Initial thoughts on prospective Salesforce acquisition of Slack

The FT’s ever-excellent, San Francisco-based Richard Waters has reported on a prospective acquisition of Slack by Salesforce.

Slack, notes Waters, has evolved from being a chat app to a broader “workplace tool”. It also faces competition from Microsoft Teams as a collaboration gateway into Office tools.

But you could also look at this from an enterprise software perspective.

There is a trend, anointed by analyst firms like Gartner and IDC to make ERP (that is to say the core critical software for running a complex business, essential to mid to large corporates, especially those who operate beyond national borders) distributed, dispersed, unbundled out into business user tasks and accessed not via a traditional enterprise software supplier UI but via Slack or Teams or similar.

Indeed Unit4’s CEO Mike Ettling is on record, speaking at a media and analyst conference on 14 October 2020, as stating that to be their approach. We are entering the era of “pervasive ERP”, to borrow a phrase from Unit4’s chief technology officer Claus Jepsen.

My TechTarget colleagues David Essex and Jim O’Donnell and I discuss this philosophy of a deconstructed ERP vis-à-vis Unit4 in a forthcoming “ERP Confab” podcast episode.

Now, at the core of Salesforce is an ERP-shaped hole. They don’t do ERP, but they do have a swathe of other business software – sales and marketing automation mainly – on the periphery of ERP.

Salesforce has added applications and data integration with Mulesoft, and BI/analytics with Tableau. Adding Slack would give the company another way of being more of a holistic enterprise play.

The next step could be to add some measure of the ERP software we classically associate with SAP and Oracle?

At any rate, Angela Ashenden, Principal Analyst, Workplace Transformation, CCS Insight has offered some related commentary on the rumours that emerged overnight about the possible acquisition of Slack by Salesforce.

“In order to maintain the high rate of growth that it has achieved for the last few years, Salesforce has been investing in initiatives that will enable it to expand its footprint in customer organisations. However, the majority of its current applications portfolio doesn’t allow it significant reach beyond the sales and marketing organisation.

“Salesforce has long been eyeing the employee collaboration opportunity – as far back as 2010 when it launched Chatter, later followed by Community Cloud, but neither really provided that extended reach outside sales. Its acquisition of Quip in 2016 was another step in this direction, but Quip hasn’t really expanded its reach within customers either.

“Acquiring Slack would be a major boost here, and Slack’s integration and app story would also play well with Salesforce’s strategy. The potential of Slack Connect and creating a B2B collaboration network would also jive well with Salesforce’s business enablement story….

“With strong ambitions as to where it could take the business next, Slack needs a way to step up its market reach and product investment opportunities and doing that as an independent can be very challenging. Salesforce could be a great platform for Slack and has lots of experience and success in integrating major acquisitions like this, which would give its customers confidence if the purchase does go ahead.

“It would inevitably mean much deeper integration across the breadth of Salesforce’s portfolio, but there will be many Slack customers that are already Salesforce customers, and they’ll only benefit from tighter connections there.”

However, she is sceptical about my line of thinking.

“To be honest, I can’t really see Salesforce going this route. It would be an easy way to plug the gap, yes, but I think ERP is too much of an established market already, and Salesforce typically prefers to break new ground with innovative investments that have the potential to significantly extend its current stronghold rather than run to play catch up in parallel markets.

“The company is massively data-oriented in its approach at the moment, focusing on surfacing insights from data through AI, and the Tableau acquisition played into this. Mulesoft expanded its focus on business process integration, and tying together data and processes across the customer’s business (as well as between its own offerings of course).

“Slack is another holistic enterprise play, like you say, and it’s in a fast-growing space that Salesforce has long wanted to get a slice of. Salesforce has also not been very good to date at cross-selling its various clouds, so I don’t think adding another cloud flavour like ERP would offer the scale of growth opportunity that it is so focused on, and that’s undoubtedly a key factor in why they make acquisitions”.


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