External Federation: 7 Problems And How You Can Fix Them
If you’re reading this post as the fourth in our external federation series, you might be thinking that federation is the absolute solution to your team collaboration nightmares.
And you’re right.
If your day could be made easier by not having to leave your favorite app like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Webex, federation between your platform and external contact’s platform is exactly what you need.
So, the next natural question is, why doesn’t external federation all exist?
#1 The Sheer Amount of Team Collaboration Tools w/out External Federation
I’ve tried to find out the exact number of team collaboration tools on the market a few times for a variety of blog posts.
I am yet to find the exact answer for two reasons:
- There is no set industry for these tools (they could be digital workplace tools, team collaboration, unified comms etc)
- New tools are launched so regularly that I would need to update a blog every week
Tracing a reason for the sheer amount of team collaboration tools took me from email replacement to managing millennials who recognize the telephone is not the most productive way for them to communicate.
One real standout area is the combined launch of Slack and decommission of Skype for Business.
As businesses crave more than just instant messaging and an asynchronous way to connect teams digitally, it’s right that customer demand created a new category.
In fact, the last count of “Slack alternatives” was around 250. But, as I mentioned before, it seems to be growing every day.
We rounded app 50 of the best in this post below.
#2 Managing those Team Collaboration Tools
I recently asked 8 business leaders what their biggest challenge was when managing multiple platforms.
I’ve included some of the quotes from that post here to demonstrate the collaboration chaos businesses find themselves in.
One CEO mentioned the impact this has on new employees and the onboarding process.
“No one uses the same platform or combination of platforms. This means that new employees will have to learn new platforms, get comfortable with them, and download them to whichever device they’ll use regularly.”Shayne Sherman, CEO of TechLoris
Bailey Hahn recognized that while Summit Digital tries to keep comms simple, it’s often the opposite.
“We try to keep communication with clients simplified to email, Zoom meetings and the occasional phone call or text. However, some of our clients have existing platforms in place that we have to adjust to. For example, some of our clients use Basecamp.”Bailey Hahn, SEM Specialist at Summit Digital
Marco Hernandez pointed out the common scenario where multiple apps are open at the same time.
“Having to open them up or keeping them open at the same time and the amount of junk each generates. It becomes overwhelming when users generate conversation.”Marco Hernandez, Director of Sales and Marketing, Kaizen Social
#3 Creating External Federation is Harder Than it Looks
When you first hear about Mio and its messaging platform interoperability, it’s natural to think to yourself, this can’t be that hard of a problem to solve?
Aren’t you just a middleman between two APIs?
If I’m completely honest, those were my first thoughts when I was first approached to start working with Mio.
Ironically, I was a contractor using Microsoft Teams trying to communicate with a team using Slack and Webex.
From working 15 hours a week to being heavily involved full time, it quickly became clear just how complex it is to create our products.
Due to the lack of native interoperability between team collaboration apps, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes.
Our Senior Engineer, Ed James, ran through an example of exactly what is required to translate a message from one platform to another in this blog post.
My time at Mio has been and will continue to be a constant learning process as platforms and technologies change.
At Mio, we’ve spent time carefully solving the edge cases and capturing and mapping the different idiosyncrasies each platform has in this non-standard world.
Hence, creating external federation for Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Webex is harder than you think.
Which provides an ideal segue to introduce Tim Banting to this blog post…
#4 Team Collaboration Platforms Lack Interoperability
For the next problem with external federation, I reached out to Tim Banting, Principal Analyst at Omdia.
Tim Banting, Omdia
Tim is an expert in the field of team collaboration tools and I couldn’t think of anyone better to cast their opinion. Here’s what he had to say…
Modern companies need to react to rapidly changing business environments, address customer issues quickly, and respond to impending competitive threats.
All of these affect an organization’s profitability.
Much of this is dependent on the way staff interact and engage, collaborate and communicate. Not only with each other but across the extended “digital supply chain” i.e. with business partners, suppliers, and customers.
Digital supply chains consist of complex, inter-dependent, and broad relationships and have previously required numerous applications and services to communicate and collaborate (email, conferencing, etc).
