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Facebook, IBM, Microsoft collaboration developments released

Microsoft opting to swap Skype for Business for Teams topped this week's collaboration news. But Facebook, IBM and Zoho also had noteworthy product developments.

Facebook, IBM, Microsoft and Zoho turned to their market strengths this week to try to stand out in the crowded field of vendors building cloud-based platforms for team collaboration in the workplace.

Microsoft announced at its Ignite developer conference in Orlando, Fla.,  that it would slowly replace Skype for Business Online with its Teams user interface, making the latter the core communications client for Office 365 -- the online business productivity suite with 60 million commercial customers. Analysts expect the online version of business Skype to disappear by 2020.

A key advantage Microsoft has over competitors is the significant number of businesses using the Office 365 suite. Having everything in the same package makes it easier for companies to deploy individual products enterprise-wide, analysts said.

Many collaboration vendors have struggled to make companywide deals, but Facebook showed the advantage of having a social network used by billions of people. Facebook said Wal-Mart Stores Inc. planned to roll out across its workforce the business version of the social network, called Workplace. The retail giant has 2.3 million employees worldwide.

"Both Workplace by Facebook and Microsoft Teams are positioning themselves as solutions best suited for companywide deployments," said Alan Lepofsky, an analyst at Constellation Research, based in Cupertino, Calif.

The Teams and business Skype merger trims the Microsoft collaboration portfolio from four to three products. The remainders include Yammer and Office 365 Groups. The consolidation will make the product line less confusing, analysts said.

IBM leans on Watson

IBM is another collaboration provider going after enterprise-wide deals. To differentiate itself from rivals, IBM has integrated its cloud-based cognitive computing platform, Watson, with its Workspace group-messaging client.

Both Workplace by Facebook and Microsoft Teams are positioning themselves as solutions best suited for companywide deployments.
Alan Lepofskyanalyst at Constellation Research

This week, IBM released Watson-powered analytics that organizes Workspace group posts into categories, so people can find shared information faster. The features had been available only as a technology preview.

Finally, Zoho gave its suite of cloud-based productivity software a boost with the integration of a team-messaging app the company called Cliq. The software provides features that are standard with the genre, such as group chat, file sharing, and audio and video calling.

In general, the announcements this week showed each vendor delivering a product stamped with technology that leveraged individual strengths. "[But] at the end of the day, it comes down to which platform is going to be easiest to use and which platform you can trust, " said Jon Arnold, an independent analyst and strategy consultant based in Toronto.

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