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IBM calls time on Slack-rival Watson Workspace

IBM calls time on Slack-rival Watson Workspace

More consolidation for collaboration market

Credit: Dreamstime

IBM has decided to end support for its Watson Workspace team chat app, citing a lack of customer traction.

The decision follows the sale of IBM’s software assets –  including legacy collaboration applications such as IBM Notes, Domino and Connections – to Indian technology services provider HCL for $1.8 billion in December.

A preview of Watson Workspace, announced in 2016, touted  IBM Watson’s cognitive computings capabilities. Watson’s AI underpinned features such as Workspace Moments, which promised to reduce the noise of collaboration by summarising posts within the chat app.

However, it struggled to gain adoption amid a booming and highly-competitive team collaboration market dominated by the likes of Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts Chat, Cisco Webex Teams and others.

“While there is no question that Watson Workspace is innovative and agile, it hasn’t resonated with clients or obtained the traction in the marketplace necessary for IBM to continue forward with the service,” IBM said in a statement on the Watson Workspace website.

“Despite our best efforts and enthusiasm for these offerings, our decision to withdraw them aligns to IBM’s investment strategy focused on delivering solutions that deliver measurable value to our customers and business partners."

IBM has stopped accepting new orders for Watson Workspace, and expects to end the service for both free and paid customers on 28 February.

The company said it is now working with customers on migration and will provide a tool to download and save conversations and content held in the app.

A spokesperson said IBM “continues to prioritise investments in high-value segments of the IT industry,” such as “AI for business, hybrid cloud, cyber security, analytics, supply chain and blockchain as well as industry-specific cognitive platforms and solutions including healthcare, industrial IOT, and financial services.”

At launch, Watson Workspace was expected to modernise IBM’s communication and collaboration portfolio by offering an alternative to Slack.

“Unfortunately it was never clear to IBM’s customers or partners, or even many IBM employees where Watson Workspace fit into the portfolio along with IBM Connections and IBM Notes/Domino,” said Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.

“With HCL taking over the core IBM collaboration portfolio, it was inevitable that IBM would end of life Watson Workspace."

Watson Workspace’s demise was likely due to a lack of support from IBM as the team collaboration market picked up speed, rather than problems with the app itself.

“Workspace probably did resonate with customers, but not on a high enough scale to keep it going,” said Jon Arnold at J Arnold & Associates.

“I don't think IBM makes any ‘bad' products. So [IBM’s decision] is likely more a case of not properly supporting it to become more sticky and gain wider adoption,” Arnold said.

Watson Workspace offered a free tier – alongside paid Plus and Essentials options – that can be difficult to convert to paid subscriptions and may have been an unattractive business model for IBM, which has prioritised other areas of its business.

“IBM isn't the only vendor to struggle with these types of platforms,” said Arnold. “They have all started out with great excitement, but are difficult to monetise.”

IBM is not the big name tech vendor to discontinue its team chat app. Last year, Atlassian announced the sale of its Stride app to Slack, which immediately discontinued the product months after its launch.

More consolidation is coming in the workplace collaboration market, according to Arnold. “The space is maturing, but it will also thin out the next one to two years,” he said. “Only the ones who can scale cost-effectively and start accruing decent revenues from enterprise customers will survive.”


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