Category: ChatOps

Workplace Messaging Report by Mio Out – 2019 Stats on ChatOps Usage

Hey Skype for Business/Teams/ChatOps fans! Just wanted to do a quick post about a new Workplace Messaging Report. Mio released it after surveying over 200 companies on their messaging apps/ChatOps trends & plans. I saw it posted on Twitter, read through, retweeted a few times, and then raced over here to share it.

Full report: https://dispatch.m.io/mio-workplace-messaging-report/

A few highlights I thought pertinent:

  • 57% of respondents believed more of their users would abandon Skype for Business in 2 years!
  • Of the other platforms, 56% thought those users would move to Teams, 41% to Cisco Webex Teams.
  • The Webex Teams UI tied with Slack’s UI (31% each) for user preference.
  • MS Teams and Skype for Business are neck-and-neck in overall usage—61% for Skype4B, 59% for Teams

 

Workplace Messaging Report

Cue Darth Vader “Nooooo!”

Image courtesy of Dispatch.m.io.

This is all making me think I need to look harder at Webex Teams!

The report has a lot more data, including some surprising numbers on Cisco endpoints. It’s very well-laid out too…only took a few minutes to absorb it all. Go check it out.

Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

How to Choose A Business Chat Platform (2019 Version)

It’s time to add chat to your communications tools. Which chat platform should you adopt? Teams? Slack? Something else?

First off, take a breath. Your search has brought you to the right place. In this post we’ll go over the available chat platforms, discuss the pros & cons of each, and identify the criteria for you selecting your best option.

Chances are you’re looking at chat platforms for one of these reasons:

    • Users are clamoring for a chat option
    • Need to get users off Skype (Consumer)
    • Time to replace less-advanced communications platforms
    • Worried about a data breach through user behavior (this one’s not limited to chat, of course)

Unless there’s another reason – if so, please share it in the comments!

Let’s address all of these reasons in one handy guide. I’ve put anchor links below for quick reference, but I recommend you read the entire guide. Only takes about 8 minutes.

TABLE OF CONTENTS


Clarify Your Chat Goals

First, before anything else, you’ll want to identify what you need from the chat platform. What it must do for you from an IT standpoint, and what it must do for the business’ communications.

Consider factors like these when identifying. These have all come from our own customers’ initial discussions about chat and/or voice offerings. Some contradict others, so make sure to decide which is most important.

  • Easy transition from another communications system
  • Easy adoption of a brand-new platform
  • Omni-device (apps for every major OS)
  • Focused on Windows devices
  • Security is paramount for all devices & data
  • Security should not get in the way of ease of use
  • Works within an existing cloud subscription we have (e.g. Office 365)
  • Stands alone, needs no additional subscriptions or hardware
  • Works in the cloud
  • Works on-premise
  • Has a monthly fee, flat or per-user
  • Pay up front, no monthly fees
  • Has voice and video options built-in
  • Video is equally important to chat
  • Voice is equally important to chat

I’ll refer back to this list several times, so keep it in mind. Next up, we must narrow our focus. This is for business use; therefore, we need to look at only business chat offerings.

Focusing on Business Chat Offerings

This guide will focus on chat platforms where chat is the centerpiece product.

That’s why I won’t look at platforms like Fuze and Zoom here. I’m also leaving off consumer-targeted chat platforms, like Discord and Telegram.

No knock against any of these, of course. I like Telegram, but I don’t use it for business. For purposes of this guide, I’m focusing on chat platforms targeted for business use.

In order to qualify, they must meet these criteria:

  1. Meant for business users
  2. Security-conscious
  3. Stable
  4. Manageable
  5. Good support options available
  6. Work within existing office environments

That leaves us with a handful of platforms. Each very similar to one another. All crazy usable. All with at least decent security, mobile apps, and lots of integrations. So how do you choose?

Let’s start by identifying the elements you should consider.

ChatOps Adoption – Elements to Consider

Will your users accept a chat platform? Will your current IT infrastructure play nice with one? What about security? These are all important elements to consider…long before you trial anything.

Will your users adopt?

A chat platform’s useless if nobody wants to use it. You may have fielded requests for chat already…if so, you’re good! If not, you’ll want to check their thoughts.

The solution? Survey your users. A simple email, or SurveyMonkey form. I’ve written out a few questions you can use in it.

  • If the company adopted a new chat platform, would you use it to communicate with co-workers?
  • Which chat platform would you prefer using?
    • [List the options you’re considering]
  • Do you use a chat app personally?
    • [e.g. Telegram, Discord, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp]
  • How do you think chat would help you in your daily routine?
  • Do our customers use a chat platform in their work? If so, which?

If users vote the idea down, well, less work for you! But if you get a positive response, and these days I expect you will, then you can move to the next element. Compatibility.

Which chat platforms work with your current infrastructure?

Most office networks will work with a cloud-based platform like Slack or Teams as-is. Check your max bandwidth though—you might overtax a smaller pipe.

An on-prem chat offering will obviously require hardware & network changes. That’s a trade-off you’ll have to make, depending on budget & company policy.

Which features are necessary?

While most chat platforms have the same feature sets, they’re not all equal. For instance, Teams still doesn’t support private channels. If that’s something your users want, then Teams is (for now) off the list.

Identify the features your users would like the most, either through the survey or through conversations. These features come up frequently among our customers:

  • Private conversations/channels
  • Talking with customers on an existing platform
  • Use chat app on phones (or blocking chat apps on phones)
  • Web-based only, app-based only, or both?
  • Voice call function built into chat
  • Integration with specific third-party services already in use

Pay Attention to Security

If I’d written this guide in 2016, this would be the biggest section. Think about it%—every chat user types out company IP in text format, every day, in a cloud-based medium that’s saved someplace you don’t control.

