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Real-Time Messaging: Data Unearths Surprising Findings on Usage, Distraction, and Organizational Impact

By Scott Solomon as written on

For more than four years, BetterCloud has bi-annually surveyed thousands of IT professionals, producing some of cloud IT’s richest data. Our goal is to help you make more intelligent business decisions and better understand the landscape of business technology.

Now, we’ve decided to bring our research efforts further into focus by launching an ambitious and ongoing data project. Last month, more than 800 IT professionals and end users participated in the first-ever Trends in Cloud IT Monthly Poll. The following data is a result of that poll and has helped us explore one of the hottest topics in tech: real-time messaging.

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Everyone remembers the days of AOL Instant Messenger (affectionately called AIM). In 1997, the simple text-based chat service brought real-time messaging mainstream. Fast-forward nearly 20 years and real-time messaging stands as one of the most powerful tools in business.

Real-Time Messaging Application: A unified communication tool designed to enable high volume and rapid response text-based conversation, while also encouraging enterprise collaboration through file sharing and even video conferencing.

Key Takeaways

  • The majority of organizations (57%) use two or more real-time messaging applications.
  • Nearly a quarter of respondents (22%) admit they either don’t know or don’t care whether IT has approved their real-time messaging application.
  • 80% of Skype for Business users, 84% of Google Hangouts users, and 95% of Slack users say communication has improved because of real-time messaging.
  • 56% of respondents believe that real-time messaging will displace email as their organization’s primary workplace communication and collaboration tool.
  • 27% of end users and 23% of IT professionals say some employees are less productive because of real-time messaging.
  • 71% of small-to-medium sized businesses (1-1,000 employees) will not invest in another phone system at all or will not increase their investment.


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In the modern workplace, real-time messaging has become an expectation. Just 13% of our surveyed audience are not using real-time messaging for work purposes.

Contrary to what you might expect, organizations aren’t just using one application. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The majority of organizations we surveyed use two or more real-time messaging applications–regardless of employee count.

Why would an organization need to use multiple real-time messaging applications?

There are several likely reasons, the most obvious being that departments have different needs. Sales teams may need to easily chat and video conference their prospects, which makes Google Hangouts and Skype for Business quality candidates. Engineering teams may need to configure integrations and Slack bots to receive timely information in a group channel rather than clogging inboxes.

Shadow IT (where users use devices and software outside IT’s control) is another reason organizations may have multiple applications, despite each serving similar functions. End users may decide to use an unauthorized application, and over time, as more users begin adopting the application, IT may choose to embrace it instead of stomping out its organic growth.

As we uncovered in our research for our recent 2016 State of Cloud IT Report, organizations are building what we call “heterogeneous environments,” where best-in-breed cloud applications (sometimes with significant overlap) are stitched together regardless of vendor. Organizations may use Slack, Google Hangouts, and Skype for Business, all for unique and necessary purposes. It’s not uncommon (though perhaps not ideal) to pay for two similar services even if only a small minority of users (e.g., your marketing team) uses one of them.

More than 20% of large enterprises (5,001+ employees) use five or more real-time messaging applications.

As your company grows, expect the number of real-time messaging applications in your environment to grow too. This isn’t a phenomenon reserved only for real-time messaging either. We’re seeing this trend unfold in many cloud application categories, from storage and collaboration to project management.

Does an organization really need five real-time messaging applications? In some cases, yes. But no matter what, you need to find a balance between your employees’ productivity and your organization’s security–much easier said than done.

Shadow IT

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IT professionals are essentially just as likely as end users to knowingly use unapproved real-time messaging applications. Roughly one in every six people we surveyed uses a real-time messaging application outside of IT’s control. And if you consider that people tend to be less forthcoming when it comes to breaking rules, shadow IT is likely more rampant than our data suggests. In fact, 7% of respondents aren’t even sure if they’re communicating outside of IT’s control. That shows a small, but apparent disconnect between IT and end users.

