With Cisco’s announcement this week that it’s folding the Spark platform into Webex, the picture on enterprise team collaboration came a bit clearer into focus. (For all the detail on the announcements, see Zeus Kerravala’s posts on No Jitter here and here.) To me, the picture looks like one where the weight of the industry is now behind team collaboration as an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, development.
This wasn’t a foregone conclusion. The story begins with Slack, whose viral adoption and stratospheric valuation set investors’ mouths watering and competitors’ hands wringing. Slack’s approach to the communications/collaboration platform of the future is, not surprisingly, Slack-centric. The idea is that this new platform -- team collaboration -- forms the heart of the communications/collaboration system of the future. It accommodates the way people like to work and collaborate in today’s world, and it exemplifies the software-centric model: Basically, you get to integrate just about anything you’d like, theoretically, into your communications/collaboration platform using vendor-provided APIs.
It's not a traditional model for enterprise communications, but it's not crazy either. There are enterprises adopting this model. To me, one of the most striking moments at last month's Enterprise Connect Orlando was when my colleague Beth Schultz asked a panel of end users to describe their UC architectures, and the first panelist, John Herbert, EVP & CIO, 21st Century Fox, responded, "We're using Slack as that core." And this is not a small pilot -- it's 25,000 users across 90 countries. Herbert described an environment that uses Okta for identity management, Zoom for videoconferencing, and Slack to connect teams. "We really have a best-of-breed solution around how we collaborate," he said. Best of breed never looked like this before.
But clearly, this significant a departure from the traditional approach, and the legacy systems that supported it, is likely to remain the exception rather than the rule. Most of the enterprise end users we talked to at Enterprise Connect were trying to figure out how to integrate the elements of team collaboration that seemed most valuable -- the persistent chat and the ability to organize team members by project or other appropriate grouping, for example. But they seemed to have little appetite for shifting to a team collaboration-centric communications environment, or much expectation that the world was going to go that way and force their enterprises to come along for the ride -- at least not anytime soon.
Most enterprises aren’t looking for a revolution. They want a tool that can augment and add value to the systems they’ve already invested a lot of money in. That doesn’t mean Slack’s case is hopeless; the 21st Century Fox example shows that a new platform model may truly be the right choice, and one that can scale. Indeed, in a software-driven world where one of the key buzzwords is “agile,” you could make the argument that the collaboration system of the future should look a lot like Slack. But the road to that world is slower going than I think many people expected as they were witnessing Slack’s ascension to “unicorn” status in Silicon Valley.
I wrote just a couple weeks ago that team collaboration had gone mainstream. The most recent Cisco announcements seem to solidify this trend.