Alaa Saayed, Industry Director, Digital Transformation Practice, Frost & Sullivan

Individuals from different companies are increasingly working together using modern team collaboration applications as opposed to traditional communications methodologies such as email. This new

trend in intercompany collaboration is increasingly growing in importance in a world where more agile external coordination and collaboration is needed among constituents outside of firewalls for organising tasks, coordinating objectives, and solving important issues. In such environments, individuals can freely share, consume and communicate information to drive innovation and avoid inefficient email chains.

State of the market

In the early 2000s, triggered by the internet revolution, email was the primary method for intra- and intercompany group collaboration. Twenty years later, a perfect storm of consumerisation, user adaptability to software-based communications, cloud adoption, software maturity, the influence of newer generations of workers, and the emergence of innovative enterprise collaboration providers have led to the massive popularity of team collaboration services.

As opposed to email’s more deliberate asynchronous nature, team collaboration services are workflow-focused software communications and collaboration applications that support rich, contextual and persistent exchange of information among team members. Team collaboration services deliver several key benefits, including a superior user experience in comparison to traditional point-product software communications and collaborative graphical user interfaces; always-on, on-demand team spaces for sharing and consuming information in context; integration of real-time (for example, voice and video) with non-real-time communications (for example, content management and file storage); continuous feature updates delivered from the cloud; gamification elements (for example, badges, accolades and point systems); and access to functionality and content at any time from anywhere. Yes, email continues to serve its purpose of more formal messaging use cases. Yet team collaboration services empower entire teams to immediately connect with the right information and each other at the right time to work more effectively.

Persistent team collaboration services have transformed into the most popular environment for communications and collaboration in the business space. While we are still in the growth phase of the market, significant portions of businesses are experimenting or are in the project/ planning phase for these solutions. As such, team collaboration solutions are already the fastest growing service segment for many enterprise communications and collaboration providers. Frost & Sullivan estimates market revenues of team collaboration services to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 33.4 per cent from 2019 to 2025, reaching $6.62 billion by the end of the forecast period. As more business users become accustomed to persistent messaging services for teamwork, daily active users of team collaboration services are expected to increase rapidly, reaching 247.6 million daily active users by 2025.

Evolution of intercompany collaboration

Given the success of team collaboration services for internal or intra-company teamwork, there has been rising demand among businesses and their teams to extend the versatile nature of these hubs outside an organisation’s boundaries in what today is known as intercompany team collaboration. The main objective behind this growing requirement is to enable seamless and persistent work among teams that may have external members, whether partners, vendors or customers.

In order to fulfil the promise of intercompany collaboration, providers of popular team collaboration services have been offering solutions and feature capabilities to either invite outside members of an external company to a team collaboration service suggested by the host (for example, Microsoft Teams guest and external access; Cisco Webex Teams external accounts) or allow the integration of separate team collaboration accounts from within the same solution (for example, shared channels in Slack; Workplace by Facebook multi-company groups).

While the above capabilities were clearly created to facilitate intercompany team collaboration, these solutions are specifically confined to teamwork happening inside a single application or platform, rather than cross-platform. Moreover, mostly due to the need to protect their own installed base of customers, team collaboration providers offer narrow integration and federation opportunities across platforms. Groups of people wishing to communicate and collaborate with each other using different platforms are basically at a loss due to the lack of native interoperability between discrete team collaboration apps.

Why cross-platform external federation is important

As Dominic Kent clearly states on the Dispatch blog, “External federation is the process or technology required for team collaboration apps to communicate with each other across a domain.” As Kent efficiently points out, “While external federation exists for the use case of external parties collaborating via the same team collaboration app, like Slack to Slack, in 2020 there is no native functionality for a cross-platform chat.” Why is cross-platform federation important? Frost & Sullivan conducted two different surveys in 2019; each interviewed over 1,000 global IT/telecom decision-makers and influencers about their cloud deployments and their priorities in communications and collaboration investments. The interview results included the following:

  • 62 per cent of respondents currently use various team collaboration tools and 31 per cent plan to deploy them within the next two years.
  • When selecting a cloud communications and collaboration provider, open standards and interoperability with third-party providers is one of the top three decision factors. Also, lack of open standards and integration with third-party providers is one of the main decision factors to replace an existing solution.
  • Key ICT factors in the future include improving customer and employee experience (44 per cent of respondents), followed by improving operational efficiencies (41 per cent of respondents).
  • When it comes to the deployment of cloud communications and collaboration services, most of the respondents are not married to a single provider. While only 32 per cent of respondents have end-to-end single-provider solutions, 68 per cent have multiple platforms from multiple providers. Furthermore, when asked about what their company’s communications solutions were likely to be two years from now, the move to a tightly integrated multi-provider solution tops the list with 40 per cent of respondents wanting to move to this path. This clearly delineates the need for cross-platform interoperability and federation not only outside of an organisation but also intra-company.
  • Finally, the survey clearly demonstrates that while some respondents are advocates of Slack, others use and advocate other team collaboration services such as Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Teams, and Workplace by Facebook. In fact, among the respondents using a team collaboration service, 14 different team collaboration services were stated to be in use and were perceived to be the best team collaboration tool. Therefore, the team collaboration space is and will likely continue to be a fragmented space, depending on each company and individual’s personal choice. Aside from our survey findings that clearly delineate a continuously increasing demand for openness and integration in a highly cross-platform team collaboration landscape, intercompany cross-platform external federation has become key to:
  • Allowing different companies, institutions, teams, partners, vendors or customers to quickly communicate and collaborate with each other safely and securely. Companies can fulfil business goals; B2C organisations can satisfy customers’ needs; and institutions can coordinate and organise joint efforts (for example, the recent Covid-19 empirical) without losing time switching from one app to another or finding out how technology works for each platform.
  • Allowing workers the possibility to choose the team collaboration service they would like to use, translating into higher employee satisfaction, engagement and retention rates. Teams work through their preferred technologies and this makes them more effective and collaborative.
  • Respecting each company’s investment when it comes to team collaboration services, allowing organisations to get more from the collaboration technologies they already use. The creation of seamless workflows between technologies eliminates the need to “rip and replace”.
  • Avoiding vendor lock-in and efficiently implementing a best-of-breed ecosystem by enabling native cross-platform calling, messaging, and meeting environments.

What to expect

Achieving cross-platform intercompany collaboration has always been a challenge due to issues such as federation limitations, security imperatives, and compliance rules. However, solutions such as Mio are emerging to iron out the current connectivity issues between different team collaboration solutions. By federating APIs, Mio translates data from one application to another, enabling teams to communicate and collaborate across platforms in a near-seamless way. Mio works in the background of the existing messaging platforms to provide seamless chat and direct messaging interoperability across platforms. The service is invisible to the user and the cross-platform chat experience is exactly the same as chatting with users on the same platform. The collaboration industry is finally recognising that fragmentation in the team collaboration space is inevitable and is taking steps towards a future where team collaboration applications fluently speak to each other.