The case for interoperability in enterprise messaging

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As enterprise communications tools have evolved in recent years, real-time messaging has become the primary form of communication in the modern office. As the workplace of the future becomes the workplace of today, the emergence of chat apps is frequently viewed as a positive step forward. However, despite the arrival of modern persistent group chat apps like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Webex Teams, if often feels like collaboration nirvana is further away than ever.

Businesses regularly express their frustration at the number of chat apps that are used in parallel by their organization. A combination of multiple messaging apps – like Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, Slack, Webex Teams or Cisco Jabber - is commonplace in most enterprises. Either through organic growth, shadow IT, or mergers and acquisitions, almost all large enterprises have multiple messaging applications running alongside each other.

Interoperability

The enterprise messaging market is crying out for interoperability.

In recent months, Cisco has enabled interoperability between Jabber and Webex Teams and Microsoft has enabled a bridge between Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams. This is the perfect opportunity for enterprises to regain control of their chat applications.

Often, the resolution to this issue is seen as making the decision of which single chat app to consolidate around. This introduces its own unique problem associated with taking away a frequently used tool from half your team. This is a clear problem. Traditionally, you have two choices:

  1. Take a top-down approach to collaboration and enforce one product – upsetting half the business and losing productivity as everybody is forcibly migrated to a new chat app.
  2. Carry on as usual with different departments using their own chat apps – creating an artificial barrier to communication between different parts of the organization.

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Image Credit: Pexels

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Attracting and retaining talent

The most obvious disadvantage to either of these options is removing the personal preference for employees. Studies show that users are more productive when they use a familiar tool. Millennials, in particular, expect the technology they are presented with at work to be on par with the technology they have available to them in their personal lives.

Chat apps and collaboration tools play a huge part in the war for talent. Lyndsay Lantz, Senior Manager of Enterprise Systems at SailPoint, says it is now a reality that interviewees may turn down a job if specific collaboration platforms are not offered.

Using multiple chat apps

If you decide on a multi-vendor messaging ecosystem, you might think it’s the easy way out. Less work, no migrations and everybody keeps doing what they were doing before. The intangible loss of productivity is a troublesome factor in most collaboration strategies. In essence, the more employees you have, and the more applications to run in silos, the less effective your collaboration.

According to a Salesforce report, 86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures. The artificial barriers between workplace messaging apps are one of the primary drivers of this communication breakdown. So, why don’t we see more companies adopting messaging interoperability?

Every business will have its own reasons. Some will point to budgets, challenges with legacy systems and a belief that it may one day be possible to consolidate around one single tool. With only 14% of IT administrators happy with their communications and collaboration strategy, more needs to be done to raise awareness of the interoperability solutions that can connect collaboration platforms.

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Image Credit: Shutterstock

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Switching costs are high

A primary driver of fragmentation in workplace messaging tools is the popularity of Slack, particularly amongst software engineering teams. From the perspective of a tech-savvy engineer, Slack’s user experience – with its slick interface and powerful slash commands - is second to none. The cost to switch an engineering team from Slack to another messaging app, like Microsoft Teams, for example, are high.

Many engineering teams adopted Slack a few years ago, and have invested significant resources in building custom Slack integrations or adopting feature-rich apps from the Slack App Directory that are unavailable on other platforms. There are often months or years of chat history stored in Slack, and Slack’s powerful search function essentially acts as a rich knowledge base for many employees.

Therefore, if/when corporate IT executives start evaluating Microsoft Teams or Webex Teams, it’s important to investigate solutions that can help accommodate engineering teams who are wedded to using Slack. Corporate IT leaders are coming to terms with the realization that a successfully company-wide rollout of Microsoft Teams or Webex Teams will often require a solution that allows Slack devotees to keep using their preferred chat app.

Appetite for interoperability

Will most companies gradually come to accept the reality of multi-vendor messaging environments, with interoperability as an enabling solution to this problem?

As businesses move most employees from Slack to Slack Enterprise Grid, from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams or from Cisco Jabber to Cisco Webex Teams, the enterprise collaboration stack is becoming only more fragmented.

The availability of messaging API’s finally allows platforms like Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams and Slack to become interoperable, allowing co-existence to thrive and cross-platform messaging to become a reality.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

(Image: © Image Credit: Shutterstock)

Messaging interoperability is a reality

By leveraging API’s available on platforms like Slack, Cisco Webex Teams and Microsoft Teams, cross-platform messaging is fast becoming the norm, not the exception. Since launching Mio, we have seen success with many customers across different combinations of platforms. Slack users can natively direct message Microsoft Teams users. Cisco Webex Teams spaces are synchronized in real-time with Slack channels. Teams can stay in sync while individuals can choose the platform they prefer.

If you and your colleagues are using more than one chat app in the office, know you are not alone. The fragmentation of enterprise messaging apps plagues almost every large company on the planet. The good news is messaging interoperability is becoming table stakes for all the main players. As enterprise communications continue to evolve and the workplace of the future becomes simply the modern workplace, chat applications and messaging interoperability will be at the forefront.

Tom Hadfield, CEO at Mio