Fortunately for all of us, security around ChatOps has improved immensely since then. Every platform we’ll examine here has documented their security protections. Here are a few reference URLs to help your case-building:

That said, ChatOps adoption still requires some security updates on your network’s end. Pay attention to these adoption aspects as potential security risks:

  • MOBILE APPS—Handy, but they can leave chat conversations susceptible to data theft. Chats are not audio clips; they’re whole conversations in text form. Someone steals your phone, they could have a ton of your IP in their hands. As such, use 2FA on mobile apps, or limit who can use the mobile app at all.
  • GUEST ACCESS—Important to keep guest access regulated. Teams’ Office 365 account requirement helps with this, but also throws up a roadblock for ease of use. Slack is a little better with guest access, limiting adds with admin controls.
  • THIRD-PARTY INTEGRATIONS—If your users connect a third-party service with poor security, it can create a data leak. Make it clear that IT needs to know about integrations, and vet them first.
  • PRIVACY—Who owns the data? Most platforms will unequivocally say, “You do.” Still helps to check their TOS. Especially if you have GDPR to consider.

Remember Backups

If you choose a cloud-based chat platform, make sure to incorporate its logs into your backups. You may not think you’d need to back up chat conversations when they’re already in the cloud. However, if you’re using chat for work, remember…those conversations contain important information!

With a backup running, you’ve made sure you know where chat logs are stored (and you can retrieve them). I did a post on this for the SpinSucks Blog recently.

Open the link and then come back. We have a lot more to cover!

———

Now that we have a clearer sense of what to watch for, let’s break out the best business chat platforms, one by one, and weigh them.

The Major Chat Platform Options

There are four ‘major’ chat platforms in use today. The most popular, the one you hear about all the time, is Slack.

With good reason. Slack is a titan of chat—near-infinitely flexible, stable as you can get, friendly with just about every device out there, and designed to support business users. Some businesses run their whole operation through Slack. The company supporting it is stable and plans to go public soon.

Slack Chat Window

The famous Slack window. Names obscured for privacy, of course.

Choose Slack if:

  1. Ease of use is paramount
  2. Your company do not already have an Office 365 tenant subscription
  3. You use Linux on some user devices

——

Next up, Microsoft Teams.

Teams’ recent growth indicates that people who are new to business chat go for it the most. Not surprising either; it has a short learning curve, Microsoft’s weight behind it, and free options. It isn’t perfect; Teams loses to Slack on a few points (Linux clients, adaptability). However, its incorporation of Skype for Business voice & video tools enhance its appeal.

Teams Chat Window

Choose Teams if:

  1. Your company has an Office 365 tenant subscription, with accounts for the majority of users
  2. You primarily use Windows devices
  3. You want an easy transition from an existing communications system

——

Thirdly, we have Skype for Business Server.

The only on-prem offering in the majors. For security-conscious mid-markets and enterprises, this is THE chat platform of choice. It requires more up-front investment, but a search of this blog alone will tell you how much communications power Skype for Business provides.

Skype4B Contact List

(You might wonder why this is on here, when I made chat the centerpiece. Many would consider Skype for Business Server a voice product, with chat & conferencing added. Be that as it may, we use the IM tool more than any other in our office. So do most of our customers. Besides, this IS the Skype for Business Insider Blog. So it’s included.)

Choose Skype for Business Server if:

  1. Data/IP security concerns are high
  2. You must meet regulatory compliance such as GDPR or SOX 404
  3. You have 150+ users
  4. You previously used HipChat Data Center and need to switch

——

Rounding out the major platforms is Google Hangouts Chat. I find this offering a little TOO simplistic, and Google’s privacy shenanigans may dent Hangouts’ appeal. But it’s still popular, cheap, and sports a similar integration level to other G-Suite offerings as Teams.

Google Hangouts Chat

Image courtesy of G-Suite.

Choose Hangouts if:

  1. You already use G-Suite for your company’s email
  2. You do not have an Office 365 tenant subscription
  3. You have users who like using Skype Consumer in the office (Hangouts is similar, making a transition easier to accept)

The Challengers/Alternative Chat Platforms

Maybe the major platforms don’t appeal to you for whatever reason. You’re not a Microsoft/Google fan, or you want to test out several options before making a decision. I love testing myself, so if you’re in the latter camp, welcome! Here are a few ‘challenger’ chat platforms to whet your appetite.

These are chat platforms not as popular as the above options, but still chat-focused and business-oriented. I haven’t done official reviews of these yet; as such, please take the following information as general advice.

First up is Twist. Made by a team already known for a popular to-do app, Twist takes a one-topic-per-thread approach to chat. It focuses on simplicity, sticking to chat as its core and leaving the rest to third-party integrations. Not many of those yet, but they already put in a Zapier integration…clever.

Twist Chat Window

Image courtesy of TechRepublic.

Choose Twist if:

  1. You haven’t used chat in the office yet & want to try it out
  2. You’ve already tried one of the major platforms, and users complain of confusion or overwhelm
  3. You need to keep price low (their Unlimited tier only costs $5/month per user)

——

Next up is Mattermost.

Our sole on-prem Challenger. This one’s not trying to compete with Skype for Business though…they’re competing with Slack. Right up to compatibility with Slack’s third-party integrations. It’s probably one of the most extensive open-source projects I’ve come across.

This platform has teeth. A hefty feature set, good documentation, and an unapologetic targeting toward the DevOps community. That may make it a little more technical than some businesses want. Even so, it’s worth a look.

Mattermost Chat Window

Image courtesy of Mattermost Documentation.

Choose Mattermost if:

  1. You’d like an on-prem offering, but can’t/don’t want to pay for Skype for Business Server
  2. You like to tinker with the tech
  3. You support open-source projects
  4. You’re a tech company and want a chat platform that can keep up
  5. You previously used HipChat Data Center and don’t want to move to Skype for Business

——

Thirdly we have Wire. I’ve seen this one on the fringes of chat discussion, but know very little about it. Wire places a heavy emphasis on security. End-to-end encryption, secure guest rooms, and so on. I think this is an excellent position for a challenger chat platform to take. If they can back the claim up (and I’ll look for that in a review), then I expect this one to grow.

Wire Chat Windows

Image courtesy of Wire.com.

Choose Wire if:

  1. Your company places a high value on security for all communications
  2. You need a backup communications option for emergencies (Wire offers a “Wire Red” service for this)
  3. You’re in the EU and would like a chat platform based there

——

Finally, we have Glip. I only came across Glip a few days ago! It’s a chat offering from RingCentral, the cloud-based phone service. We work with them for some customers, though none mentioned Glip to me.

From reviews I read, Glip is apparently popular with marketing agencies. I think the ‘unlimited guest users’ feature has something to do with that. The in-client document collaboration too. I’ll look into that myself.

