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This article is part of our Buyer's Guide: Evaluate team collaboration tools to increase productivity

The leading team collaboration tools offer numerous options

As organizations assess team collaboration apps, they need to evaluate the full extent of a deployment, including app integrations, administrator options and pricing plans.

When choosing a team collaboration app, you need to consider several possibilities. To help narrow down your options, you need to understand how your end users will use team collaboration tools. While many cloud messaging services offer similar features, the products have several key differentiators that set them apart.

Here, we will examine Amazon Chime, Atlassian Stride, BroadSoft Team-One, CA Flowdock, Cisco Spark, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, RingCentral Glip, Slack and Unify Circuit. We will identify the team collaboration tools that best fit certain scenarios.

A full replacement or stand-alone service?

If you want to replace your legacy voice and video communications architecture with a unified communications (UC) platform that includes team collaboration tools, then Cisco Spark, Microsoft Teams and RingCentral Glip are certainly choices to consider.

The Cisco Spark platform has been around since late 2015, and it integrates with traditional UC hardware, including Cisco phones and video conference hardware. In addition, new products -- such as Cisco's interactive touch device, Spark Board -- give users fully integrated and high-tech conference-room hardware that most other vendors don't offer.

Cisco's primary competitor in this space is Microsoft. For years, Microsoft has used its 2011 Skype acquisition to offer collaboration services that include voice, video and messaging. But, in 2017, the company announced it will gradually replace Skype for Business Online with its new Teams product.

Built from the ground up, Teams touts cloud-based voice and video calling with an interface that includes a messaging-centric application. While the service is still in its infancy, Microsoft's roadmap for Teams is filled with advanced collaboration tools that appear to compete well with Cisco Spark.

A third UC product that could fully replace companies' legacy communications tools is RingCentral Glip. Prior to being acquired, Glip was one of the few messaging-centric team collaboration tools that could go toe-to-toe against Slack. RingCentral purchased Glip in 2015 and has since integrated much of its traditional voice, video and web conferencing technology into Glip to create a comprehensive UC tool set. Glip is well-suited for SMBs.

While some enterprises are looking for a fully unified collaboration platform, others are merely looking for a team collaboration app that stands on its own in terms of project communication and organization. If you're looking for that type of product, then Slack, Stride and Flowdock should be at the top of your list.

For many, Slack is considered the dominant force in the field of messaging-centric collaboration services. The company has experienced exceptional growth, thanks to its popular messaging platform that launched in 2012. Because Slack was one of the original trailblazers in the market, it has a healthy market share in this technology vertical.

Yet, Atlassian Stride -- the successor to HipChat -- actually has a longer history in the enterprise cloud messaging market. While Stride does not offer as many third-party integrations or bells and whistles as Slack, it does offer a streamlined design and simplified management. Stride is a good choice for users who want a no-nonsense collaborative messaging platform.

Another team collaboration tool that should be examined closely is CA Flowdock. This product tends to be geared toward larger enterprises that are looking for a project-focused team collaboration app that can be integrated into more robust network infrastructures that include customizable data retention policies, strict service-level agreements for uptime and ease of user administration.

Integrate with existing vendor or third-party apps?

Integrating existing software tools with a newly deployed team collaboration app can be a crucial deciding factor for many businesses. Larger technology vendors tend to focus on integrating with their own tools and apps.

For example, Cisco Spark incorporates many features that add value to and simplify the use of its WebEx meeting software. Similarly, users of Google Hangouts will find the integration with other apps, such as Google Drive and Google Docs, makes it a logical choice for current users of G Suite tools.

Lastly, Microsoft Teams offers integration with its Office 365 platform, including apps such as Outlook and SharePoint. So, if you've deployed and rely heavily on pre-existing applications from these vendors, then a messaging-centric service that can take advantage of these integrations will be appealing.

Smaller messaging-centric collaboration vendors that don't have their own apps and hardware to integrate must rely on integrations with third-party applications. Three products that offer comprehensive third-party app support are Slack, BroadSoft Team-One and Atlassian Stride. Whether you want to integrate with popular cloud storage platforms -- such as Dropbox, Google Drive or Box -- or pipe application data from Salesforce, Zendesk or Jira, these three vendors offer full integration with a wide range of apps and services.

User authentication and administration options

When administrating your team collaboration tools and their users with ease, your underlying infrastructure will heavily dictate which product is the best fit.

When administrating your team collaboration tools and their users with ease, your underlying infrastructure will heavily dictate which product is the best fit. Security -- including user creation, authentication and authorization methods -- is important when choosing a team collaboration app.

For most traditional enterprises that use Windows Active Directory (AD) for user management, authorization and single sign-on (SSO) authentication, a few products rise above the rest. Obviously, Microsoft Teams integrates well with the company's AD services.

Additionally, Cisco has a simplified method for connecting its Spark platform to AD, as well as the ability to set up SSO for its messaging, meeting and call services. Lastly, Amazon's Chime platform offers administrators a host of AD integration and user administration tools that large enterprise IT shops should find useful.

Team collaboration app pricing models

It's important to choose a team collaboration app that has multiple pricing tiers that work well within your budget.

For example, Unify Circuit offers three paid packages that range from $3.95 to $14.95 per user, per month. The differences among the price plans include the number of users in a voice or video call, recording capabilities, cloud storage capacity and the level of customer support provided. Circuit also offers a freemium version that can be used by employees who don't use the collaboration platform frequently enough to justify the cost of purchasing a package.

The BroadSoft Team-One platform uses a two-tier pricing model. Its premium package is for small businesses with up to 99 users. It also includes 1,000 minutes of video conferencing per user, per month, and basic support.

For enterprises with 100 or more users, BroadSoft can quote you for monthly or annual pricing. Added benefits to the enterprise tier include 4,000 video conferencing minutes per user, per month, as well as fixed service-level agreements and expedited end-user technical support. While a freemium version is not available, BroadSoft offers Team-One Premium as a 30-day trial, with no credit card required. On another note, Cisco is in the midst of acquiring BroadSoft.

Lastly, Microsoft is positioning its Teams platform to be an integral part of its Office 365 cloud package, which includes other popular applications, such as Outlook, Word, PowerPoint and OneDrive. For organizations that are already Office 365 customers, Teams can be used at no added cost. And for those considering Office 365 deployments in the future, the inclusion of Teams only sweetens the deal.

Editor's note

While researching team collaboration products extensively, TechTarget editors focused on 10 leading cloud-based services that have strong messaging components. Our research included data from TechTarget surveys and reports from respected research firms, including Gartner.

Best options for team collaboration tools

Considering all the factors described above, three vendor products consistently rise to the top in terms of the best team messaging tools available for most businesses today. If you're in the market strictly for a messaging-centric collaboration service, then Slack remains the platform to beat. Its overall simplicity, impressive third-party integrations and a huge user base make it a product that any organization can deploy and use.

In terms of a single, unified platform that performs collaboration services and offers traditional voice and video, Microsoft Teams and Cisco Spark are good candidates to consider. Because of their history in voice and video conferencing platforms, Microsoft and Cisco offer reputable products with support for enterprise-grade voice and video hardware. While these two products are far from being the most exciting or innovative, they get the job done with a reliable enterprise technical support model.

This was last published in December 2017

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What factors and features do you consider when shopping for team collaboration apps?
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While security of data tops my list of priorities while choosing a team collaboration app, several other features like user experience, ease of use, user interface, 24X7 customer support do matter a lot. A clutter-free communication channel is what users look for along with easy registration process which does not give scope for hacking. Business and team chat apps are certainly not an extension of personal chat apps.
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