The market for team collaboration apps—think voice and video—is in a state of flux, with a mix of internal development, partnering and acquisition strategies making for a fragmented business landscape.
Several companies are building native voice and video chatting and conferencing directly into their platforms; this is the case for Unify Circuit, Cisco Spark and Moxtra. But many are choosing to simply acquire the functionality that they don’t have.
For instance, Fuze and RingCentral are integrating functionality acquired from LiveMeetings and Glip, respectively, into their offerings. Fuze is looking to expand its cloud-based video conferencing services portfolio, while RingCentral is looking to broaden its cloud telephony portfolio. In the former case, thhe functionality will simply be absorbed; but Glip will become a team collaboration option for RingCentral customers, as well as exist as a standalone app.
In a similar vein, Atlassian has acquired HipChat, a developer.
“In some cases, app developers have acquired start-ups whose technology will add voice and video communications otherwise lacking in an app designed for text-centric interactions,” explained Brian Riggs, an analyst with Ovum’s enterprise group, in a recent post. “This is what's behind Slack's acquisition of Screenhero, as well as HipChat (or rather Atlassian) buying Blue Jimp.”
Companies can also choose to partner. Twilio, for instance, specializes in providing an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) platform for creating software-embedded, contextual communications. As such, it provides APIs for Web developers to build cloud communications applications using voice and SMS. It recently launched a $50 million development investment fund focused on attracting new developers and businesses to build on its platform, while giving existing developers resources to do more.
“We live in a software-defined world that’s changing every day for the better, thanks to the work of developers,” said Kyle Kelly-Yahner, community content manager for Twilio. “Investing in developer ecosystems is essential to fuel those ingenious inventions that let you do anything from crowdsourcing language translation, to building a social polling platform good enough for the President’s State of the Union.”
Twilio powers Redbooth's call-back capability, and voice calling in Moxtra and Fuze’s LiveMeetings.
Even as the development strategies for team collaboration are evolving, so too are the go-to-market routes. Typically, team collaboration apps have been a viral affair—one person tries the app, likes it, and recommends it to friends and coworkers. Increasingly, though, IT has been cracking down on such “shadow IT” activities in the workplace, leading some developers to launch enterprise pricing plans.
It’s also a reaction to financial pressure: Per-user pricing can range anywhere from $2 (HipChat), $3 (Flowdock), $12 (OpenTouch TeamShare) and up to $25 (Spark) per month—the CFO’s office isn’t happy when those costs start to add up on persona expense accounts.
“[Enterprise plans have] become increasingly popular in the past year, with Wimi and Flowdock each introducing one and Slack having one in the works,” Riggs said. “Enterprise plans vary from developer to developer, but usually involve things like directory integration, Outlook integration, single sign-on, service-level agreements, data backup, some kind of premium support, and/or discounted pricing for large numbers of users.”
At the same time, many developers are launching versions of their apps that run in private cloud environments. While their standard fare is delivered in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, avoiding server or desktop software installation and maintenance, some enterprises want more control. So the move to offer options to let organizations host apps in their own data centers is becoming a trend.
“This is why Redbooth, HipChat, and Wimi each recently added private cloud options as alternatives to their hosted models,” Riggs said. “And it's why Slack, Spark, and Flowdock have delivered Windows clients for their respective apps.”
The end result of all of this change is that IT departments have several decisions to make when implementing a team collaboration software strategy.
“When it comes to integration, companies need to decide if team collab apps will be islands unto themselves, allowing end users to set up voice and video calls only with each other,” Riggs said. “Alternatively they can share a directory with Exchange or a PBX, and let users click to call from their desk phones, or in some cases double as the sole comms platforms that let users dial out to the PSTN. Each of these is possible with different team collaborations apps today, so IT buyers have a decision to make.”