How do the instant messaging, file sharing, and real-time collaboration platform features stack up among the four leading collaboration platforms?
The need for collaboration platforms has never been greater; fortunately, most companies have recognized this necessity within their enterprise ecosystems, with 45% of companies reporting that they plan to invest more in collaboration platforms.
Supporting this shift is an abundance of collaboration platforms from which enterprises can choose. New offerings are constantly emerging, with innovative companies entering the market and current providers expanding the scope of their services. Providers are also beginning to package communication with collaboration in their product offerings, making their services a one-stop shop for everything UC&C. However, the large variety of collaboration platforms and collaboration platform features on the market has made it increasingly difficult to differentiate between products and select the best for your enterprise’s collaboration needs and overarching goals.
This blog post breaks down the primary features, advantages, and disadvantages of the leading collaboration platforms on the market: Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Teams, Slack, and Zoom. We exclusively analyze these platforms’ impacts on workstream collaboration, guided by the following key question: To what extent do they create a frictionless collaboration environment that fosters easy file sharing, instant messaging & communication, and real-time collaboration? This post purposefully ignores the UC functionality in each of these collaboration platforms— as much has already been written and analyzed on video conferencing and PSTN telephony, this post focuses exclusively on the non-UC components of messaging/chat and file management.
Methodology for Ranking Collaboration Platform Features
To take a deeper dive into each of these collaboration platforms, we will explore the vendor expertise and specializations in the following areas:
- Messaging & Real-time Communication. Comprehensive messaging functionalities are an essential component of any high-quality collaboration platform. 1-1 Chat and Group Chat allow users to stay connected on the go, respond via voice or text, tag users to get their attention, and discuss ideas across entire groups. If effectively implemented, a successful messaging environment will create organization within a team and promote more efficient decision-making.
- File Management (Sharing & Storage). It is essential for collaboration platforms to include file sharing capabilities, especially if those capabilities enable the platform to double as a document repository. If files can be stored within a collaboration platform, it becomes exponentially easier to secure and manage this data due to its centralized location. Even if file storage is not included in a platform, there are independent benefits of file sharing, which enables users to discuss and edit content simultaneously.
- Ease of Adoption & Initiation. Some collaboration platforms are easier to implement enterprise-wide and more interoperable than others. These are important factors to consider when analyzing the timeline and infrastructural investment associated with pivoting to a new collaboration platform.
- Pricing Plans & Flexibility. Different enterprises will have varying pricing constraints when selecting a collaboration SaaS vendor. This section will break down the differences between the four collaboration SaaS vendors and their unique pricing plans, highlighting the best-priced options for small, medium, and large enterprises.
We believe that while no single collaboration platform is perfect, a well-rounded platform will exhibit strengths in each of these areas. Without high-quality messaging and file sharing, a collaboration platform is missing out on the benefits of real-time teamwork and the subsequent productivity gain. And without an easy initialization process and reasonable pricing structure, some of these platforms may be out of reach or require too much additional infrastructure for some companies to implement.
Let’s start by comparing Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Teams, Slack, and Zoom across the most important Messaging categories:
|Direct group messaging||✅||✅||✅||✅|
|Dedicated channels or workstreams||✅||✅||✅||✅|
|Transition from chat to audio meetings with a single click in Direct Messages (DMs)/Channels||✅||✅||✅||✅|
|Transition from chat to video meetings with a single click in DMs/Channels||✅||✅||❌||✅|
|Can search through previous messages||✅||✅||✅||✅|
|Can message external participants (individual guests)||✅||✅||✅||✅|
|Has a Connect component which integrates messaging and shared channels with other orgs||✅||❌||✅||❌|
|Reply to messages||✅||✅||✅||✅|
|React to messages||✅||✅||✅||✅|
|Reply in thread||❌||✅||✅||✅|
|Flag/star messages for later||✅||✅||✅||✅|
|UX quality rating across all Messaging features (score out of 5*)||4||5||4||3|
*Scores range from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best
As displayed in the table above, all four collaboration platforms have excellent messaging functionality. Most notably, each collaboration platform features 1:1 and group messaging, including message reply and reaction functionalities. They also allow users to save important messages and parse through chat histories with a search tool, making it easy to retrieve important conversations.
One of the most essential messaging features in a collaboration platform is the presence of channels or workstreams. These topic-specific groups allow larger teams to break down and structure their creative processes into sub–teams and workstreams. Microsoft Teams offers users the ability to create Teams comprised of numerous channels. This approach offers users the greatest level of customizability and flexibility, allowing administrators to break down teams across two or more layers. Slack and Zoom offer a similar functionality through their channels, but users are limited in structuring these channels in comparison to Microsoft’s offerings. As with Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Teams allows users to create Teams and then further break them down into Spaces, which can be assigned or joined. However, Cisco Webex Teams’ Spaces functionality lacks the clear and intuitive UI present in Microsoft Teams, giving Microsoft an edge in this category.
