Revamping the Slack Platform at Frontiers 2021

Slack continues to innovate, despite acquisition by Salesforce

From 16 to 18 November Slack hosted its annual customer event, Slack Frontiers — its first since being acquired by Salesforce in July. Taking place two months after Salesforce’s own flagship event Dreamforce, Slack Frontiers aimed to show that there’s been no slowdown in product development. In spite of the acquisition, Slack is maintaining a distinct and innovative product road map that continues its pre-existing ambitions.

Slack As Your Digital HQ

Frontiers 2021 reinforced the concept of Slack becoming a digital office for companies in the new hybrid working environment. By creating a central, digital platform for work that brings together an organization’s tools, apps and everyday processes, work becomes more streamlined and friction-free. To this end, the Slack platform remains one of the company’s biggest differentiators, allowing customers to tailor their experience to the needs of their organization or team, whether by creating custom apps, integrations or workflows. Not only does this make Slack more valuable to customers, it also drives adoption and makes the application “stickier” — something that’s critical in such a competitive market.

Over 1 million developers have built more than 935,000 apps on the Slack platform to date; there are also 400,000 users of its no-code Workflow Builder tool, who have created a total of 1.5 million workflows. Importantly, 80% of Workflow Builder users are non-technical, using the tool to meet the immediate needs of their team or to automate their personal workflows. This is Slack’s holy grail: enabling every employee to simplify their daily work. Our research shows that employees spend more than two hours each day on simple, repetitive tasks — those that are ripe for automation, giving people time for more interesting and valuable work. In simple terms, Slack wants to reduce the work of work.

A Shiny New Slack Platform

The big news at Frontiers was that Slack has completely re-architected its platform and Workflow Builder to better connect developers and non-technical users as they customize their own digital office. At the heart of this new development, currently in private beta testing, is the new custom “functions”, reusable building blocks of code. These define a single step in a process, such as querying a database or creating a record. Functions are created by developers using the Slack software development kit, which is also being revamped alongside a new command-line interface. Functions can then be published to Workflow Builder, where anyone can use them in a custom workflow.

Workflows can be saved as templates to allow maximum reuse in an organization. To accelerate adoption, Slack plans to publish a collection of pre-made workflow templates when the functionality becomes generally available in mid-2022. By streamlining this process Slack is making it easier for users to control their workflows without needing technical expertise, and allowing development teams to provide the customized building blocks that underpin the specific needs of a business.

Scaling Up Slack Connect

The second big announcement at Frontiers focussed on Slack Connect, undoubtedly the company’s other major differentiator in the team collaboration market. This enables the creation of Slack channels spanning multiple organizations, allowing each paying organization to apply security controls, retention policies and maintain visibility in the same way as for their internal channels. More than 100,000 organizations now use Slack Connect, with the number of connected end points having risen 200% in 12 months.

The company announced that in early 2022, the number of organizations able to participate in a single Slack Connect channel will rise to 250, up from 20 at present. By the end of the year, thousands of companies will be supported in a single channel. This will dramatically expand the possible uses for Slack Connect, with community forums and online events as possible new avenues.

This underlines Slack’s challenge to arch-rival Microsoft.

Earlier in 2021, Microsoft announced a private preview of a similar capability called Teams Connect, expected to become generally available in March 2022. But Slack, which launched Slack Connect in beta mode in 2017, continues to set the agenda here and is working toward its vision of enabling true business-to-business process flows in Slack Connect channels. This has even greater potential now that Slack is part of Salesforce.

A New Platform for a New Era As Part of Salesforce

The announcements at Frontiers highlight Slack’s focus for investment, particularly as it finds its way as the newbie at Salesforce. Slack-related announcements at Dreamforce targeted the integration of Slack into the wider Salesforce portfolio and in the Salesforce Customer 360 strategy. Frontiers, however, allowed Slack to refocus on its faithful community of customers and developers and its core message about enabling collaborative work, providing reassurance and familiarity at a time of uncertainty.

Slack’s biggest threat continues to be Microsoft Teams, and its decision to join forces with Salesforce is undoubtedly central to its ongoing struggle against the tech giant. But Slack remains ambitious in its strategy and continues to innovate in this fast-moving space.

The acquisition brings a new source of investment and a sizeable set of new customers for Slack to target. It also puts Slack in a stronger position as it continues to straddle the gap between collaboration and line-of-business processes and applications. These two technology areas are heading ever-closer toward convergence, with the employee very much at the centre.