Glip Chat Window

Image courtesy of RingCentral Blog.

Glip doesn’t appear to have any “stand-out” features. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from Slack or Twist, right up to third-party integrations. Pricing’s similarly cheap too. It’s an alternative, if you want to explore.

Choose Glip if:

  1. You already use RingCentral
  2. You’re comparing several chat offerings at once

Chat Pricing

“What do these platforms cost?” That’s what Management will want to know first, right?

I did the legwork on pricing too. This wouldn’t be a complete guide without it. I divided the platforms into Cloud-Based and On-Prem. You’re either paying a small monthly fee per user, or paying up front for server hardware & bandwidth.

Monthly Cost (Cloud-Based)

  1. SLACK – Standard tier is $6.67/month per user, Plus tier is $12.50/month per user. Plus does come with better support and more administrative options.
  2. TEAMS – Free, though I recommend getting an Office 365 subscription if you don’t already have one. Three options I’d recommend considering when Teams is your main focus: Business Premium ($12.50/month per user), E1 ($8.00/month per user), and E3 ($20.00/month per user).
  3. GOOGLE HANGOUTS CHAT – Part of G-Suite for business users. Business tier is $10/month per user, though the Enterprise tier ($25/month per user) comes with more security.
  4. TWIST – $5/month per user. For business, don’t even consider the Free version; it comes with a 30-day limit on viewing past messages. With Unlimited, you can always access the full message history.
  5. WIRE – Sliding-scale, starting at €6/month per user. Enterprises go down to €4/month per user. To use their Wire Red emergency collaboration service, you must contact their Sales department.
  6. GLIP – Like Twist, there’s a Free tier and a Standard tier at $5/month per user. In this case, the difference is the total time allocated for shared video; Free accounts get 500 minutes total, while Standard accounts get 1,000 minutes/month per user.

Up-Front Cost (On-Prem)

  1. SKYPE FOR BUSINESS (SERVER) – Cost comes in initial deployment. No monthly recurring fees for the software, but you may pay for a SIP trunk mostly depending on configuration. Check my Pricing for Skype for Business and Teams post for details.
  2. MATTERMOST – Free to download & use (it’s open source). You’ll need a server to host it of course, like Skype for Business Server. The Mattermost team does charge for Enterprise accounts though, starting at $39/year per user.

Try Out Some ChatOps Platforms Before Deciding

Okay, you’ve read all the material in this guide. Your users do want to use chat. You have go-ahead from C-level. Time to start the last part of the search—testing.

Make sure to try out at least two chat platforms. Not just yourself either; invite a handful of tech-savvy users to trial the chat with you. (That way you’re not talking to yourself the whole time. It gets lonely…trust me.)

While many of the same visual elements are the same for all these options, how they work with their own features, and how they interoperate with other tools, can make a big difference in your overall experience. We’ve had customers hate Slack but love Teams (and vice versa). One customer absolutely loved Skype for Business Server’s IM tool. It all depends on the office environment and user tastes.

Using a chat platform in your business can save a ton of time, and make everyone more productive to boot. I hope this guide helps you select the right one!

What chat platform did you end up going with? Please share!

Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

The ChatOps War: The Battle Rages

Three major powers clash over and over. Challengers appear on the horizon. The productivity of millions hangs in the balance. Welcome back to the ChatOps War.

The Current State of ChatOps

Messaging apps. Online chat. Collaboration tools. Call them what you will. ChatOps (as I’ll refer to them here) have exploded across the business world in only a few years.

As with every new frontier, there’s a sort of ‘Wild West’ period. A few businesses pop up early, grabbing much of the attention & pushing growth forward. Then upstarts appear to claim slices of the pie. Big names in related industries wade in to crush the upstarts, early-stagers gear up…and everyone fights for market share.

That’s where we are now. Fighting stage. The War is on.

ChatOps War

Some battles are more intense than others.
Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash.

Why take the time to examine it though? What’s the advantage in surveying the battle scenes? As long as people can use their preferred messaging app, everything’s fine…right?

While true, there are two reasons. One, not everyone can use the ChatOps platform they want to. More on that below.

Two, it takes time & effort to move a company onto any platform. Especially if they’re already on another platform! Migrations take time, cause user frustration, and drive up support costs (temporarily at least).

When you decide to move onto a ChatOps platform, you need to make sure it’s one that will:

  1. Stick around
  2. Do what you need it to
  3. Work well for your user base, AND
  4. Remain affordable.

Hence my reason for this post. Let’s see what’s happening in the ChatOps War.

Who’s On Top?

We have up-to-date information to start us off—a December 2018 survey conducted by Spiceworks. Love those guys.

Business Chat Apps in 2018: Top Players and Adoption Plans

The biggest move came from Microsoft Teams. It surged ahead in 2018, surpassing Slack to become the #2 collaboration tool in the business world. (Microsoft’s moves to place Teams front and center in O365 certainly contribute to Teams’ growth.)

Who’s #1? Skype for Business, of course. For now at least…its own cousin wants the crown.

Wrestling with Messaging App Choices

Watch out, he’s going for the nose! What would the ‘nose’ be in a messaging app?
Photo by Chris Chow on Unsplash.

The Defeated

Workplace, Facebook’s entry into messaging apps, died out of the gate. It’s not a terrible chat offering, as I mentioned in my 2017 review. But it didn’t really hold its own against Slack or Skype for Business, and Facebook’s overall privacy problems kneecapped Workplace as well.

The Challengers Nipping at Heels

I became aware last year of several newer, standalone ChatOps services. I do plan more extensive reviews of the services later this year, but for now, let’s meet the ‘Challengers.’

TWISTTwist.com
This is a chat offering by the makers of Todoist, a popular to-do list app. You see this reflected in Twist’s structure: It’s somewhat like a group chat/email hybrid. Very similar to Teams in its Conversation-based structure. Twist’s makers tout its structure as superior to Slack, by using threaded conversations everywhere (thus making all communication easier to follow). It’s a subtle shift, but notable enough.

MATTERMOSTMatterMost.org
Mattermost acts a lot like Slack. With one MAJOR difference – it’s self-hosted. You run Mattermost on your own servers. It’s an on-prem chat platform!

