Channeling the Cloud

Google, Slack Get Serious About Overtaking Microsoft in Enterprise

Microsoft Office may still be the suite to beat in the enterprise productivity race, but a stodgy reputation and competition from upstart firms are putting its lead in peril.

The impending launch of Microsoft Teams is an ambitious attempt by Microsoft to woo a new generation of employees entering the workplace. You know, the ones repulsed by having to use Office, that software their parents rely on, but not necessarily what they used in college.

Teams, in preview since November, is scheduled to roll out on March 14 to customers with Business and Enterprise Office 365 subscriptions. Spanning the generational divide is perhaps the most critical priority for Microsoft, which still carries the baggage of missed opportunities, despite its storied history of consistently growing revenues and profits.

In its most recent quarterly earnings report, Microsoft reported that the growth of Office 365 consumer and commercial subscriptions is on a roll. However, Microsoft's actual reporting of Office 365 growth is somewhat opaque, especially on the commercial side.

But in a reminder that Office isn't the only horse in this race, Google is doubling down with its renamed offering, G Suite. Google in late January removed some of the barriers to adoption of G Suite among enterprises with security and compliance requirements.

Among those new features are improved data loss protection (DLP) polices and support for third-party archiving from the likes of HP Autonomy and Veritas (until then, Google Vault was the only option). The company also is allowing organizations to bring their own encryption keys. Google claims it has 3 million paying G Suite customers, including PwC and Whirlpool.

Yet it wasn't Google that was in Microsoft's crosshairs when it decided to develop Teams last year. The viral growth of startup Slack among millennial workers inside enterprises stoked realistic fears in Redmond that the workforce would find it as an alternative to collaborating with the Office 365 stack and components such as Groups, Yammer and Skype for Business. Microsoft reportedly tried to acquire Slack for a staggering $8.5 billion before deciding it could one-up the company.

A month after the Teams reveal, Google and Slack extended an existing partnership with more extensive synchronization between Google Drive and Slack; controls to set permissions, previews and notifications; and the ability to provision the chat platform from the G Suite admin console.

If there was any question whether Slack would let Teams steamroll over its growing franchise, Slack last month put that to rest by revealing plans to offer an enterprise-grade version of its chat service. The new Slack Grid will offer unlimited workspaces for teams, a unified infrastructure for enterprises, administrative controls, the ability to comply with FINRA and HIPAA regulations, support for e-discovery, and support for third-party infrastructure providers and apps. Slack has also partnered with SAP, which will include integration with SAP's HANA Cloud Platform, SuccessFactors and Concur.

Whether you're partial or tied to Office 365 or offer customers a mixture of wares, it would be premature to write off Google and Slack. Microsoft clearly isn't.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.