The digital communications wave has flooded the enterprise market with new tools that offer better ways for employees to collaborate, share data and conduct meetings. It’s reshaping how we manage our businesses; in fact, one could argue that the digital revolution is really all about people. The enterprise is being challenged to deliver new ways to communicate, from giving the Millennial workforce instant access to everything to a creating a secure channel for a dedicated project team in regional offices.
The collaboration software market is hot, and it’s predicted to remain this way for some time to come. In fact, Google just launched its Hangouts Chat in a bid to grab a slice of the action, a move that represents a complete overhaul of Google’s business communications strategy.
Industry analysts think the market came to maturation last year with the introduction of numerous collaborative tools, ranging from Slack’s enterprise edition to Microsoft Teams. Irwin Lazar, vice president of Nemertes Research, was quoted in a Computerworld article as saying, “We are still early in terms of companies having enterprise-wide deployments, but you will see in 2018 that there will be a fair amount of momentum behind large-scale deployments.”
We counsel clients to be prepared to quickly pivot when technology needs change, and a collaboration platform may be the next must-have. This was certainly the case for StrataCore last year. So what happened when we were the client? Did we take our own advice and follow a proven methodology for selecting a new technology?
Our staff had been using Skype for Business for internal chat as a tool extension of Office 365. When the product was acquired by Microsoft in 2011, it took just four years for the company to announce that Skype for Business would be abandoned and unsupported in favor of Microsoft Teams, a single hub for teamwork.
Teams looked OK, but we didn’t take it for granted that this product shift was the best one for StrataCore. We conducted an evaluation process for ourselves just as we would advise our clients to do as a first step toward any new technology implementation.
We first examined our existing usage patterns for Skype for Business and then thought about what our team might need for future communications both internal and external. We were using Skype strictly for internal chat, but the new platforms offered many more capabilities, ranging from file sharing to video chat. We then asked our employees to chime in on what they’d like to see in a new collaboration system.
We looked at three of the most popular offerings: Slack, the market leader at that point in time, with over six million users daily; Teams, which has market momentum powered by the Microsoft name; and Workplace for Facebook, almost neck-and-neck with Teams. As we do for clients, we laid out the pros and cons for Teams, Slack and Workplace on a side-by-side comparison grid. Our requirements were simple:
- we needed to replace our internal chat channel
- we wanted additional features such as data and file sharing
- we hoped to replace numerous email threads with a simple collaboration window
- we wanted the ability to add future features, such as external chat
- we wanted an intuitive and user-friendly interface for all ages
- we didn’t want to spend a fortune
We quickly saw that the three products have similar capabilities, so, as it does for many of our clients, it came down to cost. While Slack and Workplace by Facebook offer a very low per-seat fee, Teams was free due to our pre-existing Office 365 licenses.
It took us a month to do our due diligence including testing each platform amongst a few of our operations users, and another month to be fully up and running on Teams, as it required very little training.
If you are planning to make a similar collaboration software purchase in the future, here’s what you can learn from our experience:
- Evaluate your current internal and external communications processes
- Ask users for feedback
- Select several collaboration platforms for comparison purposes
- Include recent user reviews in your research of capabilities keeping in mind size and comparability of company
- Create a side-by-side grid of the pros and cons for each platform
- Factor in the amount of time it will take to roll out a new software and determine its training requirements
- Use cost as a determining factor when all things are equal