The standard version is free, with a two-tier paid version that adds in Active Directory/LDAP integration, faster support, and several other useful tools. The Mattermost software runs on Linux, and has apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android…and of course Linux PCs.

Slack does have a Linux app, so this isn’t ‘Slack for Linux.’ It’s an open-source, on-prem alternative. Not quite as refined as Slack, but users report good experiences with it.

ZOOMZoom.us
Wait, Zoom? Don’t they just do video conferencing? Yes, and they do a pretty good job of it as I understand. But it turns out they have a messaging app bundled in too—Zoom Chat!

Zoom’s primary focus remains on conferencing, and rightfully so. The Chat app looks like Slack’s younger cousin. Useful, but meant as a supplement to the video tools. A good value-add.

———

These challengers for the most part have simpler feature sets and a nimbler approach to ChatOps. They’re definitely aiming for Teams/Slack’s heels as well. How much market share they win over will depend, I think, on two things:

  1. Which chat features/structures become the most popular among businesses
  2. Microsoft’s Teams expansion efforts
ChatOps Competitor

I will take your customers…and your treats!
Photo by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash.

Skype4B’s Crown is Under Threat

At this point, Microsoft has forced Skype for Business almost completely out of the small business sector in favor of Teams. This will not get better. Skype4B will eventually lose its crown to Teams. We all knew this of course…but it’s here. It’s happening as you read this.

Enterprises still have the on-prem Skype for Business Server 2019 version, of course. I remain convinced that this will be the last on-prem version Microsoft will release though. By the time we’d roll around to a new server version—2021 or 2022—everyone using ChatOps will either be on Teams, Slack, or a challenger. They will all have full Enterprise Voice capability. Phones, video, and chat will all mesh together.

Now, let me give a prediction about Google Hangouts. You saw several ChatOps players in this post…but I’ll bet you noticed that Google Hangouts was not among them. That’s because I predict Google Hangouts won’t become a threat. Not to Skype for Business or to Teams.

The Spiceworks survey indicates that Google Hangouts use went up from 2016-2018…11% to 18% adoption rates, respectively. That’s because Google targets enterprise users with its Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet products. Moving away from smaller G-Suite customers and potentially alienating them. Thanks to challengers like Twist, Google can no longer make the ‘easier to use’ claim that kept them around.

I also think Google’s privacy concerns and business practices will scare off enterprises in next 2 years. The fact that Google split Hangouts in two, coupled with appealing value propositions from Teams, also throw some tacks on the road.

2019 Will Bring Winners and Losers in the ChatOps War

Now we know the state of the ChatOps War. But there’s plenty more to come!

2019 is a ‘Battle Year,’ where we’ll see promotion, feature adds/updates, rises and falls. I could easily see any of the following occur:

  • Microsoft shortens its Skype for Business sunset schedule (UPDATE: Microsoft announced that it will shut down Skype for Business Online on July 31, 2021.)
  • Google buys Slack (please don’t)
  • A challenger like Twist or Mattermost starts eating into Teams’ market share, due to their independent-of-Microsoft nature
  • Former HipChat engineers come out with something new & exciting
  • Workplace and/or Hangouts quietly dies

This is something on which I’ll keep as close an eye as I can. Directly—we’re fielding Teams requests in the office, and at least one customer uses Slack. All from businesses under 100 employees.

Next post I’ll go into choosing your own chat platform. If you’re looking at all these options and wondering what the best choice is for your business? The next post will help you make that determination. Check back soon!

Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

The Skype for Business Insider Year in Review – 2018 Edition

Just like that, we’ve reached the last post of 2018!

I do have a post on the Mediation Server for our “How It Fits into Skype for Business” in the works. But since it’s already mid-December, I thought a ‘year in review’ post made more sense.

2018: Year in Review

  • After the Skype for Business/Teams Merger Announcement in late 2017, Microsoft moved fast. Teams reached feature parity in August.
  • Teams Growth Extraordinaire. New desktop client, upgrades to mobile apps. It even surpassed Slack to take the #2 enterprise chat spot, after Skype for Business Server.
  • The ChatOps War raged. The space has both broadened its user base, and lost some of its offerings (HipChat, Stride).
ChatOps War
Not quite this violent, but you get the idea. Photo by Henry Hustava on Unsplash.
  • The launch of Skype4B Server 2019 in October. We haven’t deployed it for internal use yet, but I know the IT Consulting team has done some testing. Initial impressions good.
  • 26 posts on this blog. Only a little growth this year, but that’s my fault more than anyone else’s. I’m still glad to see we get plenty of traffic, helping hundreds of thousands of people!

2018 wasn’t all great news though…

  • No Linux client for Teams.
  • O365 Outages/Crashes.
  • MS auto-moving new O365 customers to Teams (no access to S4B Online)
  • The announcement of Skype4B Server 2019 came begrudgingly. As I’ve said before, I suspect we won’t get any more on-prem versions after this.
  • We lost one of our office dogs. RIP Patches.
Patches Office Dog

Tumultuous, to say the least. But we’re IT pros. We make things happen no matter what.

What’s Coming in 2019 for the Blog

I know the posting schedule diminished a little this past year. Don’t worry; we’re far from done! Here are some planned posts coming up next year:

  1. A Skype for Business Server 2019 Install Series. We haven’t deployed Skype4B Server 2019 internally yet. But it’s on the docket. Once we do, I’ll blog about everything I can involving the setup, deployment, capabilities, and snags.
  2. Teams Integration/Sunsetting of Skype for Business Online posts. A monumental change coming…what will its aftershocks result in? We’ll all find out.
  3. Software & Device Reviews. I love doing these! Thanks to Yealink, Modality, and Plantronics/Polycom for sharing your hard work with us.
  4. Collaborations. I’d like to do more collaborations in 2019. We’ve done a few in the past here, and they came out great. Are you a fellow tech blogger? A Microsoft tech with years of experience? Let’s talk! Shoot me an email at chris.williams@planetmagpie.com.

No poll this time. But if you have thoughts about the state of Skype for Business/Teams, please feel free to share.

Merry Christmas to IT Pros Everywhere!

We at PlanetMagpie hope everyone has a safe & happy holiday! We’ll see you back here in January, refreshed and ready for another year.

As always, if you have a topic you’d like to see addressed in 2019, please share it with us.

Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

Dissecting the Free Teams Offering

Microsoft has released Teams as a free offering. No Office 365 account required. But how viable is it as a standalone chat app?

That’s what we’re looking at today. I’ve setup a fresh Teams account for testing. We’re looking at how useful it is for everyday communications, what limits exist compared to Office 365’s Teams, and how this may or may not affect Skype for Business.

I will share this up front – I don’t think a free Teams harms Skype for Business at this stage. But it may harm another Microsoft property.

Setting Up a Free Teams Account

Normally, Microsoft requires you to use a Microsoft Account with its offerings. In the case of the Team free offering, they’ve relaxed this requirement. They only require “any corporate or consumer email address.”

I do have a Microsoft Account for my work email, of course. But I decided against using it for this test. Why? I read some comments on TechCommunity indicating a problem with registering a free Teams offering, and then later trying to set up Teams in Office 365. If you use an email associated with an Office 365 tenant already, or one you may associate in the future, Teams will try to set you up in Office 365 instead.

There’s also this comment by Microsoft’s Albert Chen, which references a one-Teams-only limitation for email addresses:

Albert Chen Microsoft Teams

The highlight reads, “Currently, each email can only sign-up for one Teams free organization, however you can be invited into both of them.”

We may just have a growing pain here. But I opted not to take the chance. Instead, I used a Gmail account I set up years ago for Google-related reports at work. That way I don’t cause any trouble if the office decides to move to Teams later on. (Which we might…)

Setting up “Teams Free” is very simple. Head to https://products.office.com/en-US/microsoft-teams/free and enter your email address. The setup is entirely guided and only takes a few steps, so I’ll skip detailing it here. Suffice to say it’s no more difficult than signing up for a new Skype Consumer account.

Once I’d completed setup, clicked the Get Started link in the welcome email, and downloaded the Teams desktop app? Off to the races!

Teams Welcome Screen

Features and Limitations in Teams Free

At first glance, Teams Free looks exactly like its Office 365 brother. To a large degree, they share feature sets. But, with any free offering, you’d expect some limitations…and Teams is no different.

What’s Available:
Unlimited Chat? Check.
Teams Channels (as many as you want)? Check.
Activity Feed? Check.

Teams Chat Options

There’s our old friend “Meet Now.”

File storage/sharing? Check.
Third-party add-ons? Check.
Audio and video calls? Check and check.

You have your choice of desktop and/or mobile apps. Even our little buddy T-Bot shows up. In terms of everyday chat and calls, Teams Free works just like Office 365 Teams.

What’s NOT Available:
According to the Teams Free page details, the free version does NOT have:

  • Exchange email hosting
  • Custom email domains
  • Full-version OneDrive, SharePoint, Planner, Yammer, and more Office 365 services
  • Scheduled Meetings
  • Meeting/call recordings

Finally, it has a file storage cap of 2GB/user (with a max 10GB of shared storage).

Most of these limitations make sense. Teams Free operates outside of the Office 365 ecosystem (technically), which means no direct access to shared services and email functionality. The rest seem meant to restrict the file storage needed on Microsoft’s side. As well as provide incentive to upgrade!

Teams Free

The Upgrade button is under “Manage Org” in your profile.

Teams Free’s Effect on Skype for Business: Negligible

We already know Teams will eventually replace Skype for Business within Office 365. Teams Free isn’t likely to hurt those plans…in fact it’ll likely help them, as freemium offerings have in the past.

My question is, will Teams Free hurt Skype for Business Server? I don’t think so. Consider the differences in setup, and the feature approach each takes.

Simpler Setup. The setup process for Teams Free roughly equates to Slack’s in terms of time. That is much faster than Skype for Business setup, but they have different audiences. Skype for Business Server addresses comprehensive communications needs for larger businesses. Teams and Slack, however, target smaller businesses who move fast & prefer chat apps just as quick.

Small-Business Features vs. Enterprise Capacity. Teams Free has a 300-user limit. Skype for Business Server does not. Companies using Skype for Business Server likely have regulatory compliance requirements. Teams users likely don’t.

If anything, Teams Free will hurt Slack’s user base. With a fresh, free offering, Microsoft may lure existing Slack users away from their paid accounts. The timing may even capture some soon-to-be-former HipChat & Stride users.

However, I can’t say Teams Free won’t hurt another Microsoft communications tool…

Will This Hurt Skype? That May Be the Plan

Microsoft’s offering Teams Free as a chat platform for everyone. They can send messages, call people, even do video. All it takes is an email address. Sound like anything else to you?

ChatOps War

Surprise takedown! Hey, aren’t you on my team…?
Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Sounds like Skype Consumer to me. Which may be the point. Microsoft may want to reduce Skype Consumer’s use in the workplace by wedging in Teams Free.

In total, releasing Teams for free accomplishes three goals:

  1. Competing more directly with Slack
  2. Attracting more people & businesses to the full Office 365 suite
  3. Luring small businesses & some individuals away from Skype onto Teams

Why do Goal #3? I think because it feeds into Goal #2. Many businesses use Skype Consumer for day-to-day communications. It’s free, it works (well enough), and it’s simple to use. Now we have Teams Free, which meets all those criteria and even expands on the feature set.

Does this mean Microsoft will shutter Skype Consumer? It’s possible…but I wouldn’t hold my breath just yet. They have bigger moves to make.

Teams Free is Late to the Battle, But Don’t Dismiss its Power

There’s one more factor to consider in Teams Free adoption: Existing Teams users. Smaller businesses may opt to cancel their Office 365 subscriptions and move to Teams Free, if they don’t need all of the features full-version Teams offers. Add in Slack or HipChat/Stride users who didn’t want to buy into the Office 365 ecosystem before, and Teams Free may build up its user base via poaching.

The ChatOps War continues to rage. It’s already claimed casualties. Teams Free is up against entrenched opponents. But it presents a good-enough-for-most feature set and a stable platform. The coming months may see quite a leap in its adoption.

Are you using Teams Free in your business? Please share how well it works for you in the comments!

Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

6 Questions about Atlassian Discontinuing HipChat & Stride

By now you’ve likely heard about Atlassian’s shuttering of its HipChat & Stride products. The decision has many implications, from Atlassian’s future as a company to the ChatOps space worldwide.

HipChat Logo

Still smiling!

