Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, and Google Meet have something to prove: value beyond initial adoption in March.
Companies are settling into the permanency of remote work. But now, "if you don't have a plan, it's just gonna sort of turn into a graveyard" of hastily adopted tools, Carrie Basham Marshall, principal and CEO of Talk Social to Me, told CIO Dive.
Typically, in a company of 50,000 employees, different departments can independently select tools — not anymore. But CIOs didn't have time to perform bake-offs between productivity tools.
Departments adopting solutions based on preference will cease as companies tighten their IT budgets. Only one communication platform, for all departments, will stick.
"I think what you're going to see is that organizations are going to become single suppliers," Jean-Marc Chanoine, global head of Strategic Accounts at Templafy, told CIO Dive. "It's like, this company is a Zoom company, everyone shall have Zoom, we have an enterprise license."
A patchwork of software as a service applications isn't ideal in an office environment, but it's nearly impossible to support remote work, so vendors are jumping at the chance to become the sole provider of productivity tools.
The communication market is waiting to see if businesses are going to take advantage of digital collaboration, said Basham Marshall. "Are we going to lose focus again because it's no longer the problem of the moment?"
Phase one, pandemic adoption
Compared to the beginning of the year, where communication platforms were just nice to have, businesses are "seeing a very sudden renewed interest and it's had two waves," said Basham Marshall.
"The first wave was gimmicky," and then evolved into "what's going to fuel communication and culture," said Basham Marshall. March cemented and unified what tools employees would use.
IT-centric organizations are going to consolidate communication tools, "even when that comes at the expense of departmental functionality," Mike Hicks, chief marketing officer of Igloo Software, told CIO Dive.
At the beginning of the year, companies were already trying to consolidate their communication tools, especially when office suites bundle tools. Since Teams' conception, it's been clear it's a two-horse race between between Microsoft and Slack, said Hicks. Neither will displace the other platform.
Now's the time for strategy
If remote work continues into 2021, communication platforms and employees will have to overcome certain hurdles, or distractions.
While it's become easier to get ahold of colleagues, "the number of messages and pings of those apps has increased exponentially. To say this is a problem is an understatement," said Hicks. Workers took to these platforms to maintain their personal connections throughout social distancing and isolation, but there are "constant interruptions."
Industry expects a lot of pandemic-inspired innovation to answer for stressors that are the natural byproduct of these platforms, especially individuals most comfortable with email.
Even before the pandemic, platforms rushed to be a jack-of-all-trades, despite the threat of also becoming a master of none, said Hicks. The addition of "more and more tertiary functionality and integrations, it creates a lot of noise and a lot of compromises." Consolidating file and content collaboration, or task and project management, is logical for vendors.
But too much consolidation in general knowledge management can cause breakdowns in convenience.
Because these platforms became available so suddenly, employees were caught off guard by a lack of structure or strategy, according to Basham Marshall. Microsoft Teams and Slack, are really pushing to become the destination for centralized working.
Every company is going to need to make decisions around "destination tools," as well as every manager and their people that report to them, "so that they can be more productive and not destructive," said Basham Marshall. What industry is waiting to see in 2021 is investment in platform management.
No longer a gimmick
COVID-19 gave communication and collaboration companies a boost in adoption, revenue and criticism.
Businesses should assume their platforms are recording meetings, or at the very least, some degree of transcript retention. Sensitive information, once expressed aloud in an office, is now relayed over calls or instant messages.
Right now, the focus is on how effectively a tool enables communication without giving too much thought to security or privacy gaps. "It's kind of like the T-Rex from Jurassic Park. Right? If you didn't move, it couldn't see you," said Chanoine.
Up against work-from-home policies, IT departments are revisiting the hasty decisions they made in March, decisions primarily made to ensure business continuity.
March was a good time for Slack because companies fully adopted the platform out of necessity. "I think eventually organizations will move away" from the platform in favor of Teams, said Basham Marshall. Because of the pandemic, enterprises didn't have the luxury of waiting for platform bake-offs, "they had to go ahead with the more expensive licensing for Slack."
Companies are in cash preservation mode, suspending or canceling subscriptions to certain services. Other companies whose remote workforce expanded in recent months, quickly increased their spend on collaboration tools.
By 2023, the social software and collaboration market will reach $4.8 billion, or double its size, according to Gartner.
Microsoft's push to make Teams a one-stop-shop for all forms of collaboration — chat, document sharing, video meetings — is at the expense of Skype for Business. Teams has more features and functions that enable remote work. By 2021, Microsoft will sunset Skype for Business Online.
In another six to eight weeks, Teams is expected to "overtake Skype for Business in usage share," according to Aternity's latest Global Remote Work Productivity Tracker. The tracker is based on data from millions of employee devices across more than 500 Aternity clients globally.
Microsoft Teams' video function began moving past Zoom in May, after Zoom's historic growth in March. "This is likely due to Microsoft's aggressive Office 365 adoption push during this period as well as organizations’ growing concerns about Zoom security," according to Aternity.
While Gartner predicts the collaboration and communication market will plateau in about five years, vendors are pushing for near-term mass adoption. The coronavirus pandemic expedited their efforts.