Microsoft's competitors in the unified communications market are increasingly making strategic decisions to integrate their calling and video conferencing platforms with the Office 365 app Microsoft Teams.
The trend underscores the growing dominance of Microsoft Teams in the business communications and collaboration market.
Teams has amassed more than 20 million daily active users. Analysts expect that tally to grow significantly in the coming years as Microsoft taps into its base of 200 million commercial Office 365 users.
The rush to integrate with Teams also raises questions about whether competing vendors will be able to retain customers that have begun using Microsoft's app.
The Teams integrations help customers launch video meetings and place calls. But workers can use Teams to accomplish those same tasks. It remains to be seen whether slick integrations will be enough to convince businesses to maintain contracts with multiple collaboration vendors over the long term.
In a recent Nemertes Research study of around 300 North American companies with more than 1,000 employees, 76% of those surveyed said they were using or planning to use Teams by the end of 2021.
Teams integrations are "almost a matter of survival" for some vendors, said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research. Their strategy is to convince organizations to use Teams only for messaging. That requires showing that their video conferencing and calling products are superior.
Microsoft's advantage over competitors like Cisco is Office 365, a productivity suite that includes cloud versions of the popular apps Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Businesses can ditch Cisco and use only Microsoft products, but Cisco software alone cannot meet their every need. And Teams is available at no additional charge to Office 365 subscribers.
But Office 365 licenses come in multiple tiers. Some lower-tier licenses for the productivity suite provide limited functionality in Teams. Vendors argue it's cheaper to pair a lower-tier Office 365 license with a subscription to a separate video conferencing or calling service, rather than level up to Microsoft's highest tier. Lazar's research firm is in the process of studying whether that's true.
Because of its strong position, Microsoft has not reciprocated on integrations. For example, there are no Teams plugins for Slack or Cisco Webex Teams. Microsoft has also largely eschewed direct partnerships with competitors, forcing them to rely on publicly available developer tools to integrate with Teams.
"Microsoft has always been very closed-minded when it comes to partnerships," said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research.
However, Microsoft recently began working directly with Cisco and Zoom to alleviate one major pain point for joint customers: The vendors are developing a better way for their respective meeting room systems to connect.
The latest Microsoft Teams integrations
This month, Cisco, RingCentral and Fuze launched or enhanced integrations with Teams.
Cisco expanded its Teams integration by creating a Webex tab in Teams. The tab lets users launch, schedule and join Webex meetings. It also displays a calendar of upcoming meetings on the Cisco platform.
Cisco's integration also sends notifications via chat to alert users of upcoming meetings. Workers can then listen to recordings of Webex meetings without leaving Teams.
RingCentral made its integration more interactive, letting users start video and audio conferences on its platform by typing "@RingCentral Meet" or @RingCentral Call" in a Teams channel. Users can also initiate phone calls from Teams through RingCentral's extension for Google Chrome.
Fuze, meanwhile, recently launched its first Teams integration. Like RingCentral's configuration, the Fuze app for Teams empowers users to launch meetings through chat commands. Later in 2020, Fuze plans to add support for launching phone calls from Teams.
Other UC vendors that have developed integrations for Teams include Zoom, Avaya, BlueJeans, Lifesize and Highfive.