BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
Team communication apps are an integral part of enterprise collaboration. Messaging apps have seen an uptick in adoption, as vendors improve collaboration capabilities and add enterprise-level functionality.
Organizations of all sizes are increasing their deployments of team communication apps, according to a study by technology marketplace company Spiceworks. The study surveyed more than 900 IT decision-makers in organizations across North America and Europe.
Many team communication apps are seeing an increase in adoption due to the addition of enterprise-level functionality, such as video conferencing and file sharing. The study focused on the adoption of Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Google Hangouts and Workplace by Facebook. Cisco Webex Teams was not included in the survey, as the study featured platforms that focus primarily on chat, rather than other types of collaboration capabilities, such as video and online meetings, according to Peter Tsai, author of the report and analyst at Spiceworks, based in Austin, Texas.
Navigating the team collaboration vendor landscape
Adoption rates for individual vendors see a distinct breakdown according to company size. Large companies are more likely to adopt Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business, while smaller companies see higher adoption rates for applications like Slack, according to the study.
Google Hangouts has had a lower adoption rate overall, despite gaining more enterprise functionality.
"Google is not necessarily trailing the market from a technical capability perspective," said Robert Arnold, senior analyst at Frost & Sullivan. "Rather, the company has had inconsistent commitment to the business app space. If, and when, Google makes a sustained commitment, the company has great potential to be very disruptive in this market."
Tsai noted that Microsoft's transition from Skype for Business to Teams will likely contribute to the success of Teams by introducing the app to a wider audience.
Workplace by Facebook has the lowest adoption rate, according to the study. Though Workplace has added several enterprise capabilities, many IT professionals still see it as an enterprise portal or social platform, according to Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research in Mokena, Ill.
Larger companies tend to favor apps provided by their chosen unified communications vendor, because integration is assured and, in many cases, at no additional cost. Smaller companies and teams look for chat apps that meet specific needs and are more likely to make adoption decisions based on app features.
The showdown: Email vs. chat apps
The wealth of collaboration capabilities in chat apps continues to grow, making them appear to be the natural successor to email. Providing communication in context is one of the main advantages that chat apps have over email threads, which can be disorganized and disjointed.
"We're actually seeing team apps replace email, as the team space becomes the primary communications location," Lazar said. "In our own company, we no longer send internal email since we adopted a team app."
Although chat app use for internal communications is on the rise, they struggle to compete with email for external communications. Fewer IT professionals believe team communication apps will replace email, according to the study.
One-third of IT professionals believe collaborative chat apps are cheaper than email, a decrease from 39% in Spiceworks' 2016 chat app study. IT professionals also have concerns for the regulation and compliance of information shared over chat apps, compared with the security of email services. Instead, IT professionals view chat apps as a supplement to email.
Security is everything
IT leaders are concerned about security -- namely encryption levels -- offered by chat apps. While most apps offer encryption in motion and encryption at rest, only a few apps, such as Skype and WhatsApp, provide end-to-end encryption.
Shadow IT is also a concern, as unapproved apps remove centralized control of what data is shared. The study noted that 25% of IT professionals said employees in their organizations were using unapproved chat apps, down from 36% in 2016.
"IT leaders need to provide tools that employees need and want," Arnold said. "We are starting to see more of this, as IT strives to mitigate governance, compliance and risk issues associated with unsanctioned apps."
The primary driver in minimizing shadow IT is deploying an enterprise-wide team communication app. But Lazar said two-thirds of organizations continue to allow individual workgroups to use whatever app they want as long as the app supports the companies' required security controls.