When Microsoft enters a space, it comes with a massive, almost unfair, advantage. It’s new software is going to work with, or be bundled with, your operating system and primary office tools. Back in the 90s I was one of many people who strongly preferred WordPerfect to Microsoft Word. It didn’t matter how many of us there were, or how much better we thought WordPerfect was. Eventually, almost all of us were forced to switch. Similarly, Internet Explorer didn’t earn its dominance by being the best browser available, it was bundled and integrated in a way that ensured its adoption.
Due to the incredible advantages of having its new products tightly integrated with its huge install base, Microsoft products don’t have to be the best in the field to dominate a market. For a Microsoft product to fail, it has to be really bad, like Vista, or MS Money. However, as long as a new Microsoft product can reasonably hold up against the competition, it will enjoy almost undeserved adoption.
Microsoft and The Collaboration Market
A perfect example of this can be found in the collaboration market. Lync (now Skype4Business) has enjoyed great adoption in the workplace. When you put it head to head with competitive UC solutions, it doesn’t destroy the competition. The video isn’t great and the workflow isn’t ideal. However, when you start talking about its integration with the Office 365 suite, people get excited. With this in mind, it’s easy to predict success for the pending Microsoft Teams offering, sight unseen.
Persistent team messaging (PTM) has emerged in the last few years as a huge success in the collaboration market. It appears to be THE way that teams want to work together. The simple concept of organizing instant messages into project based chat rooms has given a new structure to our communications and project management workflow. The incredible grassroots adoption of solutions like Slack have proven that, for many, PTM is preferable to the old, presence based, UC dynamic. The big question has been which vendor will be first to gain traction with an enterprise version of PTM.
Persistent Team Messaging for Enterprise
Cisco was quick to hit the PTM market from the enterprise side with their Spark service. What originally appeared to be another Slack-like offering soon differentiated itself as a full enterprise cloud solution meeting all security/compliance requirements, and supporting traditional desk phones and meeting room video solutions. Slack itself is looking to shed its “SMB” image with its new Slack Enterprise Grid offering which offers the expected security/compliance, HIPPA/FINRA certifications, and a number of enterprise service integrations. Other offerings are in the game as well. However, none of them have established enough of an enterprise foothold to prevent Microsoft from sweeping in and taking a huge share of this growing market.
To be clear, I don’t expect Microsoft Teams to be bad. I’m sure it will be on par with other solutions. The concern is that even if it is bad, it will do well. If it is bundled with Office 365, and integrated tightly with Skype4B, Outlook, Word, Excel, etc., users find a lot of value in these synergies. Also, if it seen as a part of the Microsoft environment, users may be encouraged to choose it, rather than forcing IT to support a competitive PTM offering.
In the many preliminary reviews I’ve read on MS Teams so far, only one real weakness has emerged. The ability to add externals to your chat channels is only a roadmap feature so far. This means MS Teams is (for now) only usable for internal team communications. This is a big weakness compared to Cisco Spark which allows users to literally invite anyone with an email address to your Spark rooms. While Slack does have guest accounts, it is a bit more complicated.
From an adoption perspective, the lack of a freemium MS Teams version would cause some concern, if it was anyone other than Microsoft. All currently growing PTM solutions (as far as I am aware) offer some kind of freemium option. The way these solutions have been gaining traction is from grassroots, freemium usage, which then grows into paid accounts. However, as MS Teams will be rolled out at no cost to the 85 million Office 365 Business subscribers, it will enjoy a huge install base from day one without the need for a freemium option.
While I do expect millions of us to be using Microsoft Teams in the next few years, I think think the market is big enough to support competitors as well. This will not be the next Microsoft Word, which all but killed the competition. Right now Microsoft Teams has a lot of catching up to do, the competition has a big head start. Also, as long as MS Teams is limited to Office 365 Business users, they are basically giving up the rest of the market to competing PTM solutions. A few things are certain, the PTM market has just been validated in a major way, and the competition in the next few years is going to be fierce.