Other bloggers have asked important questions about this move. How will this affect Slack users? Will Stride users go to Slack or jump ship to Teams?

All valid questions. But in this post, I’d like to ask a few others. Questions which came up during my own reading. Some already have answers. Most don’t…those will come with time, as the shuttering takes effect & the market responds.

I’m documenting these 6 questions here for discussion’s sake. If you currently use HipChat or Stride, you have a decision to make before 2019. I hope these questions help you tackle it.

Any & all feedback welcomed…particularly from current HipChat/Stride users!

 

Six Questions We Need to Ask about HipChat & ChatOps as a Whole

The Developers Question. HipChat is, as I understand, popular with developers. Particularly developers who work on Atlassian products. Finding another chat platform is easy for a developer…but will Slack try to make them welcome? Developer discussions can get very technical, with code snippets and live testing on the fly.

Slack does have code snippet capability. But so does Teams. So does Google Hangouts, to a degree.

Atlassian-friendly developers will need an environment that contributes to their work, via app integrations and workflows. How well the Atlassian/Slack partnership works will make a big difference.

 

The Mid-Market Question. ChatOps products like Stride, HipChat, and Slack are popular among mid-market companies as well as enterprises. Yet I’ve seen enterprises as the exclusive focus for most of the current speculation.

In our own experience, this is where ChatOps are taking root. More mid-market customers come to us asking about chat platforms like Teams than the reverse (us introducing them to chat).

Will Slack actively court those mid-market companies? I know Teams does this. And you can bet other chat platforms will too.

 

Atlassian Logos

“Please don’t leave us too!”

The Question of Atlassian’s Other Products. I saw a few angry tweets after this announcement. HipChat/Stride users feeling betrayed. Not wanting to go to Slack; if they wanted that, they could have done so months prior.

Nothing says they have to move to Slack. But what if after the February cutoff, they abandon the entire Atlassian product base?

Teams does have Add-Ons for integrating Atlassian tools like Trello and Jira. You can also duplicate much of their functions with other Add-Ons or cloud services. Even so, this could end up hurting Atlassian’s overall product base. I would NOT encourage this (I like Trello!) …but it’s undoubtedly possible.

 

The “Work Processing” Question. I came across this in a CMSWire article covering the announcement. I quote from the section titled, “‘Work Processing’ Tools Emerging”:

Boyd noted that despite enterprise collaboration tools like Slack, Teams and Facebook grabbing headlines, a new generation of document-centered tools — Quip, Notion.so, Slite, Nuclino, and others — are gaining steam. He calls them “work processing” tools. They support shared documents with styled text, embedded objects (tables, videos, images), tasks and checklists and social affordances: threaded comments, internal notifications and messaging.

“In this approach,” Boyd said, “documents are not just dumb files with styled text, sitting in a cloud file system. Instead of relying on work chat communications, which are only structured by channels and search, work processing relies on a system of documents to structure company information and discourse. This can also be integrated with work chat, or may include work chat internally. A trend to keep an eye on.”

I fiddled with Notion.so a little. It’s similar to a Wiki, using Markdown and simple workspaces. Since it’s document-based, not chat-based, this sort of tool represents a totally different approach from Slack or Teams. (I may do a more in-depth comparison in the future; it’s got a certain appeal.)

These newer products may tempt people away from Slack into a leaner, more all-in-one workspace. It may become a wild card in adoption/migration.

 

The Privacy Question. I’ve mentioned HipChat Data Center when talking about the Redis Cache, and the Skype4B Quagmire. Like Skype for Business Server, one of its biggest advantages was the privacy benefits of on-prem deployment.

Now we have one less option for those companies who require on-prem data control.

You do still have Skype for Business Server 2015/2019, of course. But with its future uncertain, some might see switching off HipChat to Skype for Business as a risky bet.

“But Slack protects your data privacy too!” Correct! So does Teams. The issue here isn’t what privacy protections exist…it’s whether companies will accept cloud-based privacy vs. on-prem privacy they control. It’s a comfort issue, not a technical one.

 

Finally, the Mattermost Challenger. Mattermost competes with Slack, but is open-source. Any organization can deploy it, either in a private cloud or on-prem.

Here’s the kicker. Mattermost also integrates with other Atlassian products: Jira, Bitbucket, Trello. It not only competes with Slack, it can directly target the HipChat/Stride users Atlassian wants to shuttle over to Slack.

Setting up Mattermost requires a little more technical know-how than Slack, which may get in the way of courting HipChat/Stride users. Nevertheless, more tech-oriented companies may consider jumping ship to Mattermost instead.

 

Predictions for Post-Discontinuation (Feb 2019)

Abandoned ChatOps

Okay, I’m here for the meeting! …guys?

Photo by Yener Ozturk on Unsplash.

As I like to do, I’ll close with some predictions. In light of questions like these, what will happen after HipChat & Stride go offline in February?

  1. The majority of Stride users will switch to Slack with little fuss.
  2. A large portion of HipChat users will move to Slack as well.
  3. A small percentage of companies running HipChat Data Center will continue to do so, even without Atlassian support.
  4. Trello, Jira, and Confluence will all suffer drops in usage. Since users have to abandon HipChat and Stride, some companies will abandon all Atlassian products at the same time.
  5. Teams/Office 365 will see a small boost in user growth after February, from those HipChat/Stride users who don’t want/can’t use Slack.
  6. “Work Processing” tools like Notion.so will see growth on an organic basis. The HipChat-to-Slack transition won’t have much of an effect.

 

Additional Links:
Slack and Microsoft Teams: Is Enterprise Collaboration a Two Horse Race? – CMS Wire
How Slack and Atlassian Landed a Sharp Jab in Microsoft’s Ribs – CIODive.com
Atlassian-Slack Partnership FAQ

Do you use HipChat or Stride? What will your company do in light of the discontinuation?

Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

A Tour through the Teams AppSource (App Store)

Did you know you can add third-party add-ons to a Teams channel? Let’s see what happens when you do!

Microsoft calls these add-ons “Teams Apps.” They work like Chrome browser add-ons…a way to integrate third-party software into the Teams experience.

They even have their own app store: AppSource – Microsoft Teams
(You can also view Apps within Teams, by clicking the “Store” button in the left column.)

