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There is a new crop of collaboration providers who are challenging and disrupting the status quo. Incumbent vendors have had to shift their focus and address the emerging trends of APIs, artificial intelligence (AI), and the growing demand for conversational experiences throughout the entire enterprise. This collaboration ecosystem, which consists of people, applications, and content, requires a deeper integration into the critical business applications, processes, and workflows of an organization.

Newer collaboration entrants like Slack, Workplace by Facebook, Glip by RingCentral, Google Hangouts Chat, and Zinc are market accelerators, driving the shift toward conversational workspaces. Incumbent providers have followed suit with their own conversational workspace offerings, such as Cisco Spark, Microsoft Teams, and Circuit by Unify. Together, both new and incumbent players are a part of this paradigm shift, characterized by an ever-tighter symphony of APIs, AI, chatbots, people, applications, and conversational interfaces that are synced to business workflows.

Expectations and appetites have changed for communication and collaboration tools. We are in a buyer's market—driven by consumerization—which has democratized access to these tools. Technology providers are now tasked with bringing innovative and comprehensive offerings to the market that encompass a wide range of capabilities and are deeply integrated into business workflows. Recently, a business leader responsible for the digital workplace technology strategy at a large corporation relayed their aggressive moves toward the cloud for communications and collaboration, and integral to that move was deep integration into their business applications and processes. A core requirement was a secure and scalable conversational workspace product that could be implemented company-wide.

The currency here is on the “experience,” which will challenge the penetration of collaboration offerings that are based solely on siloed capabilities that do not integrate, but make no mistake. Emerging providers, such as Slack and Facebook, will face hurdles as they address the issues of enterprise-grade scale and security while still supporting integrations into critical business workflows and applications.

The big advantage that established providers, such as Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, and Unify, have is a historically proven story around enterprise-grade scale and security. This becomes even more important as communication and collaboration applications are in the cloud. These incumbent vendors also have a strong story around the adjacencies for integrating with their expansive portfolio of solutions.

As the market continues to undergo a tremendous amount of consolidation and technology convergence simultaneously, we will see a mix of leaders emerge from both startups and incumbent collaboration providers. Leaders will be characterized by those who can provide full and intelligent conversational experiences with a seamless mix of AI, machine learning, natural language processing (NLP), chatbots, conversational interfaces, and deep integration into critical business workflows and applications.

David Mario Smith is Founder and Principal Analyst at InFlow Analysis. Dave is a Gartner veteran of over 16 years and an IT industry professional with 20 years of experience in the collaboration and workplace technology markets. For more information, visit or follow him on Twitter @DaveMario.