For many enterprises, an essential part of the collaboration process is working with stakeholders in other organizations. Thus, the presence of a Connect component within collaboration platform features is heavily weighted. In this case, only Slack and Microsoft Teams offer Connect capabilities, allowing enterprises on their platforms to create shared workspaces and channels with external organizations. This creates a seamless process for interorganizational collaboration, which can elevate productivity and efficiency. While Cisco Webex allows for external collaboration, these capabilities are far less built out and streamlined when compared to Slack and Microsoft platforms.
Another critical component of collaborative messaging is the ability to seamlessly transition from chats to meetings. This feature allows users to discuss and decide on ideas in an efficient manner, while replicating an in-office experience. Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Teams, and Zoom all allow users to frictionlessly video call without leaving the messaging app. Slack also provides users with this capability, but to a lesser extent. On Slack, a user can initiate audio calls from a 1:1 chat, a group chat, or a channel. The video capabilities on Slack were recently added to the platform but are limited and inaccessible by a single click.
All in all, there is no outright winner in Messaging with each of these platforms scoring competitively for the key features. Microsoft Teams and Slack include 11 of the 12 features, while Webex Teams and Zoom Chat have 10 of the desired features. Based on this evaluation, Microsoft Teams and Slack offer the most well-rounded platforms to cover every enterprise’s needs. Their breadth of features, however, come at the expense of an easy-to-navigate interface. Often, on Slack and Microsoft Teams, users must “learn” the platform before they can use it effectively. Cisco Webex, on the other hand, is far more intuitive for Messaging with each feature providing the user with the expected utility.
Ultimately, when selecting a collaboration platform, messaging is unlikely to be the primary differentiator given the excellent caliber of all four provider offerings.
Collaboration Platform File Management
File management falls into two distinct categories: file sharing and file storage. As mentioned earlier, file sharing refers to a platform’s ability to enable users to send, view, and co-edit files in an efficient manner. This includes sharing documents, images, presentations, or even audio and video recordings. File storage, on the other hand, refers to a platform’s ability to serve as a document repository, in lieu of a third-party file storage platform like Google Drive.
Let’s begin by looking exclusively at our key platforms’ file sharing capabilities:
|Can share common files (PDF, DOC, PPT etc.)||✅||✅||✅||✅|
|Can Download Files||✅||✅||✅||✅|
|Can Preview Files||✅||✅||✅||❌|
|Can Edit Files In-app||✅||✅||❌||❌|
|Quality of UX across all Messaging features (score out of 5)||5||4||3||4|
Now, let’s see which platforms take the extra step to also include file storage functionalities. Platforms that can share and store files are especially valuable because having one centralized repository of information enables efficient file compliance, security, and management.
We analyzed file storage across the following product areas:
|Unlimited storage of shared files||✅||✅||❌||❌|
|Searchable content library of shared files||
|3rd party Cloud Storage integration||✅||✅||✅||❌|
|Ability to share entire repositories (folders of files or subfolders)||✅||❌||❌||❌|
When it comes to file management, Microsoft Teams is the clear winner with all six desired file management features. Not only can Microsoft Teams serve as a valuable platform for file sharing, but the integrated M365 environment also boasts top-notch file storage capabilities as well. Teams users can leverage SharePoint cloud storage, which allows files to be accessed from anywhere, backed up, protected, and shared with team members. Of all four collaboration platforms, Microsoft Teams is the only platform that provides users with an exhaustive file repository. Microsoft Teams also enables users to share entire repositories, meaning your sharing capabilities are not restricted to just files and can include entire folders. If your enterprise decides to utilize Slack, Zoom or Cisco Webex Teams, you will likely have to source an additional third-party file repository platform like Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive or SharePoint to meet your file storing needs.
Between Slack, Zoom, and Cisco Webex Teams, there are still some meaningful differences in file management performance. Cisco Webex Teams allows users to share, download, and preview files without leaving the Webex application. Furthermore, the platform enables unlimited storage of shared files, and users can easily search these files through Cisco’s aggregated content library. Zoom and Slack both lack one or more of these capabilities, making these collaboration platforms the third-ranked options when it comes to file management. However, Slack and Zoom are investing heavily in improving their file management functionalities, making them promising platforms to keep an eye on in the future. Zoom, for example, recently announced that its content library will be centralized across all channels, chats, and groups, a feature that is not present in any of the other platforms. While this functionality is not on par with Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex Teams just yet, Zoom is quickly working to close the gap.
Given that all four of these collaboration platforms offer many of the same core features, one of the most important differentiators between platforms is user experience (UX). UX pertains to the ease of utilizing the platform, the smoothness of its navigational flow, and the built-in intuitiveness of each feature and function. While all four platforms have similar collaboration features, the styles of their user interfaces are glaringly different.
These differences in user interface affect the overall usability of each collaboration platform and the ultimate productivity derived from each.