For this blog post, I installed some Teams Apps in our internal Teams channels and tested them out. I went with some fairly simple Apps, but you can find much more complex ones in AppSource.

I chose Asana and MailChimp for this test. Asana is a project management tool. We already use Asana in our office, so it’s a natural choice. We switched from MailChimp to Campaign Monitor years ago, but we know plenty of businesses who still use & love MailChimp. (Plus I still have a MailChimp account for testing!)

Teams AppSource CRM

The CRM Category in Teams AppSource. Kind of wish they had a Hubspot connector; would love to see how their CRM works within Teams. I’m sure it’s coming!

 

Installing Apps into Teams

Apps are connected to Teams channels, not the overall Team. Installation is pretty darn easy…just a few clicks to select, grant access, login to the third-party account, and voila!

Teams Apps Added

First, the steps for installing Asana.

Add Asana to Teams 1

The Install screen tells us what the Asana add-on will do.

 

Add Asana to Teams 2

Office 365 must have permission to grant third-party access through its Connectors. Click Allow.

 

Add Asana to Teams 3

You’ll need to sign into your Asana account on the next screen. Then select an Asana workspace & project to follow. Click OK and done!

Next, installing MailChimp.

Add MailChimp to Teams 1

Same as before; the Install screen tells us what MailChimp’s add-on will do.

 

Add MailChimp to Teams 2

Some Apps will display an extra screen for permissions: one for the app/service, one for Office 365.

 

Add MailChimp to Teams 3

Here’s the Office 365 Connector, requesting permission. Use your Office 365 account username & password.

 

Add MailChimp to Teams 4

Fewer options for MailChimp, but the same process – select the appropriate MailChimp account, and report frequency.

 

Add MailChimp to Teams 5

The MailChimp App is added! This screen shows in your Teams channel.

 

Now, the next big question—how do we USE these Apps?

It actually depends on the App. For Asana, we only need to configure the Asana projects the App will monitor. Whenever someone creates or comments on a task within those projects, we get a notification in Teams.

Asana Task Notifications

Two instances of Asana tasks appearing in my Teams channel flow. Note how easy it is to jump over to Asana if needed, or just mark tasks as Complete right from Teams.

 

Zero effort. Plus, getting notifications like this shaves one window off your daily checks.

MailChimp will display campaign performance reports, likewise eliminating a window to check. Connectors like these simplify the workday by consolidating information flow into the Teams channel.

Other connectors, like Help Scout (updates from customer support emails) or Pingdom (notifies you about website incidents) facilitate add-on services from within Teams. You may need additional configuration.

Caveat: Apps Can Overwhelm Your Channel

The old adage is true…you can have too much of a good thing. In this case, too many Teams Apps can blot out normal conversations.

Most Apps automatically notify the Teams channel when their event is triggered. Asana will report a new task, or MailChimp will pop up a new campaign performance report. The automatic setup lends convenience. But the more you use Asana and MailChimp, the more frequently you get notifications in Teams.

It’s easy to see the problem. One notification-clogged Teams channel, coming right up!

Of course, you could create a fresh Teams channel and assign App notifications to it. But then you’ve just created another checkpoint for yourself and your team. Instead, I recommend limiting the number of Teams Apps you’ll need. Only add the ones whose notifications add value to your conversations.

Use Teams Apps Whenever They Help You Stay Productive—And Don’t Disrupt Everyone Else

When deciding which Teams Apps to add, consider the whole team’s priorities & daily activities. Does everyone use Asana? Then chances are everyone will spend time in Asana anyway. You don’t need to add it to Teams. Conversely, if half the people on this particular Team use Asana, then adding the Teams App helps them save time and doesn’t cause too much disruption.

If you use many other online services, but only need to interact with them occasionally (e.g. Pingdom only sending alerts when a site’s down), then adding them as a Teams App makes sense. Provided they HAVE a Teams App, that is. Not everyone does yet.

Still, there’s plenty of choices in the AppSource already. Go take a look!

Which Teams Apps do you have installed?

 

Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

Software Add-on Review: SuperToast V3

Never Miss a Skype for Business Notification Again

In early 2016 I wrote a post titled, Making Sure You See Skype for Business Notifications—No Matter What!.

In said post I reviewed a notification app called SuperToast, made by Modality Systems. It remains one of the blog’s most-read posts today. Evidently lots of Skype for Business users miss notifications…

The other day, Louise at Modality asked if I’d like to review the new, redeveloped SuperToast V3. Of course I was happy to do so!

What is SuperToast?

The SuperToast app sits in your taskbar. Every time you miss a Skype for Business call or Instant Message, SuperToast displays a notification popup with details about the missed event.

Chat Notification

Someone is chatting with me!

SuperToast notifies you of missed Instant Messages, incoming audio/video calls, and missed audio/video calls.

Missed Call Notification

Can’t talk now, writing this post.

The notification windows only displays the first message someone sends. If for example you receive 4 messages in succession from one person (as my co-workers sometimes do), you’ll only see one SuperToast notification. Which is smart—nobody wants a stream of popup windows blocking other work!

The SuperToast settings could not be simpler. Here’s the entire settings window.

SuperToast Settings

The SuperToast Options window. Five settings. Nothing else needed.

You choose which communication types for which you want to receive SuperToast notifications via checkboxes. That’s it.

What’s New in V3

The new SuperToast has two main improvements over old versions.

  1. Full support for the latest Skype for Business clients.
  2. Bug Fixes:
    1. Notifications appearing despite you being active in the conversation window
    2. Not bringing the conversation window to the front when clicking on a notification

The UI is largely the same as before. Which helped it fold back into my day-to-day routine almost immediately. But after a few weeks’ testing, I can say V3 is more stable now.

Two Versions: Single-Use and Business-Wide

SuperToast comes in two versions:

  • SuperToast One is a single-user version.
  • SuperToast for Business is a business version with central management.

SuperToast One has a few limitations the Business version doesn’t. You can’t customize SuperToast One’s look & feel, no central admin, etc. Pretty much what you’d expect for a single-user.

SuperToast One costs $7/year. SuperToast for Business costs $7/year for 5-99 users, $5/year for 100-999 users, $2.50/year for 1000-2499 users, and $1/year for 2500+ users. So no matter which version you buy, or how many, you’re only paying a few dollars a user per year. You even get 24-hour support with this too.

