How to choose between Slack, Teams, Workplace, Google Chat and the many other communication platforms available to enterprises today.
A recent request I’ve been hearing in my consulting work from c-level executives of companies with hundreds or thousands of employees, is:
How do we get everyone on one communication platform?
They go on to tell me how different teams or departments use different platforms. Some are on Slack, some Teams, others are using Google Chat or Workplace. They recall the good ol’ days fondly — when they were a smaller company with a single tool to manage, and everyone in the company was on the same page. But then over the years they acquired other companies or hired senior leaders who brought in different tools and now they find themselves frustrated with sprawl.
Often, it’s a software rationalization exercise that sparks this conversation — a process where companies evaluate their software expenses, aiming to eliminate redundancies and reduce their software spend. Why would a company want to juggle multiple vendors, with varying price tags, for basic utilities like messaging when they could consolidate around the lower priced option and negotiate volume discounts?
Reasons for consolidation
Software rationalization and consolidation can be driven by various factors:
- Cost Reduction — Beyond the obvious advantage of choosing the lowest cost vendor, merging into one platform also streamlines vendor management internally and paves the way for volume discounts.
- Compliance —In certain regulated industries, internal platforms are required to meet the same compliance requirements that govern the organization. Even when newer, shinier tools catch the eye of employees, it may have to be retired if it doesn’t comply.
- Alignment — Especially when it comes to communication platforms, CEOs often think having a single platform is the key to alignment. They see the proliferation of communication tools as a threat to their ability to communicate broadly and get the company on one page.
The challenge: choosing the best platform
Because of my experience leading Enterprise IT and my background with Business Applications and Enterprise SaaS, top executives — usually CEOs, CFOs and COOs — seek my advice choosing the best communication platform for their company. They want my opinion on features, cost, usability, security, and company vision.
But I never answer their question outright because I think the question is flawed. And this is where I diverge from conventional thinking.
The future is decentralized
In my eyes, the desire to have everyone on a single platform is misguided and rooted in the past. The organizations of yesterday were hierarchical, with command-and-control leadership style, requiring a single platform for one-way communication from leadership to workers.
The future of work looks different. Forward thinking enterprises are more decentralized, thriving on small, autonomous teams. These units are close to the customer, fully empowered, and are making decisions in the best interest of the company, without needing to coordinate and communicate every move to the entire company.
These forward thinking companies tend to embrace multiple communication platforms.
Be prepared for resistance
When companies try to consolidate communication platforms, they’re often met with resistance. It turns out employees have strong emotional attachment to their chat tools!
I saw this firsthand during my tenure leading internal tools at Cornerstone, a global SaaS company with over 2,000 employees. Our CFO led a movement to move the entire company to Workplace because Slack licenses were costing us about 10x more. In his view, it was the easiest, most logical decision. In fact, he expected it should have been a non-decision, that everyone would give up Slack with zero resistance and immediately move to Workplace. The company would have millions more dollars on our balance sheet. And everyone would celebrate.
But what happened? Engineers revolted. They refused to give up slack. Our CFO assumed Workplace and Slack provided the same features, and he did not realize how embedded Slack was into developer workflow and productivity. We ended up moving the entire company to Workplace and keeping the engineering team on Slack. But only after months and months of negotiation between our engineering and finance teams.
Consider your needs
If your need is driven less by cost and more by the desire to make company-wide communication easier, consider what Jeff Bezos has said about communication: it can be a sign of dysfunction.
“Communication is a sign of dysfunction. It means people aren’t working together in a close, organic way. We should be trying to figure out a way for teams to communicate less with each other, not more.”
His point is that coordination comes at a price. It’s better to create structures that eliminate the need for coordination, than to make it easier to coordinate.
(Note: A lot has been written about how to build organizations like Amazon, with small, independent, and empowered teams choosing the best tools for their needs. See: Team APIs, Team Topologies, DevOps, Automation, Lean, etc.)
The internet is full of comparisons and reviews of the many enterprise communication platforms available today, but no single review will give you your answer.
My personal view is that most companies don’t need a single communication platform, and they should instead focus on creating the culture and structures to allow teams to choose the tools that are best for them.
Ultimately you need to make the decision that is best for your unique organization and context after you consider what your true needs are.