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September 2017: A pivotal month for Team Messaging / Persistent Workspaces

September 29, 2017 | Telepresence Options


Story and images by Wainhouse Research

September 2017 may well be the month we look back on as the point where Team Messaging / Persistent Workspace services began their breakout towards mainstream acceptance.

Specifically, here are three events in this space that mark the significance of the past month:


#1: Slack holds its first-ever user event - and closes its most significant round of financing to date.

Held in Slack's home town of San Francisco, the company used the event to rally its users and development partners, state why this is "the moment" for Slack, highlight users and their workflow-related use cases, and reinforce that "we're all in this way-of-working transition together." Some milestones were disclosed: Slack achieved $200M in recurring revenue (summer 2017), has 2 million paid and 9 million weekly active users, is used in 43 of the F100, and its app directory contains over 1,000 integrated apps. There were two announcements: the ability to establish jointly-administered "shared channels" between organizations using Slack Standard and Plus plans, and the availability of Slack in Spanish, German, French, with Japanese to follow by end of 2017 (55% of Slack use is outside of the USA, so these languages should fuel growth). Then there is the financing: Slack closed a $250M round of funding led by SoftBank Group Corp.'s Vision Fund, giving the company a $5.1B valuation - quite a war chest to enable the company to focus on leading in this space and give enterprise customers confidence that Slack is here to stay. The company claims it still has much of the $591M it has raised so far.


#2: Top-tier player Atlassian re-jiggers HipChat into Stride

Atlassian rolled out Stride, which was built from the "ground up," as a complete cloud service for team collaboration. (HipChat is available as an on-premises product or cloud service.) Stride includes team messaging, native (Atlassian-developed) audio and video conferencing, and collaboration tools that include the ability to mark any message as an action or decision (to help delineate these messages to others). A "Focus Mode" can be turned on to silence notifications, and makes these notifications easy to consume when Focus is turned off. Keeping with past practice, Atlassian will offer a free version; Stride Standard costs $3 PUPM (HipChat was $2) and includes advanced meetings capabilities, unlimited storage / apps & bots / message history, and user management. HipChat is the low-cost player in this space and resonates with development groups that use other Atlassian products (HipChat is integrated with Atlassian JIRA, Confluence, and Trello) - thus the user base for HipChat is probably large (Atlassian does not disclose this number). The announcement of Stride marks an effort to expand the HipChat base - or perhaps keep Atlassian users from migrating to other more full-featured offerings.


#3: Microsoft (finally) announces that Teams will replace Skype for Business as the "go-to" communications and messaging app in Office365.

At the company's Ignite conference this week, Microsoft formally announced its "new vision for intelligent communications" that centers on evolving (its word) Office 365 users from Skype for Business to six-month-old Microsoft Teams. The Teams vision involves enabling users to "complete tasks more efficiently with minimal context switching, participate in more productive meetings that cover the entire meeting lifecycle (before / during / after), and better manage your everyday communications overload." The announcement is backed by the upcoming roll-out of calling features in Teams to be implemented on "a new, modern Skype infrastructure for enterprise-grade voice and video communications," and interoperability between Teams and Skype for Business (presence, messaging, calling) - which will help in moving users on their own schedule because the two apps can be run concurrently. Also of note: Teams will be Office 365 cloud only, although Microsoft plans on releasing a new version of Skype for Business Server for on-premise deployments. Look for Teams to be the showcase of new AI / machine learning features that will augment the meetings experience going forward.

Related thought: These announcements make Cisco look savvy with its early bet on Spark as its primary UC client - though the company is mum regarding Spark uptake

So why now? You can tell these offerings are poised to become mainstream because a good portion of each company's vision and messaging themes are becoming common. You hear words like "new way of work," "getting work done in context," "platform for workflow apps," ... though the crucial draw from the vendor's viewpoint is eyeballs. If these apps are truly where users will spend most of their time to get work done, then controlling that app is the end-all, be-all. The ensuing battle between these apps to ultimately capture user eyeballs could make the browser wars appear trivial. Example: at its user conference, Slack stated that "By 2025 channels will replace email as the primary way to communicate."

So, going forward, we begin to ponder lots of questions. Can Slack use its war chest to continue to carve out a leadership platform and build "independent" user momentum to counter Microsoft's huge lead in O365 users and the lure of a suite? Or is the market large enough to carve up with Atlassian, Cisco Spark, Google Hangouts Chat, and others? This is the month we stop asking if this stuff is for real and start asking how it's all going to play out.

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