Had you told me ten years ago when I was working on the middleware team at Oracle that integration would be the engine powering chat apps to become the enterprise work console, I don’t know if I would have believed you. We had a collaboration products team at Oracle, but those of us on the middleware team did not feel the need to work with them much. At that time, neither team saw much value in deep collaboration and connectivity between our two areas.
Now, in 2018, the fast growing workstream collaboration space is leading the charge to bring cohesion and productivity to people’s workflows, which are often splintered across the dozens of business apps they use. Whatever you call it – chat, collaboration tool, team messaging, or workstream collaboration – tools like Slack are becoming enterprise consoles where work gets done across teams and apps.
This is a rapidly evolving market as well. Slack’s purchase of Atlassian’s chat products, Hipchat and Stride, is a case in point: Hipchat was a pioneer in this market with a dedicated band of early adopters including large brands like Uber. While some of these customers may now explore other options, this move should further solidify Slack’s market-leading position. This is, however, an exciting space with many more players than just Slack and Atlassian. We’re seeing tech giants like Microsoft, Facebook, and Google making enterprise workstream collaboration their focus.
In order for any of these solutions to truly become the new work hub for enterprise workers, they must address the massive work fragmentation companies are facing in the wake of the SaaS explosion.
The Dark Side of SaaS
The explosion of SaaS has had a huge and under-recognized downside for employees: customer and other business data is splintered and business workflows are chopped up across hundreds of apps and services. Employees are constantly app hopping to get the context they need to get their work done. For instance, to resolve a customer support ticket, a worker must first collect information about that customer by going to different apps. Then they have to file tickets for engineering, update the status for sales, and notify the customer from other apps. They then repeat this process for the hundreds of support tickets they handle each day. The resulting app fatigue, the fragmented and often inconsistent customer info, and the serious loss of productivity are the dark side of SaaS.
The emerging workstream collaboration tools present an opportunity to mitigate this splintered work experience by creating a cohesive environment for employees across all of the apps employees use. While each of the collaboration tools have different strengths and focus areas, they are all looking to solve the same problem: workers need a smarter way to collaborate and perform their work across all the apps they use.
The Top Workstream Collaboration Players
Today, Slack is synonymous with workstream collaboration. As a multi-billion dollar Unicorn company, it has enjoyed widespread adoption since its early days as an internal tool at a video game development company. Slack has become quite active with acquisitions and partnerships that help augment its chat offerings. For example, it recently picked up Missions.ai, a workflow-building tool, in addition to the forementioned Atlassian partnership.
But there are a number of other emerging players who are growing rapidly. Last year, Microsoft Teams debuted as the software giant’s answer to workstream collaboration. Teams soon became the preferred UI for all Microsoft products. It now seems that Teams as an enterprise work console is driving increased use of other Microsoft products like Office 365, Skype for Business and Sharepoint —rather than the other way around.
It’s also easy to set up and get started for companies with a big Microsoft footprint, as Microsoft’s ActiveDirectory already has the information about the organization and functional teams.
Bridging the enterprise and consumer spaces is Workplace by Facebook. The social network’s workstream collaboration offering has been primarily focused on content and community-based project management as well as chatbots. They’re expanding the platform’s workstream integration capabilities; they recently acquired Redkix, which does a brilliant job combining chat and email. As email replacement was the original reason for workstream collaboration, the acquisition indicates a heightened focus on this market—and it’s working, as demonstrated by big companies like Walmart, Spotify, and Campbell’s Soup using Workplace.
And, of course, there’s Google Suite, which continues to offer task-specific apps and file storage that are well integrated. In terms of company-wide collaboration, Google Hangouts Chat was rebranded and released earlier this year with a specific focus on the enterprise. Hangouts Chat has an uphill battle in terms being released a full-five years after the launch of Slack, but has a competitive advantage of being able to leverage the connectedness of other apps in GSuite as well as other tools in the Google ecosystem leveraged by enterprises (such as Google Analytics). Some real household names (such as Whirlpool) use GSuite
A couple of years ago, it would not have been apparent that all these products addressed the same market. Now they’ve all begun to converge to try to fix the work fragmentation problem.
