The Interoperability Dilemma in the Age Of Slack
Guest Blog by Farzin Shahidi, the CEO of NextPlane
“Slack it to me” has entered the professional lexicon in many companies; one of the many signs that team collaboration (TC) platforms have effectively reinvented how workers communicate and collaborate with colleagues.
Slack, Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams are just some of the new TC platforms that have taken the workplace communications market by storm. With flexible collaboration features and a low barrier to entry, these new platforms have captured the loyalty of workers for their ease of use and cutting-edge features, such as integration with business applications like Salesforce.
While almost every large-scale organisation still relies on legacy unified communications solutions to some extent, TC platforms are becoming inescapably popular with workers who demand a better way to collaborate. In fact, Gartner predicts that 70 percent of teams will rely primarily on TC platforms by 2022.
The Team Collaboration Tsunami
While the lion’s share of the still-emerging market belongs to Microsoft and Slack, many others are competing for users’ loyalty and corporate subscriptions. Until one platform gains a monopoly, the market will experience deep fragmentation for years to come.
This creates major challenges for enterprise IT since these platforms aren’t designed to interoperate or federate. IT leaders are likely to experience challenges when managing these platforms in one or more of the following scenarios.
Single Platform Mandate – One Size Fits All
With so many different collaboration options, some companies are choosing and mandating one TC platform for all their employees. While this is a tempting solution, it isn’t the most realistic option for workers with diverging collaboration and workstream needs.
Microsoft for example, recently announced it has banned employees from using Slack, citing security concerns that the platform does “not provide required controls to properly protect Microsoft Intellectual Property (IP).”
Although it’s an effective way to simplify workflows, it’s not the best solution for employees who want autonomy in the tools they use. NextPlane’s own recent research discovered that the majority of end users are pushing back on their IT departments or management when their company tries to dictate which collaboration tools they can use in the office; creating real tension between the workforce and management.
The structural problem with this approach is while IT can avoid internal interoperability challenges, they cannot control which platforms their partners, customers, and IT service providers use. This means they still need to find ways to federate with users outside the enterprise.
A growing number of companies are taking a mixed-platform approach. They are allowing their end-users to choose team collaboration platforms based on team or user preference. For example, the engineering department may be using Slack, while the manufacturing group uses Webex Teams.
While every team may get to use their platform of choice, this approach creates walled gardens within the enterprise, isolating critical information within the collaboration tools themselves.
Given the high demand for better collaboration, companies are increasingly migrating from legacy UC solutions to new TC platforms. For large organisations, this process can be cumbersome and take months to complete. For instance, it took Microsoft four months to fully migrate its workforce from Skype for Business to MS Teams.
As a result, collaboration is greatly hampered as different teams try to communicate with each other while they are on the disparate platforms during the migration period.
Guest Access as an Alternative to Interoperability
To keep users on their specific platform, TC vendors offer “guest accounts” to help solve organisations’ interoperability challenges.
Guest access allows users to collaborate with other users on dissimilar TC platforms by inviting outside users to their teams and channels. Guest account users can gain full access to chats, meetings, channels, and files.
On the surface, this is a straightforward solution. However, there are several considerations for IT to keep in mind before allowing end users to invite colleagues via guest accounts.
Security: After enabling guest access to external users, IT cannot control or dictate what security measures (such as password complexity, expiration, multi-factor authentication, etc.) external users will use to access their infrastructure. As a result, guest access could be risky to a company’s infrastructure.
Cost and Control: Most major TC platforms licenses include a limited pool of free guest accounts. However, there is no limitation or control on how many guest account invites any given users can send out as long as your company stays within its overall limit of the pool. This means IT will only find out when the guest access pool is exhausted when it is too late and costs start to rise.
Management: When multiple TC platforms are being used internally with guest accounts on each, then IT has to set up and manage different sets of guest accounts using different admin tools.
Redundancy: This means the potential proliferation of multiple UC and TC clients on users’ desktop and mobile devices, adding to the learning curve and creating redundancy in communication tools.
True Interoperability across UC and TC Platforms
To combat the limitations set in place by mandating a single platform within a company, and to bridge the gap created by walled gardens of disparate, internal platforms, IT leaders require solutions that can connect UC and TC platforms used by employees internally, as well as by partners and vendors externally.
IT leaders need a universal hub that performs the necessary protocol translations and API conversions to ensure all chat, presence, group chat, channels, spaces, and file sharing features can be used seamlessly regardless of platform.
This approach can also provide better security when it comes to connecting teams inside and outside the enterprise. Additionally, a central hub can aid in the management of all users and reduce the total cost of ownership in managing multiple collaboration platforms.
Guest Blog by Farzin Shahidi, the CEO of NextPlane
Farzin Shahidi is an entrepreneur and senior executive with over 25 years of experience in the enterprise software and services industry. As the founder and CEO of NextPlane, Farzin has led the company as a market leader for the communications and collaboration industry. Farzin founded NextPlane with the goal to forge truly productive communication in a modern business world by breaking down barriers to comprehensive collaboration. In previous job roles, Farzin helped champion product development and management for companies such as Cendura, Jareva Technologies, and VERITAS Software. Farzin was also the CEO and co-founder of ArcanaNetworks.