They used to have a free version. Now there’s a free 30-day trial.

Incoming Call Notification

Hold on, better take this. Be right back.

Who Can/Should Use SuperToast?

Modality developed this app to support Skype for Business users. Like us, they didn’t like missing notifications from co-workers or customers. The app works with Skype for Business Server and Online (O365) deployments.

Lync 2013 users still hanging on? SuperToast will work for you too.

That said, here’s a brief mention of SuperToast’s limits. It has 3 that I can determine:

  1. No Mac version yet.
  2. I am not certain if SuperToast will work with the Teams desktop client.
  3. As many commenters pointed out on my 2016 post, this IS a third-party app. Some organizations block third-party apps from user’s devices on security grounds. That is perfectly valid—we see malware apps all the time on customer PCs!
    In such cases, I’d recommend using SuperToast for Business. Its central management and Modality’s reputation should dissuade any security concerns.

I do know that Modality continues to work on SuperToast. We may see these limits resolved fairly soon. If I hear of timetables for such, I’ll update this post accordingly.

SuperToast in Taskbar

Runs in the taskbar. Quiet. Unobtrusive.

Super for Putting Missed Calls/Conversations in Front of Your Eyes

SuperToast is a single-purpose app. It does one job…and it does it well. Plus it’s cheap to buy. I always like simple apps like this; they don’t require a high learning curve, and provide an immediate benefit.

For those who miss a lot of notifications in the course of a workday, SuperToast makes for a quick, valuable solution.

SuperToast Page – Modality Systems

Used SuperToast before? How was your experience?

Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

5 Ways to Conceal a Teams Channel

We can’t make fully private channels in Teams yet. But we can conceal a channel from other Teams users.

Private Channels has taken the top spot at UserVoice, as the most-requested Teams feature. Microsoft is, as of this post, “Working on it” with no indication of a release date.

Support for Private Channels – UserVoice

You can make a Team private, of course. But within that Team, channels are visible and searchable. If you really need to keep a conversation private, that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?

So what are Teams users doing in the meantime? Using workarounds, naturally. Or staying outside of Teams altogether (email, Slack, Skype for Business, etc.).

What kind of workarounds do people use? I’m going to list 5 in this post. Together they form a framework for ‘concealing’ Teams channels & their contents. Privatizing them, essentially, as best you can.

Dog Hiding

Hopefully your channel’s a little better-hidden than this…but you get the idea.
Photo by Pippalou on Morguefile.

When to Conceal a Teams Channel

Why would Teams users need private channels in the first place? A multitude of reasons exist, all valid. In my research I came across several compelling ones:

  • The channel would contain a set of information involving legal or compliance processes, which means it must fall under those same requirements.
  • The channel would contain, and thus need to protect, a customer’s private data.
  • The channel would discuss internal tests or R&D data.
  • You’re planning an office party for the CEO/CIO/COO/VP’s birthday and they can’t find out early. (Hey, it’s possible!)

I’m sure you can think of other reasons to conceal a Team conversation. But please remember: Teams conversations are hosted on Microsoft’s servers. That doesn’t mean Microsoft spies on them. But the servers may reside outside the U.S., which could jeopardize regulatory compliance adherence like SOX or GDPR.

Okay! Let’s see what “concealment tactics” we have in Teams. You can use any combination of these, including all of them (they don’t conflict with one another).

 

Concealment Tactic #1 – Make a new Private Team

When you make a new Team, you have the option to set them to Public or Private. The first step, then, is to set the entire Team to Private. Then create your channel. You don’t have a Public/Private switch at channel level; that comes from the Team setting.

Private Team

Creating a Private Team.

Make a Public Team Private in Teams – Office Support

What This Accomplishes: Prevents unauthorized users from joining. Locks the gate.

 

Concealment Tactic #2 – Equip the Team with an Access Code

Generating an access code is simple within Teams. In your Team, click the Options menu (the ‘…’). Click “Manage Team.” In the Manage window, click the “Settings” tab.

You should see a “Team Code” section. Click it and you’ll get a Generate button. One more click and poof, a randomly-generated access code to that Team. Copy the access code and give it to your selected members.

If a member doesn’t have the access code, they don’t get in. Nice, huh?

Teams Code Access

Generating a Teams Access Code.

How to Enable Join Code Feature in Microsoft Teams – TechCommunity

What This Accomplishes: Provides a secondary authentication for Team members. “What’s the password?”

 

Concealment Tactic #3 – Limit Team member permissions

In the Team’s settings (accessible via “Manage Team” under the Team’s Options menu), remove permissions to add bots, add connectors, or delete channels from invited Team members.

Teams Member Permissions

Your Team permissions should look similar to this.

What This Accomplishes: Guards against information leaks. Shuts the back door.

 

Concealment Tactic #4 – Lock down the files with SharePoint permissions

Maybe you’re not too concerned about others viewing your Teams conversation. But you want to make sure the files you’re discussing stay private.

Since Teams files are stored in the Team’s SharePoint site, you can block people from viewing those files. Bob German showed us all how to do it in an April blog post:
Using SharePoint Permissions in Microsoft Teams Channels – Vantage Point [MSDN]

What This Accomplishes: Privatizes file permissions, including viewing. Stows the valuables in a locked chest.

 

Concealment Tactic #5 – Archive the Team when no longer necessary

If you want a private Team/channel for a specific purpose, and that purpose completes, then you don’t need the Team/channel active anymore. As with older data, it’s best to archive the Team.

Archive Team

Archiving a Team with One Click.

Archive or Restore a Team – Office Support

Now we see why you need to make a dedicated Team…you can’t archive a channel. Archive works at the Team-level. (Note: You can restore an archived Team later if you need to.)

What This Accomplishes: Locks down the Team’s data in cold storage. Closes the blast doors.

 

Next-Best Thing to Teams Private Channels While We Wait

Many commenters on UserVoice said they’d left Teams, or wouldn’t switch to Teams from another chat app, because of Private Channels. Hopefully these tactics will help dissuade you from the more drastic steps!

It’s a bit of a stopgap, I know. But Teams does have these tools for a reason. Concealing channels through private, secured Teams will serve most privacy needs. Until we get Private Channels.

How do you protect your chat conversations?

 

Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail