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Salesforce-Slack deal heralds the future of collaboration

Deeper platform integrations, widespread communications tools and a dash of workflow automation are some of the elements that shape the future of team collaboration.

The acquisition of Slack by Salesforce signals a watershed moment in team collaboration and unified communications. The $27.7 billion deal, expected to close by the summer of 2021, proves the power and maturity of team collaboration tools.

As a CRM platform, Salesforce plans to use Slack to bond together its different cloud services and enhance its messaging collaboration features. This widespread integration indicates team collaboration is no longer a standalone application. Instead, it is now the hub of workplace productivity as it integrates with other business workflows and provides critical communications tools such as calling, messaging and document sharing.

At the same time, many UC vendors have made team collaboration a feature within their larger UC offering, which is generally voice- and video-centric, said Irwin Lazar, principal analyst at Metrigy. Over the past year, Microsoft and RingCentral, for example, have bolstered their messaging apps with more video capabilities.

"You're seeing team collaboration be almost the new UC interface," Lazar said. "It becomes this core hub that people go to when they start their day and do their work when they want to collaborate with co-workers."

According to Metrigy data, nearly 60% of companies now see team collaboration as a work hub that ties together other data sources and applications.

Messaging and the future of collaboration

A current trend in team collaboration is the collision course of calling, meetings and messaging, said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. During the pandemic, many collaboration vendors capitalized on this trend as people worked remotely. As a result, many vendors got a COVID-19 stock bump, but Slack mostly stood still with a solid messaging product and its growth stagnated, Kerravala said.

"The days of the standalone single-purpose collaboration tool is rapidly coming to an end," he said. "The platform approach is becoming a lot more popular and requested by customers."

That platform melds different communication types and integration with other business apps. In the Salesforce-Slack integration, Kerravala said he expects Salesforce to embed Slack into its products and make messaging more of a feature of CRM. In that sense, Slack will become less of a product and more of a platform.

And despite the fervor around video communication during the pandemic, Kerravala said messaging still plays an important role in the future of team collaboration. In fact, expect to see messaging become a bigger feature of other apps people use, he said. After all, video meetings are synchronous, meaning two people need to be available at the same time for the call. But messaging, as asynchronous communication, works better for global teams across different time zones.

"[Messaging] serves a company that's always on much better," he said. "The battle for messaging is going to be one of the more interesting ones going forward with collaboration."

External collaboration the next frontier

The idea of team in team collaboration is also expanding outside a company's immediate purview and spreading to business partners and customers as they become part of a company's internal teams. The future of team collaboration, it would seem, is external communication with B2B and even B2C collaboration.

Salesforce, for example, could take advantage of Slack Connect, an external collaboration tool, to help with B2B communications. A sales team working with a client could set up a Slack Connect workspace to collaborate and organize communications with the customer.

Similarly, Microsoft recently announced Teams Connect, an intercompany collaboration feature that will enable different companies to chat, meet and edit documents in a shared workspace. Microsoft also has guest access, but it's "pretty kludgy," Kerravala said, especially if a user is a guest of multiple companies that have different permissions and functionalities. Slack, on the other hand, retains the permissions users have with their own company.

"If external connectivity is really important, I'd look at [Cisco] Webex or Slack over Teams," he said.

According to Metrigy, 36% of organizations enable external access to team spaces while another 16.9% plan to do so by 2021. Services like Teams Connect and Slack Connect meet a growing market need for cross-company contextual collaboration by integrating messaging, meetings and data, according to Metrigy research.

The future of Slack and Salesforce vs. Microsoft Teams

In many aspects of life, it's human nature to pit one thing against another. In the UC world, industry observers often look at Slack vs. Teams. But in many ways, the two services are dissimilar and currently operate in different worlds and target different customers, Lazar said.

"Today, I don't see companies by and large fighting that battle of Slack vs. Teams," he said. "I think there'll be use cases for Slack in addition to Microsoft. I think there's space for both."

Organizations, for example, could use Teams in certain departments, use Slack in sales departments and build integrations between the two. Additionally, in October 2020, Microsoft and Salesforce announced a partnership to incorporate Salesforce more tightly into Teams.

Also, organizations that are deeply ingrained in either Slack or Teams will be reluctant to make a full migration to the other platform. As organizations store more data in their selected platform, a migration from Slack to Teams -- or vice versa -- becomes difficult, Kerravala said.

The Salesforce-Slack partnership could disrupt Microsoft in one way, he added. Slack and Salesforce usually sell to end users or lines of business. Microsoft traditionally targets IT professionals. Sometimes, this shadow IT influence can be stronger than the IT pull, which would disrupt Microsoft's embedded base, he said. Also, to disrupt Microsoft further, Salesforce and Slack could decide to beef up their voice, video and document collaboration features.

Ultimately, however, Kerravala said Microsoft and Salesforce should work together, which would lock out many other vendors but benefit customers.

Future team collaboration trends to track

Aside from the Salesforce-Slack deal fashioning the future of collaboration, organizations should look out for other trends. Automation and customization, in particular, are two areas to watch.

Over the next couple years, organizations could automate certain workflows with deeper app and data integration. For example, users could update project details within the team collaboration space and not have to use the project management tool. In that case, users wouldn't have to toggle between different apps.

Users could also create their own workspace and automate repeatable processes by using low-code/no-code tools. Bots, too, could help automate workflows in a team collaboration space, such as onboarding new employees or setting up a chat channel for remote tech support like self-service password resets.

Going forward, team collaboration software will continue to serve as the work hub that combines communication tools, integrated apps and business documents all within the same space. Although team collaboration doesn't fully replace email, it becomes as important because it's a central workspace, Kerravala said.

"I always judge what's your most important app by what's the first thing you check when you wake up in the morning," he said. "Years ago, the first thing I did when I woke up was check my voicemail, then I shifted to checking email. Now, you might check Slack to see what new updates you have."

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