two bucks, clashing horns in the snow
PHOTO: Ming Jun Tan

Given the amount of attention Microsoft and Slack receive, you would think they were the only players in the enterprise teamwork platform market. The two share a mutual love of trading barbs, including some uncharacteristic industry humor from Slack when a Twitter post lampooned Microsoft for producing a copycat video. The tit for tat carries on through an ongoing numbers war, which started with Microsoft boasting 20 million daily active users and Slack retorting that Microsoft "forces" users to migrate to Teams but that real engagement was weak.

slack teams tweet

It would be easy to forget in the midst of all this that a number of other commercial enterprise teamwork platforms were available, including products from OpenText, Tibco, Salesforce, Google, Wrike, even Amazon.

Considering the number of entrants in this competitive landscape, I was surprised to see another contender, Mattermost, spotlighted at the latest Gitlab Commit Conference, where founder and CEO Ian Tien presented what he sees as the unique business opportunity for his company. 

Mattermost Takes a Different Approach to the Teamwork Market

Mattermost is different from its competitors in several ways (starting with having an appropriate product name for the market segment). First, it is open source and second, it can be installed as an on-premises server or as a managed cloud service. On the downside, it lacks the unified communications capabilities of its competitors, such as video conferencing and screen sharing.

As an open source solution, Mattermost uniquely appeals to the market segment that prefers open source software over proprietary solutions. These folks contend open source enables a large pool of developers to customize code to unique specifications. Plus, many people believe that open source software is more secure because it can be subjected to the scrutiny of experts who can identify, and therefore patch security holes quickly, instead of relying on a single vendor to find and patch its own flaws.

Where I think the Mattermost approach gets interesting is its decision to enable on-premises installations, which flies in the face of the current market trend to favor cloud solutions over on-premises software. 

While cloud software offers many advantages, like scalability, availability, ease of updating and maintaining new versions, to name just a few, Mattermost’s on-premises deployment option addresses some organizations’ — typically those in highly regulated industries — need for control over sensitive data. Traditional enterprise software companies like OpenText, Cisco and even Microsoft with Skype for Business have provided on-prem servers for years, but it is unusual to see a new contender architect a modern enterprise teamwork platform for on-premises deployment. The last best-of-breed on-premises teamwork platform was Atlassian HipChat (discontinued after Slack acquired its IP). So, is there a real market for an on-prem solution?

Related Article: Slack or Microsoft Teams? Well, That Depends ...

Records Management Comes to Instant Messaging

Official Microsoft numbers talk about 20 million active Teams users, which accounts for only 10% of the 200 million Office 365 subscribersSlack claims 12 million users. Any way you slice it, it’s early stages for the teamwork / enterprise instant messaging platform market, so the vendor focus to date has been on getting workers to use the tools.

So far, little attention has been given to how team conversations are stored or what happens to them over time. Unlike documents and emails, instant messages are not seen as persistent documents of record. Rather, conversations are considered an ephemeral form of communication, and the need to discover old conversation data for audits or ediscovery is not a priority … yet.

But as team conversations gain traction in organizations, they will begin to truly augment, and in some cases, replace email. As such, records management for conversations will soon become a requirement, first for regulated industries, like finance and insurance, and later for verticals where knowledge retention and management are particularly important, such as professional services and local governments.

There are two contemporary approaches to team conversations records management: the first is storing conversations in a vendor’s cloud and relying on the vendor to provide security and permanent access to the conversation history. Today, the bulk of the market feels comfortable with this approach, since cloud vendors invest considerable resources making sure their clouds are robust, available, and secure, which is much more than most organizations can provide for themselves. 

The second approach is the one offered by Mattermost: with an offer to deploy a messaging server on-premises and to retain the historical data from conversations in-house. Based on the current marketing buzz, this seems to be bucking the market trend, but maybe there is a place for such a solution. First, the move to the cloud is (despite the hype) not close to being universal. This is particularly true for organizations with a high degree of customization requirements and a legal, regulatory or philosophical desire to maintain sensitive data in house.

Related Article: Show a Little Respect to Records Managers

The Records Management Focus Is Only Beginning

As adoption of teamwork software grows and becomes more mainstream, the requirements for conversation records management will begin to surface. At that point, you'll be sure to see more attention paid to discovery, archiving and improved search capabilities from the cloud vendors. How fast this will progress is still uncertain. Until then, organizations with detailed requirements can opt for an in house solution.

In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the ongoing duel between Microsoft and Slack.