Just 11% of respondents who call Google Hangouts their organization’s primary real-time messaging application admit to using other unsanctioned real-time messaging applications. Slack and Skype for Business saw higher levels of shadow IT. 23% of Slack users and 24% of Skype for Business users use a secondary real-time messaging application that is unsanctioned by IT.

As an IT professional, you’re more of a target than the majority of end users–leading by example whenever possible is always a best practice.


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Clearly, real-time messaging improves communication for the majority of companies that use it.

What’s most interesting here is how opinions differ between end users and IT professionals. IT professionals are nearly 12% more likely than end users to believe that real-time messaging has improved communication. This suggests that end users either lack training and are not using applications to their full potential, or IT professionals simply overestimate how effective real-time messaging is in their organization.

Surveying your end users will help you find out where they stand and how useful the tools you give them are. Do they need more training? Are they actually using real-time messaging? Is it distracting? With hard data, you can take meaningful actions to improve the end-user experience for your user population.


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The slight majority (56%) of respondents believe that at some point, real-time messaging will overtake email as their organization’s primary workplace communication and collaboration tool. Interestingly, 5% of respondents already say their real-time messaging application has displaced email.

Still, almost half (44%) of our poll respondents believe that real-time messaging will never displace email.

Email isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, regardless of whether or not it’s your organization’s primary means of communication and collaboration. At this point, real-time messaging is an enhancement to email, not a replacement.


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The benefits of real-time messaging are hard to overlook, but some not-so-positive areas need addressing–primarily distraction. Slack users most commonly spot decreased productivity, but only slightly. The advanced functionality of the Slack platform may be contributing to the loss of productivity. Users can do more like quickly send GIFs or create channels dedicated to non-work related topics, meaning there are more avenues for distraction.

But do the benefits outweigh the loss of productivity? Most likely–95% of Slack users say it has improved communication in their organization.

If real-time messaging has become a distraction, take action before things get out of hand. It may be necessary to roll out company-wide “dark” hours, meaning real-time internal communication is halted completely or restricted to only urgent messages. If the problem is less widespread, simply communicating with your users from time to time may do the trick.


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The growing use of real-time messaging is one of the most significant factors contributing to the trend seen above. Companies are reigning in their phone system investments. If you plan on investing in a new phone system at some point in the future, you’re in the minority.

Real-time messaging, the rise of mobile devices, and the “bring your own device” explosion are all reducing the need for a traditional phone system. A significant portion of IT admins (68%) will either keep their phone system investment the same or will not invest in another phone system at all.

In many modern workplaces, the desk phone is dying. If you’re one of the 32% of respondents who will be rolling out another phone system at some point, don’t be surprised if it’s your company’s last.


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Though we can’t say for sure which of the three real-time messaging applications is gaining the most customers and growing fastest, we can tell you the percentage of new customers for each application among our audience.

The majority of Slack users began using the application within the last year. However, of the three real-time messaging applications we studied, Slack had the smallest number of respondents in our audience.

The vast majority of Google Hangouts and Skype for Business users have been using the application for more than a year. Will Slack continue its apparent rapid growth in the enterprise? Will Google Hangouts and Skype for Business retain users who move to Google Apps and Office 365, or will customers look outside their cloud office system for their real-time messaging needs?


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Hangouts and Skype for Business are nearly identical regarding their customer base distribution. The majority of their customers are small and medium-sized businesses (1-1,000 employees), with the rest split almost evenly between mid-market organizations (1,001-5,000 employees) and large enterprises (5,001+ employees).

The overwhelming majority of Slack’s customers are small and medium-sized businesses. That’s in line with the public perception of Slack. Many view Slack as the agile entrepreneur’s dream and the perfect communication tool for a young startup. However, according to our research, Slack is being used by some large enterprises.

Real-time messaging isn’t just for startups. Mid-market and large enterprises are actually more likely to use a real-time messaging application than small and medium-sized organizations.

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