What Makes a Workstream Collaboration Tool Successful?
With such a rapidly expanding market, it’s worth asking: what separates the successful workstream collaboration tools from the less successful? A few things stand out.
Chat is perhaps the most obvious requirement; better collaboration requires seamless communication, after all. With its smooth, playful interface, Slack is the leader here.
- Enterprise Content
A good workstream collaboration tool will also be able to organize your content. Teams, for example, puts all uploads into a central repository that you can browse from a separate tab. In other tools, there’s no central place to view your team’s files. You have to search for each piece of content individually.
- Integrations and Workflows
Finally, it’s clear that a good workstream collaboration tool will do just that: help you orchestrate between your other apps. It’s not just about notes; it’s about executing holistic workflows in a unified UI. These workflows span three broad categories:
- Basic app integrations (like notifications)
- Native workflows (executed from inside the chat console)
- Enterprise workflows (which require integrating with big apps like NetSuite)
To deliver on this vision of a unified UI, a workstream collaboration tool needs to provide all three types of integration and workflow usages mentioned in point #3. Slack bet on the importance of workflows early on, and so its capabilities are the most advanced. For example, Ticketmaster’s engineering team uses Slack—and integrations with PagerDuty and Rigor—to better triage and resolve tickets. It’s a great example of how you can augment your workstream collaboration app through integration and automation to turn it into a true work hub.
Welcoming Workstream Collaboration Into the Enterprise
So, how can enterprises make the most of the burgeoning workstream collaboration space? There are three key areas that must be addressed to leverage enterprise chat across an enterprise and realize the transformational benefits it offers.
Enterprise-grade Connectivity with Business Applications
In a typical enterprise, there are hundreds of cloud, on-prem and even legacy business apps to integrate with and surface up within chat products. When deciding how to connect them with a chat UI, enterprises must consider that:
- Core apps, such as Salesforce, Workday and ServiceNow, are nearly always customized, often heavily. The customizations are essential to how these organizations operate. The tool used to connect these apps to Slack, Teams, Workplace, or Google must support such customizations.
- The APIs for enterprise apps are often low-level, technical and are inter-related. Enterprise connectors abstract this complexity and can make App APIs accessible to business users.
- App APIs are noisy – They deliver the same app update multiple times resulting in data duplicates and duplicative actions. Transactional integration that guarantees updates are delivered only once and in the right sequence is a must for enterprises.
- Application data can be complex and require strong data transformation capabilities (think Excel) to integrate into Chat interactions.
- Application data and process exceptions are the norm. Exception handling must be built-in and easily accessible.
Enterprise integration is essential to unlocking the power of apps from enterprise chat products.
The ability to rapidly create and evolve workflows without having to depend on a team of developers is important. So, enterprise-grade integrations and no-code workflows that are either native to chat applications or orchestrating flows across business apps with chat are key for a workstream collaboration tool to function as a truly unified work hub.
Enterprise-Grade Security and Data Privacy
Business workflows must respect security and privacy policies of organizations. Enterprise chat tools are shared, collaborative environments where individuals have different levels of access privileges to various enterprise apps and services. Having all team members interact with Salesforce, for instance, via the workspace admin’s Salesforce connection, as is the default in chat tools today, does not work from a security and privacy standpoint.In order for workstream collaboration tools to be truly adopted as enterprise work consoles for all your workers, they have to be able to respect and enforce their individual workers’ access privileges and data privacy within these shared, collaborative environments.
Collaborating Our Way into the Future
We’re already seeing some incredibly innovative companies using Workstream Collaboration tools as the hub for complex business workflows like Tenable, Nutanix, and Rapid7. On the Workato platform alone, paid users utilizing Slack for their enterprise workflows increased 5x from 2017 to 2018 with a grand total of 380,000 Slack recipes. Companies using Microsoft Teams grew 3x on the Workato platform, which now features over 14,000 Microsoft Teams recipes.
These are truly exciting times for Workstream Collaboration, not just as a market but also as a major player in transforming how people do their work.
Want to see how workstream collaboration can function in a business? We did a deep-dive into the different types of Slack-based workflows.