There sure is a lot of chatter about chat lately. While the technologically-savvy have been using tools like IRC since the early 1990s, chat has largely eluded the modern enterprise in favor of instant messaging. But today, while you read this, more than 2 million people are using Slack, the current frontrunner in the race to dominate enterprise ChatOps.

Slack isn’t the only competitor in this busy new market: HipChat, IRCCloud and others are offering enterprise-ready chat room tools to keep workers connected in real time. Unfortunately, the idea of enterprise chat systems has long meant something else: provider-to-customer interfaces for customer-service purposes.

ChatOps, on the other hand, is its own beast: a live set of chat rooms where your employees gab away like in a gossipy high school cafeteria. Except, instead of figuring out who the coolest kid in school is, your chatters are discussing their daily work and, very likely, your customers.

(Related: ChatOps will become a big deal in 2016)

One common way ChatOps is making its way into the enterprise is as a path to dealing with ticketing systems and alerts. With hundreds of microservices hosted across the globe, many teams have found that pagers and e-mail simply aren’t fast enough to deal with the problems of running an IT infrastructure.

Developers are also using ChatOps to chat about features and ideas that might not quite warrant a sit-down meeting, but need a resolution nonetheless. For workers trying to maintain concentration, Slack is less intrusive than popping by the cubicle and interrogating someone.

Going mainstream
ChatOps isn’t just for nerds, though. According to both HipChat and Slack, marketing departments are the third biggest user of chat systems for business. Typically, however, they’re chatting about how to reply to someone on Twitter, or how to handle a specific client.

Jeffrey Hammond, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, said that Slack has gone where other chat programs have not for a number of reasons. “IRC really blew up, but it was used by the tech folks. Slack has taken viral adoption with a real focus on ease of use and consistency across channels,” he said.