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Team chat applications face interoperability woes

Team collaboration apps are booming among businesses. But a lack of interoperability is creating headaches for users who rely on multiple apps for internal and external collaboration.

Teams of remote workers may struggle to collaborate over email and phone. However, team chat applications have emerged in recent years, with the hope of improving collaboration. These apps allow workers to message, share files and video chat from one channel in real time.

But as team chat applications grow in popularity, users may feel overwhelmed by multiple apps. Employees may use one app to collaborate with co-workers and another app when chatting with someone outside their organization.

A lack of interoperability among multiple team chat applications on smartphones and desktops can vex end users. This frustration is a common pain point among many companies, according to Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research, a tech advisory firm based in Mokena, Ill.

"The biggest challenge is monitoring so many different apps," Lazar said. "The lack of interoperability is a growing challenge. So far, vendors are not addressing it." Lazar said he uses multiple team chat applications, including Slack, Cisco Spark, RingCentral's Glip and WhatsApp.

Creating productivity hurdles

Forty-two percent of companies of all sizes are using team chat applications, and that percentage is expected to grow, according to a survey of 448 IT professionals from Spiceworks, an online community of IT professionals. As the number of users grows, so will application interoperability challenges.

The lack of interoperability is a growing challenge. So far, vendors are not addressing it.
Irwin Lazaranalyst, Nemertes Research

The lack of interoperability creates frustration for users who are dealing with information overload and dispersion, context switching and multiple logins, said Craig Le Clair, an analyst with Forrester Research. Organizations face additional challenges with the security of external teams and administration for content monitoring.

Successful adoption of team chat applications requires users to make the app their primary source of collaboration and become part of their daily work, said Michael Brandenburg, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan, a consulting firm based in San Antonio.

"A user having to deal with multiple tools is often unable to get proficient with any of them, which defeats the expected productivity gains that are supposed to come from team collaboration," he said.

Lack of collaboration among vendors

Migrating communication apps to the cloud can make interoperability easier, Le Clair said. However, multiple cloud initiatives can become a roadblock for interoperability.

"Cloud silos are emerging and inhibit information exchange," he said.

Unified communications (UC) and team collaboration vendors don't want to address application interoperability, because it's not in their interest to work with competitors, Lazar said.

"Most vendors see team collaboration as the new unifying client for their UC solutions and are not likely to defer that to competitors," Brandenburg said.

Addressing application interoperability

Some services have emerged to address interoperability issues. Sameroom, for instance, provides team collaboration interoperability, and Cloudpipes connects cloud applications for workflow automation.

In March 2017, UC-as-a-service provider 8x8 Inc. acquired Sameroom. Lazar said the acquisition could allow 8x8, which does not offer a team collaboration app, to become a "bring-your-own-team-chat" service.

The service leverages APIs from team collaboration vendors, and it uses bots to create a bridge between channels and rooms for more than 30 team chat applications. The level of interoperability varies among providers and their APIs. However, the service allows users on disparate apps to share messages and files that meet compliance requirements, Lazar said.

The lack of vendor interest in interoperability is "hurting the end user quite a bit," said Andrei Soroker, co-founder of Sameroom and product strategy director at 8x8.

As users place increasing pressure on collaboration vendors for interoperability, more providers could open their platforms to services like Sameroom and Cloudpipes and offer some level of integration with other team chat applications, Brandenburg said.

Next Steps

How to approach a team collaboration app deployment

The impact of Slack and Spark on the UC market

Team collaboration apps gain foothold in organizations

Dig Deeper on Unified Communications Integration and Interoperability