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Slack Counters Microsoft Teams with Enterprise Grid

Slack last week showed it's not about to let Microsoft walk away with the market for chat-based workgroup collaboration without a strong fight. Addressing some of the weakness in Slack, which has emerged as a widely popular service for creating ad-hoc workgroups based on its chat interface, the company announced its new Slack Enterprise Grid.

The move comes amid the pending release of Microsoft Teams this quarter, which will create a formidable challenge to Slack's namesake chat service. Slack Grid aims to counter some of the objections by IT and compliance managers to the company's current offering. Slack Grid answers those limitations by letting administrators control permissions and configure integrations on a per-workspace basis, the company highlighted in a blog post announcing the new release.

Slack Grid will also let administrators build shared channels between workspace. Among improved functions, Slack Grid will offer data loss protection (DLP) controls and a console that'll let administrators manage security, policy and compliance across an enterprise. Slack Grid will also let administrators customize policies and data retention settings for each workspace. Hoping to give it more appeal to enterprises, Slack Grid will also offer unlimited workspaces among multiple groups and departments.

Relatively new to the scene, Slack was founded in 2013 and counts numerous emerging companies as its customers but also has become increasingly popular in large organizations that include Accenture, Capital One Bank and IBM, among others. Slack is in the early stages of benefiting from the whole bring-your-own-device and so-called "shadow-IT" trend that has enabled services like Salesforce.com, Box, Dropbox and even Amazon Web Services to gain critical mass.

Courting Millennials
Seeing that Slack's viral success in the workplaces, Microsoft saw another alarming trend: millennials -- those born between 1980 and 1997 -- are expected to account for half the workforce by 2020 and have embraced Slack as a form of setting up ad-hoc collaboration teams. Slack's workspace is a familiar and consistent form of communication many millennials use in their personal interactions, which is why it has become so popular in the workplace.

"As a younger generation are used to in their personal lives dealing with things like Snapchat and Google Hangouts and these other services with persistent chat capabilities, Slack is definitely a major attraction," said Shyam Oza, a senior product marketing manager at AvePoint, which has partnered with Microsoft to integrate with Teams. "There's not much of a learning curve in moving into the Slack Workspace."

Microsoft Teams Momentum
Yet Microsoft has one key advantage with Microsoft Teams: it'll be included with Office 365 subscriptions. This should give it significant gravitational pull with IT from a management and cost perspective. Microsoft Teams, announced in November, is slated for release within the next seven weeks, if not sooner.

In a blog post announcing the status of Microsoft Teams, Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate VP of the company's Office group, revealed more than 30,000 organizations in 145 markets and 19 language have "actively" used the preview release during January.

Koenigsbauer tacitly suggested Microsoft Teams will address the shortcomings of the current Slack offering. In the coming weeks, he said the company will release compliance and reporting features into Microsoft Teams, ensured at addressing DLP and other security concerns.

"Great collaboration tools don't need to come at the cost of poor security or a lack of information compliance," Koenigsbauer said. Microsoft Teams will also come with WhoBot, based on the Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS) developer model for creating chatbots, when the new service is released, Koenigsbauer added.

Google Aligns with Slack
Microsoft's "update" last week came conveniently timed on the day of the Slack Grid announcement, and likewise on the same day Google announced new enterprise controls for G Suite (formerly Google Apps). Google's announcement is relevant to Slack since the two in December extended their partnership to help keep G Suite in the battle against Microsoft's Office 365 juggernaut.

The G Suite update now makes it competitive with Microsoft's Office 365 E5 SKU, said Tony Safoian, CEO of SADA Systems, one of the largest systems integrators with dealings with both companies' offerings. "It's one part of the story for them to offer a more comprehensive, secure, holistic and higher value enterprise offering," Safoian said in an interview last week.

While Google's partnership with Slack also helps broaden that focus, Safoian noted SADA in October announced a partnership with Facebook to offer its Workplace offering. "We plan to help customers implement this new service without organizational headaches and maximum productivity through user adoption programs, bringing about transformational value for their teams," Safoian said in a statement at the time.

It was very clear from the time of the Microsoft Teams launch event in early November that the company is putting a lot of weight behind it, claiming it already has 150 partners lined up to support it upon its release. AvePoint, a longtime SharePoint ISV, which now also supports Office 365, is among those with plans to support Teams.

Oza said that while the Slack Grid announcement promises to make that offering more compelling than its current version, he wants to see how it works, what tooling is offered, how well it integrates with existing infrastructure (including Microsoft's Active Directory) and how much it will cost.

"There's a lot in the [Slack] announcement that is powerful, and it shows they are moving in a positive direction and kind of addressing a lot of the criticism and gaps they face," Oza said. "It will be very interesting to see the product out in the wild for sure."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/06/2017 at 1:04 PM


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