Today's businesses require workers to connect closely with colleagues, customers and partners. But improved technology has rendered the need for face-to-face meetings almost obsolete. Enterprises are adopting team collaboration tools -- specifically, cloud messaging services -- as a way to streamline their communication and collaboration efforts.
A team collaboration platform can include tools such as voice, video conference, email integration, messaging, social networks, online meetings and content management. The collaboration tools most useful to an organization largely depend on the business, end users and IT administrators tasked with supporting them. Cloud messaging services play an integral role in building this unified communications and collaboration strategy.
Here, we will focus on the messaging portion of an enterprise collaboration strategy. However, other tools will be discussed, as they relate to the context of choosing the collaboration platform that meets your specific needs.
Messaging-centric cloud collaboration tools
So, why focus on cloud messaging services? Because we now operate in a mobile and borderless digitized world, voice and video conferencing start to take a back seat in the team collaboration vehicle. Those technologies worked effectively when users could meet at designated times and with access to a quiet environment. In many situations, that's no longer possible.
Collaborative messaging applications can help enterprises manage multiple projects with various contributors. Ideas, concepts and content can be shared easily within a group on any device, whether it's a desktop, tablet or phone. These team collaboration tools don't require the contributors to meet at a specified time. Instead, content relevant to a specific topic or conversation is added at the users' discretion. That way, mobile and remote users can easily contribute to a project, despite their location or time zone.
To better understand how messaging-centric tools have become the go-to method for team collaboration, let's examine how enterprise collaboration has evolved.
While researching team collaboration products extensively, TechTarget editors focused on 10 leading cloud-based services that have strong messaging components. Our research included data from TechTarget surveys and reports from respected research firms, including Gartner.
The evolution of team collaboration tools
At one time, meeting participants gathered at the same time and location. Here, they discussed tasks, made decisions, and a designated note taker maintained and distributed meeting minutes.
With improvements in technology, the physical boundaries of meetings became virtualized, as audio and video conference calls became the norm. Other tools, such as email and project management software, helped streamline processes and increase the convenience of the meeting. But even with these advancements, employees wanted more from their team collaboration tools.
Early adopters of collaboration technologies experienced collaboration overload. This is where each tool -- while useful in its own right -- becomes disconnected from other team collaboration tools to the point where the message gets lost in the noise. Additionally, the implementation of an on-premises collaboration tool from one organization to the next may be drastically different. This led to confusion by many organizations on the correct way to properly use each tool.
Lastly, the fact that many organizations kept certain team collaboration tools long past their expiration date contributed to this collaboration overload. When new collaboration tools were rolled out, they were incompatible with existing legacy tools that were previously deployed and still in use.
Fortunately, the advent of cloud collaboration is eliminating the pains incurred with collaboration overload. Businesses are no longer required to buy and maintain on-premises collaboration servers for the various services they want to deploy.
Also, collaboration service providers are unifying tools under a single platform, so they interoperate well with each other. This means organizations can now operate an entire cross-platform desktop and mobile collaboration system that's unified, provides all the necessary tools an employee or department might need and updates in sync. Enterprise IT organizations are discovering the legacy, on-premises collaboration platforms they manage today lack these useful benefits.
How cloud messaging services can be used
Messaging-centric cloud collaboration tools are becoming the de facto standard, as they offer numerous functions, including the following:
- Group messaging. This is where the bulk of team- or project-related communications will occur. Here, you can add or remove any number of people, and all content is maintained for the ease of contextual search referencing.
- One-to-one messaging. In some cases, your communications need to be narrowly focused. One-to-one messaging is for sending private communications between two users. This offers increased privacy and a more direct channel to individuals you wish to reach.
- File sharing. Messaging platforms do more than just exchange text. Sharing files with groups or individuals is pretty easy and more efficient than email attachments or FTP and SFTP file servers.
- Virtual interactive whiteboarding. One of the great things about in-person meetings is the use of whiteboards for idea-generation exercises. Within cloud messaging platforms, whiteboards have gone virtual and can be a great way to maintain a creative atmosphere.
- Presence. Because enterprise workforces are dispersed across the globe, it's no longer possible to peek inside someone's office or cubicle to see if they're busy. The presence feature in cloud messaging services virtualizes this concept to let you know whether someone is active, on a call, in a meeting or otherwise unavailable.
- Contextual search. Locating the right content within a long-standing group or one-to-one messaging sessions can be cumbersome. Some chat sessions can span weeks or months and contain thousands of messages. A contextual search feature allows users to identify pertinent information within each session.
- Multiplatform synchronization. Because all message and file-sharing content is stored in the cloud, it allows users to move between desktop and mobile devices and still maintain perfect message synchronization.
- Real-time mobility transferring. For users on the go, real-time mobility transferring seamlessly shifts live conversations from a laptop or video conference device to a mobile application, all while maintaining the live call.
- Integration with other collaboration tools. Some messaging-centric cloud collaboration tools are deployed as independent platforms, while others comprise a larger collaboration platform that integrates features such as voice and video conferencing, email and webinars.
- Management and administration options. Depending on your specific needs, you may require a certain level of granular control over the cloud messaging tool and the users who interact with it. This includes items such as tool customization and user authentication methods.
- Third-party support using APIs. Integrating a messaging platform with other business tools is an exciting area of unified communications that continues to emerge. Different products offer API compatibility with various enterprise applications. Depending on the messaging product, the number of third-party application integrations will vary.
The messaging-centric cloud collaboration market
The major players in the cloud messaging services space largely consist of two groups. The niche players are either early adopters or vendors that tried to differentiate themselves with a multitude of messaging features and third-party integrations. This group includes Atlassian, BroadSoft, CA Technologies, Slack and Unify.
On the other end of the spectrum, traditional enterprise hardware and software vendors tout integrations with other tools in their portfolios. This group includes Amazon, Cisco, Google, Microsoft and RingCentral.
While many of the features in various messaging products accomplish the same collaboration goals, the products can differ dramatically in capabilities, implementation options and interoperability. For example, some team collaboration tools focus just on messaging, while others are part of a larger unified collaboration platform.
Additionally, the way cloud services are sold and supported varies from one product to the next. Buyers need to consider such things as service tiering, freemium versions, try-and-buy offerings and customer support methods, including knowledge base, web, email and phone support.
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