Back in November 2016, when Slack placed an open letter to Microsoft in the New York Times, it seemed that Microsoft had a job on their hands to crack the collaboration market. Fast forward to now and Microsoft have not only cracked the market but have been joined by another major player, Cisco.
In Slack’s letter, they correctly predicted that every business would be using Slack, or “something just like it,” within the decade. However, the next few statements about being feature rich and it being extremely hard to get right have proved false.
According to a recent poll on nojitter.com, 77% of businesses have already dipped their toe into collaboration technology. This makes the published success of both Microsoft and Cisco even more believable.
Microsoft Teams boasts use in 125,000 organisations worldwide and is in line to replace Skype for Business. Cisco have had unbridled success with, and are so heavily invested in, Cisco Spark that sales of the $10,000 Spark Board are commonplace with their partners.
Microsoft and Cisco stake their claims
The emergence of Microsoft and Cisco into this collaboration market should not come as a surprise. Slack did not, does not and seemingly has no plans to play in the enterprise voice market. This left open a hefty gap for organisations craving Slack-like collaboration but already invested in new cloud technology such as Microsoft Office 365 or having already rolled out Cisco WebEx and Jabber clients not so long ago.
So, let’s say you’re a business that’s done both. You subscribe to Office 365 and have Cisco Unified Communications into your buildings and supporting your remote and mobile workforces. This is no bad thing. However, you may be experiencing a collaboration headache. Do you want to be a Microsoft house, or a Cisco-led organisation? Which sits better in line with your business goals, what provides the better experience for your employees and can either drastically improve your productivity levels?
Teams origins stem quite simply from Skype for Business. Available in all sorts of flavours – on-premises, hybrid, cloud, resold, native through E5, the list goes on. One thing remains true throughout any Skype for Business deployment and this is the consistently great user experience.
Underrated and left behind by high-level executives and middle management for so long is the experience of using the equipment and software provided in the workplace. Fortunately, for these management groups, Microsoft solved this problem without much input from above.
Skype for Business’s interface was so intuitive and easy-to-use that Microsoft fans were left flabbergasted when the notion of replacing it with Teams was leaked. However, said fans have quickly come to terms with Teams and are enjoying the added benefits of channels, document integrations and persistent chat. The process of creating new channels is easy for users familiar with the Microsoft suite and even for those tech savvy outside the Microsoft suite.
Teams is fast becoming the best of Skype for Business and Teams itself.
Cisco Webex Teams (formally Cisco Spark)
Whilst on the outside, it may seem that Cisco are keeping up appearances by introducing Spark as the big brother to Jabber, the Unified Communications tool, it goes deeper. Spark is equally as capable in the collaboration department with various features such as messaging, meetings, document sharing all functioning to the highest standard. However, with so many similar tools in the chest, Cisco are perhaps in danger of creating confusion with their existing customers.
Mauro R points this out on G2Crowd.com
“Like in many cloud products, there is a lack of integration between the same tools of the same software house, and sometimes it’s not easy to understand why. Now I can have instant message from Spark, from WebEx and from Jabber… and this creates some mess”.
This all boils down to adoption planning either in house or with a relevant Cisco partner. To get the most out of any purchase, it needs to be in line with your business objectives, and collaboration suites are no different.
With both Teams and Spark having early success since Slack’s subjective open letter, it’s begs the question, which will be the natural choice for UC&C in the Enterprise? Enterprises requirements will always require enterprise voice which takes Slack out of the equation. Whilst, calls, video and screen sharing are available in the paid for licenses, the enterprise grade features are not on the Slack roadmap – available here on their Trello board.
Microsoft specialise in so many verticals that it is a struggle to calling it specialising. Their obvious niche is their endless supply of existing Skype for Business customers. With the announcement last year that Teams will replace Skype for Business in the long term, this seems to be the obvious win numbers wise when talking about Teams deployments. The obvious choice for Microsoft houses in the Enterprise will remain Microsoft in the form of Teams.
Cisco will struggle to replicate this with typical legacy customers being Microsoft customers too. As mentioned earlier, it is not uncommon for an organisation to subscribe to Office 365 and Cisco. Cisco integration with Microsoft exists so Cisco can leverage the best bits of Office 365 and improve them with their best of breed voice functionality.
Cisco are, however, pumping a lot of resource into their Spark Board suite. If you are a business leader, with a requirement for an intuitive 55-inch or 70-inch touch screen that wirelessly connects to your apps, virtual meetings and video conferences, then it is hard to find an alternative. Albeit not the first of its kind, the Cisco Spark Board is leaps and bounds ahead of its competition.
Unsurprisingly, there are no seamless integrations allowing for cross platform combinations. Cisco have opted for a more innovative approach to integration, offering a link from their truly interactive white boards to virtual reality devices. This will, no doubt, appeal to the more eccentric business buyer.
With no real leader established, it remains hard to call either option the “best” but it’s an intriguing contest to keep an eye on. For the moment, at least, Microsoft will stick with Microsoft but businesses wishing to peak into the next decade will gravitate towards Cisco.
[Post updated 18th April 2018: Cisco Scrap Spark for Webex Teams ]
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