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Team collaboration applications have redefined the unified communications market. What were formerly separate messaging apps have begun to merge with calling and meeting apps to create a true unified experience that enables messaging, calling and meetings within the context of workspace. Still, some standalone team collaboration apps do continue to exist while integrated with other UC providers.
This article provides a roundup of four leading team collaboration apps, as well as an overview of several additional competitors. Common across all apps is the ability to create persistent channels, rooms or team spaces that enable group communication within the context of a team activity or project. In addition, all team applications offer 1-to-1 private chat, enabling replacement of IM platforms.
Key differentiators in the team collaboration market include the following:
- support for integrated telephony and video meeting features;
- end-to-end encryption, including customer-held encryption keys;
- integration with legacy calling and conferencing platforms;
- off-the-shelf integrations, as well as APIs to enable custom integrations and workflows;
- licensing options and cost;
- support for cross-company collaboration.
The leading 4
1. Cisco Webex (formerly Webex Teams)
Cisco Webex replaced the formerly separate Webex Teams messaging and Webex Meetings video conferencing apps with a single, unified application for team collaboration and meetings. In addition, Cisco offers Webex Calling features as a cloud-based service or integration into on-premises Cisco Unified Communications Manager-based platforms.
Cisco's primary differentiator, in addition to its integration with the rest of the Cisco UC portfolio, is its end-to-end security model offering encryption. Cisco also provides unified calling, meeting and messaging configuration, as well as performance, security and analytics management via Webex Control Hub. Webex is available as either a free or paid standalone app or as part of the Flex licensing model, enabling customers to purchase the features they need via a subscription, even while some application servers remain on premises. Cisco also offers the ability for Webex users to enable secure, cross-company collaboration via federation.
For those looking for an enterprise-grade, integrated platform offering calling, meetings and team messaging, especially if there are existing Cisco voice and video assets, Webex should be a top buying choice.
Additional calling features: Public switched telephone network conference dial-in, PSTN direct inward dialing (DID), online meetings, Cisco on-premises UC calling integration.
Supported platforms: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS and web browser.
Phone and video conference hardware support: Available with select Cisco IP desk phones, conference phones and conference room video endpoints.
Technical support: Knowledge base, online community, video tutorials, online ticket, email and phone.
Pricing: Free; Starter is $13.50 per host per month; Business is $26.95 per host per month. Additional licensing options available through Cisco partners.
2. Google Chat
Google Chat is the latest iteration of Google's team collaboration service. Now part of Workspace -- previously named G Suite -- Chat integrates with Gmail, video app Google Meet and the rest of the Google Workspace portfolio to enable team messaging features, including 1-to-1 and group chat. Google provides a standalone mobile app as well.
The strength of Google's offering is its integration into the rest of the Google Workspace suite. Users can easily move email discussions into chat or launch a Meet-based conference within a team space. Workspace integrates Google Chat discussions into the same desktop used for mail as well. Chat is tightly integrated with Google's office apps, enabling conversation integration with Docs, Sheets and Slides.
For current and prospective customers, Chat is a solid option to enable fully integrated team collaboration without the added expense of alternative apps and with deep integration with the rest of the Workspace feature set.
Additional calling features: PSTN conference dial-in, PSTN DID.
Supported platforms: Android, iOS and web browser.
Phone and video conference hardware support: Video conference systems for Meet, H.323/Session Initiation Protocol support via Pexip Infinity.
Technical support: Knowledge base, online ticket, email and phone.
Pricing: Free to download as standalone app with Workspace account. Starter version is $6 per user monthly; Standard version is $12 per user monthly; Plus version is $18 per user monthly. Google Workspace Enterprise licensing has variable cost.
3. Microsoft Teams
Bundled as part of Microsoft 365, Teams has achieved a great deal of adoption since its launch in 2016. Today, Teams is an integral part of the Microsoft 365 offering and has replaced Skype for Business and Skype for Business Online as Microsoft's primary calling, meeting and team collaboration product. While available with most Microsoft 365 licenses, there's also a free version delivering messaging and meeting features.
Teams' strength is both its integration with the rest of the Microsoft portfolio and its extensive list of third-party hardware and software partners that bring additional value to its customers. A key weakness is the lack of intercompany federation of Teams instances. In addition, there is a chance of user confusion around Teams' collaboration role given Microsoft's extensive array of other applications, including SharePoint and Yammer. Still, for those who have Microsoft 365 licenses, Teams makes for a compelling option at no additional cost.
