By Annekathrin Hase, director of marketing and strategy, MindLink Software

Earlier this year Facebook revealed that it was working on a spin-off product focused on workplace communications, which will enable users to keep professional contacts separate from the personal details they share with friends.

Many employers currently ban the use of Facebook in the workplace, but this announcement will force companies into reviewing their social media policies.

The news came shortly after Microsoft announced that it is to rebrand Microsoft Lync as ‘Skype for Business’, with a new interface and features geared towards providing a similar experience for both business users and consumers.

Microsoft Skype for Business aspires to close the gap between large enterprises using Lync for corporate communications, and those consumers and small businesses using Skype since Microsoft’s acquisition of the voice and video service in 2011.

The diversity and flexibility of Microsoft Lync plays a vital part in modern day business communication. Be it simplifying and streamlining collaboration through screen sharing, video calls and Instant Messaging, or driving complex business workflows of dispersed teams and systems, it has become an integral component of many businesses and one of the most powerful Unified Communication platforms.

However, there is a ‘hidden’ feature of Lync that many users are unaware of. It can help reduce email usage by up to 50 per cent and significantly increase productivity (not to mention create a searchable, secure repository of knowledge and information).

It’s known as Persistent Group Chat, or Enterprise Chat, and is a collaborative, structured communication tool for employees. It mirrors the informal and intuitive nature of chat apps but provides businesses with peace of mind when it comes to security, compliance and integration.

So, why is it so often overlooked? After all Persistent Chat, which is implemented internally and on premise, comes out-of-the-box with Lync server install.

The issue in the past is that many companies haven’t recognised the importance of Enterprise Chat as a collaboration and communication tool. But a number of factors are contributing to a change in perceptions, including the proliferation of digital, the rise in the popularity of consumer chat apps, the growing Bring Your Own Device trend and businesses’ over reliance on email.

In fact, the pace of change is accelerating; the number of Persistent Chat adopters has increased three-fold in 2014. The changing nature of business is another contributory factor to the rise in demand. Workers today often operate in silo or dispersed teams, and communicating with colleagues located in multiple regions and time zones can be extremely challenging.

As a result, there is demand in many cases for information to be exchanged in real time across an organisation, which cannot be achieved with email. Furthermore, without integration into existing business systems, and a lack of security, email doesn’t fulfil the needs of many modern day businesses.

Enterprise Chat applications, such as Persistent Chat (or Group Chat) are a vital tool for companies that face difficulties when it comes to making fast, informed business decisions. The organisation itself is the ultimate source of valuable information, but often this can be hidden in silos or behind Chinese walls.

Regardless of whether it is a national, multinational or global organisation, Persistent Chat allows information to be shared in a structured and filtered manner, as conversations are stored and cannot be altered or deleted. It also enables the retrieval of knowledge stored as an organisational asset for future purposes.

Clearly social communication tools, such as Facebook and Whatsapp, are perfect for communicating with friends and family, but they fail to meet the need of enterprises when it comes to sharing critical, often sensitive, business data.

The growing focus on dedicated enterprise apps, as demonstrated by the launch of ‘Facebook for Work’ and ‘Skype for Business’, is evidence of the heightened demand for business critical collaboration.