Modern team collaboration platforms add new value to businesses not only through improving intra-company communication and collaboration but also by incorporating inter-company capabilities.
Unfortunately, team collaboration platforms lack interoperability.
While they allow for disparate parties to join a specific service, they don’t allow different organizations to utilize their own investment.
For example, Company A may use Cisco Webex and invites Company B to join their team space.
Whereas Company B is utilizing Microsoft Teams for their own internal collaboration.
Such a lack of interoperability stifles and stymies effective teamwork.
#5 Fragmentation of Collaboration Apps Drives Fragmentation
To get a thorough view from the industry, I also reached out to Jordan Owens, VP of Architecture of Pexip. Pexip provides video interoperability in a similar way to how Mio provides messaging interoperability so I was keen to see what Jordan sees as the main blocker to federation in team collaboration.
Jordan Owens, Pexip
We all work with partners, customers, and third-party vendors to collaborate on projects, but the challenge is that different companies have different tools and ways of managing access.
At the same time, the speed of innovation has increased, introducing even more tools and ways of communicating.
This fragmentation drives complexity and makes it harder for two organizations to systematically talk to each other without a massive setup cost upfront.
In other words, we have an interoperability problem.
For example, say an organization is moving to Microsoft Teams and wants to standardize all of their meetings on that collaboration platform.
For internal communication, it can be as simple as all users and conference rooms using Microsoft Teams-based clients.
But what happens when someone outside their company needs to join their meeting?
By using a certified interoperability gateway, organizations can allow those on incompatible devices to join their Microsoft meetings using the workflows they’re already familiar with.
Teams users never have to leave their Microsoft environment, and those calling in via standards-based video systems (Cisco, Poly, etc.) can maintain their same user experience.
#6 Customers Get (Rightfully) Frustrated
I also reached out to Michael Helmbrecht, COO at Lifesize. Lifesize is another video conferencing vendor that is focused on joining up the team collaboration experience.
Ripped directly from their website is the tagline: Plug and play well with others. Which is exactly what external federation can do for messaging apps. The Lifesize site also goes onto mention that upgrading to the best team collaboration tools doesn’t mean you have to replace everything you currently use. Again, exactly what external federation can achieve.
Michael Helmbrecht, Lifesize
Michael explains the impact that the lack of external federations has on your customers.
Customers get (rightfully) frustrated when they can’t connect and collaborate with parties outside their organization the same way they can collaborate with internal colleagues.
Not every vendor chooses to develop their platform in an open and interoperable way.
This historical lock-in approach to software, services, and hardware prevents customers from making best-of-breed choices and frankly isn’t an astute business move in the long run.
The catch is that it’s hard to reverse-engineer openness into a collaboration platform once it isn’t built that way from Day 1.
And if a customer’s collaboration solution doesn’t allow them to seamlessly collaborate with external contacts, external collaboration breaks down quickly.
#7 No Single Vendor Has Defined the Future of Workplace Communications
We’ve touched on the lack of platform openness in this blog series and it rears its head again here.
While every platform encourages integration, collaboration, and chatting both internally and externally, no vendor is going to outright provide native federation across platform and across domain.
And this causes an issue in progressing workplace communications.
If you ask our CEO, Tom Hadfield, what the future of workplace communications looks like, he’ll tell you this…
“The future of workplace communications is a global network that allows all companies to collaborate in real-time regardless of which team collaboration tools they are using.”Tom Hadfield, Mio
Ultimately, the current state of workplace communications looks something like this.
And it needs to look a little more like this.
Conclusion & How to Fix
I opened this post with “you might be thinking that federation is the absolute solution to your team collaboration nightmares.”
Hopefully, you are still thinking this. Because it still absolutely is.
The problems with external federation between apps like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Webex have only accelerated the customer demand to find a solution.
Fortunately, Mio has been working on exactly that solution: universal channels.
Check it out below:
If you want to be one of the first to add a universal channel between your team collaboration apps, try your first three universal channels free.