two horses racing with jockeys urging them on
PHOTO: Shutterstock

There is a lot going on within the collaboration market, but recently, the biggest news has been Slack’s acquisition of Atlassian’s real-time communication tools. Slack’s Atlassian grab has ignited an API marketplace battle for collaboration that will lead Atlassian users to greener pastures that don’t always include Slack, one development in an evolving workplace-communication technology field. Enterprise collaboration experts shared those thoughts with CMSWire on the heels of the big marketplace news, where longtime Slack competitor Atlassian bowed out of the race and conceded victory to $5.1 billion-valued Slack, which acquired the intellectual property from Stride and Hipchat Cloud in the deal. 

So does that leave Microsoft Teams and Slack vying for entrance into the winner's circle? “This is far from a two-horse race,” said Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst for the Future of Work at Constellation Research. “Microsoft, Cisco, Facebook, Google and others have all reacted to the market that Slack kick-started a few years ago.” 

Teams Vs. Microsoft — Or Everyone vs. Everyone?

Naturally, it’d be naive to think there’s no Slack vs. Microsoft Team story in this marketplace. Slack has grown a cult-like following since its inception in 2013 with 8 million daily users across 500,000 organizations, 3 million of who are paid. Its battle with Microsoft Teams is certainly public, well-documented and usually at the fore of enterprise collaboration conversations. Slack has thrown salvos trying to convince some of the 120 million Office 365 daily active users to consider Slack, but naturally Microsoft has the inside track there for Microsoft Teams conversions. Teams is used by 200,000 organizations and came out this year with a free version, no doubt to disrupt Slack and its successful freemium model.  

But they are not the only two tools left in the ecosystem, according to multiple enterprise collaboration industry watchers. Users of the Atlassian tools who had not already defected to alternative solutions will use the time before the tools are shut down to evaluate all the options, said Stowe Boyd, editor in chief/curator at Work Futures. “Slack has the opportunity to build some export/import bridgework, or to offer Atlassian users some discounts,” Boyd said. 

“...Ultimately I bet the users will move to Slack, Microsoft Teams, Facebook Workplace and other alternatives in about the same proportions as others in the marketplace do, with perhaps a slight lean in the direction of Slack. But, remember, they could have defected to Slack a month ago if they liked Slack so much,” said Boyd.

Related Article: Slack or Microsoft Teams? Well, That Depends ...

API Battle, Market Split

More so than a Microsoft Teams vs. Slack lone battle, the Slack-Atlassian news signals a general split in the market, according to Mike Gotta, research vice president for collaboration and social software at Gartner. It is what he calls “workstream collaboration.” Gotta predicted there will be one group of providers that offer horizontal platforms that satisfy a variety of general use cases. The other group, providers that focus more on collaboration applications and are “richer and deeper in terms of optimizing specific use cases that the horizontal, general purpose platforms do not.”

According to Gotta, Slack’s Atlassian acquisition also sets up a battle for an API marketplace for collaboration. He called this an emerging opportunity for a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)-like player to “build out an ecosystem of collaborative applications in a way that monetizes the APIs by creating partner business models rather than a single vendor trying to do it all themselves.”

More About Developers than Collaboration Market?

Ed Sim, founder and managing partner at BOLDstart Ventures, sees the “Slack vs. Microsoft Teams” as more of a "manufactured" headline. Developers were the main users of Hipchat, Sim said. The next big battle is one for developers for Atlassian and for Slack/Teams than an actual battle of collaboration, he noted.  “I don't think it's just a Slack vs. Teams world,” Sim said. “Others are making aggressive moves in space with Facebook buying Redkix and Cisco buying Accompany. It's a massive market.” 

Sim also cited players like Front. Worth noting, Sequoia recently led a $66 million round on Front (Sim’s firm is also an investo). “[Front is] becoming a default platform for collaboration over email,” said Sim.

Related Article: Forget Slack vs. Email: Think Slack Plus Email

Not an Easy Road to Slack

Sharon O’Dea, digital communication and collaboration expert and co-founder of consultancy Lithos Partners, said although the partnership approach between Atlassian and Slack will help them to develop the tools for a promised Atlassian-to-Slack migration, for many it won’t be that easy, or popular. “Hipchat customers have had four years to move to Slack and have chosen not to do so,” O’Dea said. “In my experience Hipchat and Stride customers have stuck with it because they value the level of integration with the rest of the Atlassian suite, in particular Jira, or they need an on-premise solution.” So while many will migrate to Slack, this certainly is an opportunity for other players to grab market share, including Teams, O’Dea added.

