The Wainhouse Research Blog
News & Views
on Unified Communications & Collaboration
Two announcements over the past few weeks deeply reveal the inner workings of two very different Persistent Collaboration Spaces (PCS) vendors and their offerings. I had the opportunity to attend both launches, which were “conveniently” scheduled a week apart in San Francisco. Across the country from me. But I digress. So my first observation: each announcement pushed squarely along the “comfort vector” of each company – working within the parameters of what each does best.
Cisco announced the Cisco Spark Board – a very impressive video conferencing-enabled electronic “brainstorming” whiteboard (for details see this recent WR blog article). In my mind, the Spark Board is a culmination of Cisco’s deep group video conferencing heritage and the next iteration of its Spark Cloud messaging & meeting platform with a dose of leading-edge whiteboard hardware and packaging. Picking up the pen and drawing on the board is a truly natural experience. Other meeting participants can join using a tablet or PC via whiteboard in the Spark app. Cisco should be commended for making it dead simple to escalate Spark conversations to include the board and keeping the resulting in-meeting experience very easy and straight forward to use.
Checking out the Spark Board in person
But the focus of the Spark Board is squarely along the lines of what Cisco does best: push the meetings vector, powered by the Spark platform, to a whole new level. Note the platform emphasis – to use the Spark Board, an organization has to subscribe to the Spark Cloud service for both the board and its users. The Spark Board is not a standards-compatible video conferencing endpoint that can be used with other service architectures – it requires the Spark Cloud back end. This is not a bad thing as the end result is powerful and delivers an easy experience that enables teams to escalate their messaging interactions into personal and group meetings. Consistent with a PCS offering, the output from these interactions and any related drawings or files automatically become part of the team’s async workflow (organized by team spaces). If the shoe fits, it’s an attractive solution.
Slack announced the Slack Enterprise Grid – a new service platform designed to scale “the Slack Experience” to the enterprise. In many ways, this event was a coming-out party for Slack – and the first to be attended by industry analysts that cover the enterprise space. While the company has experienced most of its success in SMB’s, its platform has lacked some core features that are essential for enterprise-wide rollouts. “Years” in the making, Slack Enterprise Grid was designed from the bottom up to allow each team to continue to use Slack its own unique way, yet have those Slack spaces interconnect and scale on a large enterprise level – hence the “Grid.” What’s been added? An enterprise-wide employee directory. Centralized administration and control – while keeping each team autonomous. Teams can change policies beyond what is inherited centrally, and choose their own third-party workflow integrations. Teams can connect and share channels (think of channels as topics) with other teams within the company. Enterprise-wide search, scale, single sign on, and security and compliance enhancements round out the Enterprise Grid.
Stewart Butterfield, Slack CEO, talks all things Slack Enterprise Grid
But the focus of the Grid is squarely along the lines of what Slack does best: Empower teams to get their work done in one place – which involves configuring their spaces and integrations to match their particular workflows (the team’s “existing stack”) like a glove. The latter is accomplished either by tapping over 900 off-the-shelf app integrations or through API’s to enable enterprise-developed workflows. The result is a reduction in context switching (between messaging / relevant content / third-party apps / etc.) that, when combined with Slack’s attention to detail on the UX (call it keystroke) level, is what has made the offering so popular – and valuable. So Slack’s challenge is to take the “Slack Experience” enterprise-wide without sacrificing the team-level intimacy.
Some other tidbits from the Slack event: a new set of integrations with enterprise resource platform (ERP)-player SAP (including SuccessFactors human capital management platform), and a chat with the CIO of IBM about the thousands of IBM employees who are using Slack (a “chat bot” integration between Slack and IBM’s Watson had been previously announced). Capital One is onboard with the Grid. Google Board of Directors member and Sr VP Diane Greene also joined the onstage party. All of them spoke with passion. My take-away: Slack appears to be well on the way to building a rabid enterprise following to complement its traditional SMB base.
So there you have it. On the enterprise side, Cisco touts that the Spark platform has been designed for the enterprise from day one, with the requisite scale, controls, and security required – and has an active developer program to court integrations – but can Spark match “the Slack Experience” and workflows? On the meetings side, paid versions of Slack include VoIP and webcam video conferencing with up to 15 people. For those who want more, off-the-shelf integrations are available for Zoom, Blue Jeans, join.me, Google Hangouts, and others. Is this enough for Slack to satisfy the need for integrated meetings?
The elephant in the room is Microsoft Teams, offered as part of the Office 365 suite of services and officially in pre-release until sometime this quarter – so stay tuned for more. Choice is good. This is shaping up to be a pivotal year in PCS offerings.