cited by 31 per cent of respondents, followed by Microsoft Teams, with 21 per cent.
Mio’s results indicate that Slack is doing particularly well among large businesses, typically Microsoft’s core customer base. Three quarters of companies with more than 10,000 employees said they use Slack.
“That shows the maturity of Slack as an enterprise offering following its recent launch of features like enterprise key management,” said Hadfield.
Microsoft launched Teams in 2017 and it’s been widely deployed - largely thanks to its inclusion in Office 365 subscriptions. More than 500,000 organisations use Teams, though Microsoft doesn’t break out daily active user figures.
Microsoft has seen strong growth too, according to the survey. “We seem to have moved beyond the phase where everyone was doing proof of concepts and we are now seeing large-scale deployments of Microsoft Teams, particularly in Microsoft's large enterprise customer base,” said Hadfield.
Other vendors appear to be outpacing Slack in terms of future growth, Mio said. Over the next two years, 56 per cent of respondents said they expect more Microsoft Teams users, 41 per cent foresee more Webex Teams users and 38 per cent predict more Slack users.
Multiple chat apps can mean problems for IT
Mio is not alone in identifying the interoperability challenges around enterprise messaging, but options are limited. Unified communications vendor 8x8, for example, lets users communicate with various messaging platforms through its X Series team chat platform; it incorporated technology from the acquisition of Sameroom in 2017.
Microsoft and Cisco have invested in linking their own tools – Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams, for instance, and in Cisco’s case, Jabber and Webex Teams. But there are no ways to communicate with external chat apps natively.
“There is definitely a need for interop,” said Pleasant. “Some of the vendors are working to make it easier to share messages between different apps, but there’s no real solution right now.”
Managing multiple chat apps can create more work for IT and wider problems for business, said Hadfield. “The biggest challenge that coexistence of messaging apps creates is that your employees can't talk to each other.
“There is a real risk that unless companies figure out how to navigate coexistence of team collaboration tools, communication happens in silos and decision making gets slowed down, productivity decreases, and there are unnecessary inefficiencies.”
The presence of multiple team messaging apps makes sense for teams with different requirements, said Pleasant, but IT should be aware of potential problems.
“In most cases, different tools are used for different use cases, and that works,” she said. “It may be more challenging for IT to support different tools, but some tools are better suited for certain use cases and workflows.
“On the other hand,” she said, “if every team is collaborating in its own way, that can create chaos. For example, I heard about an aircraft manufacturer with two teams working on creating landing gear and they didn’t know about each other. If they used the same team collaboration tool, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Migrating users between messaging apps can be a significant project warns Pleasant.
“Moving from one tool to another is very challenging,” she said. “If a company decides it wants to consolidate, it’s not that simple. It requires best practices regarding content – if using Slack, Teams, Skype, etc. there’s no way to magically pull up content from one to another. It’s difficult to take Slack messages and port them seamlessly to another solution.”