The table below breaks down the aggregated scores for each collaboration platform’s ease of use (see Table 1 and 2 for the product-specific UI scores for Messaging and File Management):
|Average Score for UI (collaboration features)||4.5||4.5||3.5||3.5|
Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams earn the highest scores for user interface, specifically for the set of analyzed collaboration platform features. Webex Teams offers a simple and intuitive platform with every feature easily accessible with just one or two clicks. Features also are well-labeled or associated with relevant icons, making each in-platform action accessible to all.
Microsoft Teams’ user interface is also easy to utilize. The navigational flow of Microsoft Teams is exceptionally smooth, with several customer reviews indicating that Microsoft Teams has the optimal user interface— once users familiarize themselves with the platform. This is the one drawback of Microsoft Teams’ UI: it takes time to learn and understand. There is significant overhead associated with adjusting to the platform and learning where things are, and how to best optimize each capability. This learning curve is largely due to how advanced the platform is, with features and sub features only accessible from multiple clicks.
Finally, Slack and Zoom are not too far behind, earning average scores of 3.5 out of 5. It is also important to remember that enhancing UX is a top priority for each of these platforms. Microsoft announced at this year’s Ignite conference that Teams collaboration features are set to receive a major UI upgrade next year. Similarly, Slack has plans to make its design more intuitive and accessible, likely closing the gap between Slack and its top collaboration platform competitors.
Ease of Collaboration Platform Adoption & Initiation
Another important factor to consider is the ease of deploying your collaboration suite. Some platforms will take long periods of time to configure and deploy among employees, while others may have a shorter and simpler process.
The table below shows Garner Insights Scores specifically for Integration & Deployment:
|User Reviews (from Gartner Insights Scores)||4.5||4.4||4.6||4.7*|
*Zoom’s score is not exclusively collaboration but also encompasses its Meetings Solutions
The clear frontrunners here are Zoom and Slack. In fact, Zoom has been touted to provide users with incredibly quick and easy installation processes, and admins can deploy Zoom organization-wide with just a few clicks. However, there has not been significant research or analysis on deploying Zoom Chat across an entire organization, with most research reflecting the ease of initiation Zoom Meetings. As a result, it will be important to do your own research into the costs and resources necessary to adopt Zoom Chat for your specific enterprise needs.
Slack also offers an excellent deployment process. Slack provides it admins with a clear guide on Enterprise Grid Launch, which is broken down into five manageable steps. Slack also earns a 4.6 out of 5 for Gartner’s Service & Support (higher than the other three platforms) score which is an essential component of the deployment phase, as challenges will inevitably arise. Slack also makes integration with third-party apps and tools effortless with its own Slack App Directory.
Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams fall towards the bottom when considering ease of initiation. This is largely due to the scope of their platforms; for example, when deploying Microsoft Teams, admins will have to consider the role of Voice, PTSN, Bots, and Connectors in their environment, which are not included in Slack’s deployment process. However, if you do select Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex Teams as your collaboration platform provider, be sure to check out their deployment guides: Microsoft Teams Deployment Overview and Cisco Webex Mass Deployment Guide.
Looking for assistance?
Don’t go at it alone! If your organization needs help in deploying workstream collaboration tools, Unify Square can help. Our expert consultants can work with you on platform selection and deployment plans to ensure a successful roll-out.
Collaboration Platform Pricing Plans
All four providers offer a variety of pricing plans, each tailored to different enterprise needs. If you are unsure which pricing plan is best suited for your company or team, consider initiating a free trial, which offered by each of these platforms. It may also make sense to start with a basic plan and then upgrade to a more comprehensive plan if additional collaboration platform features are needed.
As detailed in the table below, the primary differences between the platform pricing plans pertain to the size of your collaboration ecosystem. Most plans have a limit on the number of users, teams, and file storage within your collaboration environment. Medium-to-large enterprises should consider an “Enterprise Plan,” while small enterprises should choose between a “Business Plan” or a “Basic Plan.”
Here is a basic breakdown of the different pricing options:
|Basic Plan||Business/Pro Plan||Enterprise Plan|
Microsoft Teams Free
|MICROSOFT OFFERS TWO MID-TIER PLANS
Microsoft 365 Business Standard
|Office 365 E3
|Cisco Webex Teams||Webex Suite – Basic
||Webex Suite – Business
Note: no major collaboration differences between Business and Enterprise
|Slack||Slack Free Plan
||Slack Pro Plan
Slack Business+ Plan
|Slack for Enterprise
||ZOOM OFFERS TWO MID-TIER PLANS
Ensuring Successful Collaboration
Regardless of which platform you choose for your organization, it is vital for all enterprises to monitor connectivity, institute team-specific policies, and track key metrics for their collaboration environments. In doing so, your enterprise can optimize your internal and external communications to enable frictionless collaboration.
With the help of a third-party management tool like PowerSuite, you can stay one step ahead of all IT issues that may limit the success of your collaboration environment and hamper productivity. PowerSuite will ensure your system is configured to deliver effective, reliable, and secure experiences for every collaborator in your UC&C ecosystem.