Business Chat Apps in 2017: Top Players and Adoption Plans

by Peter Tsai, IT analyst at Spiceworks

When it comes to electronic communications at work, email is the seasoned old-timer. Everyone uses it, and for decades it’s been the default method of communication at work. However, it’s far from perfect. If you’ve ever been spammed, dropped from a group thread, caught up in the dreaded, never-ending "reply all" loop, or struggled with dropped attachments, you know what I mean.

Thankfully, tech companies have developed solutions that address the shortcomings of email. The latest generation of collaborative business chat software brings together technologies like instant messaging, chat rooms, file sharing, and video conferencing… making it easier for everyone to stay on the same page. Additionally, these tools often work seamlessly across all your devices including smartphones and tablets, and some solutions support integrations with the apps your company already uses.

Who are the players?

When it comes to collaborative chat apps, almost everyone is familiar with Skype for Business and Google Hangouts, as they’ve been around for a while. However, a new crop of highly-customizable, team-oriented chat apps such as Slack and HipChat have made waves in recent years, and their success has inspired big tech companies like Microsoft and Facebook to develop similar tools. For example, both Microsoft Teams and Workplace by Facebook were announced in late 2016.

But are companies actually adopting these new apps, or are they sticking with what they know? To find out, we surveyed nearly 450 IT professionals in North America and Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) to understand if organizations are using collaborative chat apps today or if they plan to adopt them in the future. We also asked IT pros which of these services they believe are most secure, innovative, reliable, cost-effective, user-friendly, and manageable.

Earliest adopters of collaboration tools: Big companies

Among all collaboration tools in the workplace, email is still king. But chat apps such as Google Hangouts, Slack, and Skype for Business are clearly on the rise, with 42% of companies of all sizes currently taking advantage of them and more looking to adopt them in the future.

When evaluating the data by company size, the results show companies with 500+ employees are more likely to use collaboration tools than their smaller counterparts. This makes sense, because as companies grow larger, managing cross-team projects and communicating updates to a wide range of colleagues can become challenging. Collaboration apps can help address these challenges by improving communication and helping employees work together more efficiently.

Most commonly used collaborative chat app: Skype for Business

When looking at the adoption rates of specific collaborative chat apps, the results show Skype for Business is on top with 36% of organizations using it, followed by Google Hangouts at 16% and Slack at 13%. Both Microsoft Teams and Workplace by Facebook had fairly low adoption, but that’s to be expected as they’re both new to the market.

When we broke out the data by company size, we found larger organizations are significantly more likely to use Skype for Business than smaller organizations, perhaps because the large group conferencing and user account management features offered with Skype for Business make more sense as companies grow in size. On the other hand, small- and medium-sized businesses are slightly more likely to use Google Hangouts than their larger counterparts, which could speak to the quality of Google's free offerings.

Future adoption plans for collaborative chat apps: Microsoft Teams gains momentum

When it comes to future plans, Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams are poised to see the most growth. Although only 3% of organizations use Microsoft Teams today, an additional 17% of organizations plan to adopt it within the next 2 years. Skype for Business is expected to pick up an additional 11% of organizations within the same timeframe.

The biggest surprise in future adoption plans? If these plans hold true, Microsoft Teams will be the second most commonly used messaging platform in the workplace by the end of 2018, surpassing Slack and Google Hangouts, and coming in behind only Skype for Business. This bodes well for Microsoft, who owns Skype, and could speak to the fact that Microsoft Teams is free to use for companies that subscribe to Office 365.

Collaborative chat superlatives: Slack and Skype for Business earn top honors

When asked to rank chat apps across different attributes including security, reliability, and innovation, IT professionals put Slack and Skype for Business at the top in most areas.

When looking at innovation, Slack was the runaway leader, with 5 times as many IT pros selecting Slack as the category leader over the other providers. Slack also came out on top for being user friendly and compatible with other apps, although by a much slimmer margin. Google Hangouts is perceived to be the most cost effective and came in a close second for user friendliness.

Also scoring top marks was Skype for Business, which is the perceived leader in terms of security, manageability, and reliability. And considering these three traits are important to businesses, especially at larger companies, this may be why Skype for Business has the highest usage. You might also infer attributes Skype for Business scored lower in, such as innovation and user-friendliness, play less of a role when IT pros evaluate collaborative chat apps for business purposes.

Chat apps not a huge security concern… for now

In terms of security, the results show less than one third of IT pros are concerned about business chat apps introducing security risks. For example, 32% said messaging apps put corporate data more at risk of being hacked, and 29% said they pose a security risk that is difficult to manage.

However, that doesn’t mean caution can be thrown to the wind. Nearly 60% of IT pros believe sensitive files/information should not be shared via group chat apps. In other words, IT pros aren’t overly concerned about the security risks as long as their employees use chat services wisely.

As to the value of these tools, the majority of IT pros (51%) said collaborative chat apps are critical to their organization’s success. And most IT pros think these tools make the workforce more productive. In fact, only 22% of IT pros believe they distract users from getting their job done.

Can collaborative chat apps unseat email?

Now the big question, are the new crop of collaborative chat apps a good substitute for the tried-and-true business email platforms we all know so well? Apparently not any time soon, it seems. While IT pros generally agree that chat apps require less support and are less expensive than email, only 25% believe collaborative chat apps will replace email within the next 3-5 years.

Methodology:

The survey was conducted in December 2016 and included 448 respondents from North America and Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). Respondents are among the millions of IT professionals in Spiceworks and represent a variety of company sizes including small-to-medium-sized businesses and enterprises. Respondents come from a variety of industries including manufacturing, healthcare, nonprofits, education, government, and finance.

Peter Tsai is an IT analyst at Spiceworks. Formerly a systems administrator, programmer, and server engineer who has lived IT from the inside and out, Peter now helps serve up IT articles, reports, infographics, and livecasts that inform and entertain millions of IT pros in Spiceworks. https://www.spiceworks.com/about/

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