Additional calling features: PSTN conference dial-in, PSTN DID.
Supported platforms: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, web browser and Windows Phone.
Phone and video conference hardware support: Certified phones, video conference systems and session border controllers; integration with legacy video conferencing endpoints through partners, including BlueJeans, Pexip and Poly.
Technical support: Knowledge base, online community, email, online ticket and phone.
Pricing: Free or included as part of Microsoft 365 subscriptions.
Slack helped to define the team collaboration market with its early success, pushing many other vendors to release competing products. Slack has stayed in its lane as a messaging-focused app, though it does include a basic ability for its users to call or set up video meetings with one another. For those wanting more extensive calling or meeting features, Slack provides integration with most all other real-time collaboration platforms.
Slack's integration is its strength, enabling customers to easily build workflows into the app that tap into the more than 2,000 available application integrations. Slack also delivers a comprehensive end-to-end encryption model, using AWS, that also enables intercompany federation of channels.
In late 2020, Salesforce announced an intent to acquire Slack with a goal of making Slack the collaboration hub for Salesforce's various apps, as well as continuing to expand Slack's ability to integrate across any other cloud app. Despite the increasingly competitive market, Slack remains a solid choice by those who favor its UI over its competitors or those who want a neutral platform for intercompany and intracompany workflow-based collaboration.
Additional calling features: None.
Supported platforms: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, web browser, Linux and Windows Phone.
Phone and video conference hardware support: None.
Technical support: Knowledge base and online ticket.
Pricing: Free; Standard is $6.67 per month; Plus is $12.50 per month. Contact Slack for Enterprise Grid pricing.
Amazon Chime is one of the newer entrants in the team collaboration space, providing messaging features that integrate with its calling and video meeting capabilities. Chime's primary differentiator is its usage-based pricing, enabling organizations to only pay for the PSTN minutes -- inbound, outbound and conferencing -- they need.
CA Technologies' Flowdock is aimed directly at application developers. It offers messaging, as well as integrated video chat and screen sharing, but does not provide telephony or integration with video conferencing systems. Its primary strength is its integration with CA's own development tools, like Agile Central, as well as project management and software development platforms from companies, such as Asana, Atlassian, Bitbucket, Jira, Trello and GitHub.
Mattermost is an open source team collaboration application that is especially attractive to companies that want to oversee their own team collaboration application for security or customization reasons. It is geared toward application developer communities and offers support for Agile and DevOps workflow integration.
Symphony has sold a team collaboration platform since 2014, primarily focusing on the needs of financial professionals, including commodity and stock traders. Its bread and butter is highly secure messaging, featuring end-to-end encryption with multiple options for encryption key storage, along with extensive support for compliance tools capable of supporting intercompany collaboration.
RingCentral Glip and Office
RingCentral has two team collaboration tools: the standalone Glip, which includes video meetings, as well as team collaboration, and RingCentral Office, a full UC-as-a-service offering bundling team collaboration with both telephony and video meetings.
Rocket.Chat started life as a customer-facing chat app enabling companies to add chat to their websites. Since then, the open source-based project has grown with more than 1,000 contributors to its code base. It now offers both a SaaS offering and downloadable code that customers can run in their own data center or on public cloud infrastructure. Its primary use cases are for companies that want a single platform for both internal and customer-facing chat and for those that aim to run their own software.
Unify Circuit (Atos)
Unify Circuit was the first application to offer integrated team messaging, calling and meeting capabilities. In early 2016, Unify was acquired by Atos, a European IT service provider. Unify focuses primarily on large enterprises, including many Fortune 500 organizations. In addition to its own Unify UC portfolio, Atos is a partner for both RingCentral and Google, creating potential customer confusion.
Workplace from Facebook
Like its consumer sibling, Workplace from Facebook provides a combination of 1-to-1 and group messaging, as well as social engagement, enabling its users to join communities of interest, customize news feeds and establish groups focused on projects or activities. Workplace also includes a video meeting feature and support for cross-company groups.
Zoom Chat is a core feature of Zoom's meeting application, providing team messaging capabilities, including the ability to create chats that include any Zoom user, within or outside an organization. While Zoom Chat lacks many of the bells and whistles of its competitors, it does offer basic chat functionality that is often attractive, and sufficient, for Zoom Meetings users.