Although Teams and Slack are not the only options, O’Dea said for most organizations it will come down to one or the other. “And that choice is, broadly: Do you want one ecosystem to meet a wide range of needs (Office 365)? Or to choose a combination of best-of-breed tools and make them play nicely together — Slack plus any number of other platforms,” O’Dea said.

She also warned that people should never rule out Workplace by Facebook. The messaging capability in Workplace by Facebook is a “solid offering with greater potential for high levels of take-up due to its familiarity and ease of use,” O’Dea added. And, she also noted, there are a host of smaller players that could potentially fit the bill, like Flock, Ryver or open-source alternative Rocket Chat, each one with their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Related Article: Atlassian Debuts Stride, Its 'Most Ambitious' Enterprise Collaboration Tool

Pioneers of Consumer-Like Experience in the Workplace

According to O’Dea Slack's offering is in line with two standout trends in the annual most-coveted technology report: Mary Meeker’s 2018 Internet Trends Report. Meeker cited huge growth in enterprise messaging, which she described as the new standard for collaboration, and the demand for consumer-grade user experience at work. “Slack were pioneers here. It’s one of the first enterprise tools to the truly delight users with everything from its simplicity to its microcopy. That’s forced the entire market to up its game,” O’Dea said

‘Work Processing’ Tools Emerging

Boyd noted that despite enterprise collaboration tools like Slack, Teams and Facebook grabbing headlines, a new generation of document-centered tools — Quip,, Slite, Nuclino, and others — are gaining steam. He calls them “work processing” tools. They support shared documents with styled text, embedded objects (tables, videos, images), tasks and checklists and social affordances: threaded comments, internal notifications and messaging.

“In this approach,” Boyd said, “documents are not just dumb files with styled text, sitting in a cloud file system. Instead of relying on work chat communications, which are only structured by channels and search, work processing relies on a system of documents to structure company information and discourse. This can also be integrated with work chat, or may include work chat internally. A trend to keep an eye on.”

Related Article: Can Workplace by Facebook Invigorate Enterprise Collaboration

Work Chat Hot but Email’s Not Going Away

Boyd still concedes that at the moment, work chat is the hot, high growth element of the larger domain of work technologies. “That's used best for small teams that communicate frequently to coordinate work,” Boyd said. “There are well known issues with scaling work chat to effectively support the communications and coordination at scale larger than teams. However, a great proportion of work is the work of small teams.”

Email, he added, is still the default mechanism to communicate with those we do not work with as teammates. Task, work, and project management tools — like Asana, Trello (acquired by Atlassian), Basecamp, Smartsheet, and many others — are also in broad use in the enterprise. Companies still rely on documents, even if they don't get printed out as much anymore. That means tools like Google Drive (with Docs, Sheets and Slides), Dropbox and Dropbox Paper, and Microsoft Office 365 (Word, Powerpoint, and Excel) — which used to be called "productivity" tools — are still essential, Boyd added. Google and Microsoft are big players in this last category, and Slack has no horse in that race, Boyd said. “Microsoft and Google both have task management offerings, which Slack has opted to simply integrate with all comers," he added.

Related Article: Slack-Atlassian Deal Marks a Turning Point in Team Collaboration Market

Slack Acquisition Coming?

What’s the next move after the big Slack-Atlassian deal? Boyd said Google or Amazon acquiring Slack is predictable. “However, Slack is an unusual case,” he said. “It has grown very quickly, and is the market-defining product for work chat. So the company is likely to go it alone until its growth slows. Honestly, though, the fit with Google's G-Suite is compelling, and would be a good use of $10 billion.”

Constellation Research's Lepofsky cautioned readers to remember the enterprise group messaging market is still very nascent. No single vendor, he added, can claim any type of dominance. “You now have solutions from Microsoft and Google to challenge the standalone vendors,” Lepofsky said. “Add to that companies like Facebook, and the UCC (unified collaboration and communication) vendors like Cisco, ALE, Unify, and it’s clear this is a very competitive market. We will continue to see both competition and consolidation as vendors fight to claim customers.”

Gartner's Gotta finds “nothing exclusive in the news” that would suggest Slack gained any type of sustained competitive differential through its deal with Atlassian. “Slack customers really do not benefit in any direct way,” Gotta told CMSWire, “and the long-term value from the deal is unlikely to have significant impact on Slack’s market positioning.” Gotta even sees Hipchat on premises customers looking to Mattermost as well as other options. “It’s not a 'sure thing,' he said, "that they move to Slack."