ORLANDO -- For the past few years, employees and lines of business have bypassed IT and freely downloaded collaboration applications like Slack. As the market matures, however, IT departments are looking to get a grip on team collaboration platforms.
Because of the nature of these platforms, organizations can take different approaches toward end user and IT adoption. In a top-down approach, IT and executive leaders in an organization can essentially impose their will on end users and require employees to adopt a particular service. In a bottom-up approach, end users essentially initiate and spearhead adoption of team collaboration tools, and IT accommodates them.
Diverse team collaboration adoption approaches were front and center on the opening day of Enterprise Connect 2018, a unified communications conference. Vendors and IT professionals varied on their adoption strategies. Some preferred a top-down approach, while others found success with a bottom-up strategy. But the best approach may be somewhere in the middle, with feedback from end users and controls established by IT departments.
More and more, companies are deploying team collaboration apps on an enterprise-wide basis, according to data from Nemertes Research, a technology advisory firm based in Mokena, Ill. In its latest research, Nemertes found that 46% of companies were deploying team collaboration platforms enterprise-wide; 27% were deploying both a company-wide service and separate tools in silos; 15% were deploying tools in silos and potentially using multiple apps; and 11% were unsure or hadn't yet developed a strategy.
Starting with the end user
Team collaboration tools are generally cloud-based persistent workspaces that include messaging, file sharing, voice communications, video chat and conferencing. Some of the so-called pure plays options in this market include Slack, Stride, Flock and several others.
The unified communications products in this market -- from traditional UC vendors -- include Cisco Spark, Unify Circuit and Microsoft Teams, among others. The unified-communications-as-a-service providers in this space include RingCentral and Fuze. More web-based products include Workplace by Facebook and Google Hangouts.
On an Enterprise Connect panel of team collaboration vendors, the pure play vendors seemed to favor the bottom-up approach that gives end users more power. If end users have established several Slack channels within an organization, "the last thing you want to do as a CIO is impose strict collaboration on top of that environment," said Ilan Frank, head of enterprise product at Slack.
"Collaboration cannot be forced from the top down," he said. "A team collaboration environment starts with seeds inside your organization."
Starting with IT and executive controls
On the other hand, a more traditional UC vendor, such as Microsoft, stressed the importance of IT and executive involvement in the adoption of team collaboration tools. If a company's executive leadership supports a certain platform and pushes for adoption, then an organization can conform around that deployment, said Lori Wright, general manager of Microsoft Teams.
For its part, Cisco emphasized the role of IT. An environment that's strictly bottom up with end users picking different team collaboration tools is "frankly a mess," said Jonathan Rosenberg, chief technology officer of collaboration at Cisco.
"The role of IT is to provide guidance for the organization on the best way to collaborate as a whole," he said, but added that "Bottom up and top down are not mutually exclusive."
Within many companies, Rosenberg said, Cisco has seen several pockets of team collaboration platforms deployed. Since the team collaboration market has matured, IT now needs to get a grip on all these tools and deliver the appropriate services across their companies.
Options including Slack and Spark have free versions of their products that can be downloaded by end users and lines of business without IT involvement. Microsoft doesn’t offer a free version of Teams, but it has been reportedly toying with the idea. Teams is part of an Office 365 subscription.
The vendor panel also included representatives from Atlassian, RingCentral and Unify.
Team collaboration tools spread enterprise-wide
Overall, team collaboration session attendance at Enterprise Connect suggest IT pros and others are starting to realize the importance of these products.
Irwin Lazar, Nemertes Research
Overall, IT is viewing these products more strategically, said Nemertes analyst Irwin Lazar. "We're now at a point where we've hit critical mass. Collaboration leaders feel like they need a strategy."
For enterprise IT, that strategy largely centers around security controls, compliance and governance as well as integration into existing business applications and communication systems. In general, the adoption of team collaboration tools is split by vendor, Lazar said. Startup vendors including Slack, Flock and Stride are often adopted by a line of business and spread virally within an organization.
But companies that view team collaboration as a company-wide endeavor are looking at Cisco Spark and Microsoft Teams and trying to implement them in a way that integrates with the rest of their communications environment.