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How Slack is going beyond messaging in enterprise play

Deeper integrations with business applications and data residency support are part of Slack’s broader strategy to penetrate deeper into the enterprise

With a user base of 12 million people, Slack has made huge strides in changing the way employees communicate in and outside the workplace.

Its users take five billion actions on the messaging platform each week, including in the Asia-Pacific region where there are 1.28 million daily active users in Japan, Australia and New Zealand alone.

But Slack sees itself as more than a messaging platform. Through application programming interfaces (APIs) and integration with enterprise applications such as SAP Concur, Slack provides a single workspace for workers to access key features of software they rely on every day.

For one thing, employees using the SAP Concur expense management tool can log their expenses through Slack. Submitting an expense report, however, will require the use of Concur’s mobile app or website.

Bear Douglas, Slack’s director of developer relations, told Computer Weekly that this is deliberate as the company believes there are tasks that are better done in third-party applications. “Where Slack really shines is when you need to talk to people about what’s going on,” she said.

Citing an example of a worker who has created a Salesforce dashboard, Douglas said while the task would have been performed in Salesforce itself, co-workers can reference the dashboard in their Slack discussions.

“The integrations that we encourage our partners to build are around enabling people to coordinate work like shipping something or approving an expense report that doesn’t require the strength of third-party applications,” said Douglas.

App launcher

To help users discover applications that have integrations with Slack, Douglas said an app launcher is being developed to surface apps that a user has installed.

In addition, the company talked up a concept called Actions From Anywhere at its recent developer conference that will enable users to initiate tasks using keywords. “Typing ‘expense’, for example, will trigger an action that will allow you to approve an expense,” said Douglas.

Besides facilitating employee communications and driving office productivity, Slack is also being used by enterprises to communicate with external parties such as partners and customers.

“We’ve seen people do interesting things in customer support, where they have built integrations and created shared channels to answer customer support questions and communicate with partners,” Douglas said, adding that there are 20,000 organisations already using shared channels.

Slack’s focus on enabling deeper integrations with third-party applications and raising the bar on user experience is key to fending off rival Microsoft, which recently unveiled new integrations between Microsoft Teams and Outlook, along with private channels that Slack already supports.

And to bolster its enterprise pedigree that Microsoft is well known for, Slack recently announced a data residency capability that lets businesses choose the country or region to store their data to meet compliance and data sovereignty requirements.

Frankfurt in Germany will be the first data region available outside the US, while data regions in Japan and Australia are being planned for the first quarter of 2020.

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In addressing potential security concerns from enterprises and third-party software suppliers, Douglas cited safeguards such as SSL encryption, verification tokens, as well as mutual TLS to verify requests being sent from Slack to third-party applications.

Slack’s security programme also certifies its service with a plethora of security standards, including ISO 27001 and service organisation control (SOC) 3. Plus, it will help enterprises meet industry-specific regulations or international data privacy standards such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation.

In June 2019, Slack went public through a direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange. In its S-1 filing, Slack said its “direct sales and customer success efforts are focused on larger organisations who have a greater number of users and teams and have the potential to increase spend over time”.

The company measures its enterprise traction by the number of paid customers with $100,000 of annual recurring revenue. In September 2019, it said it had 720 of such customers during the second quarter of its fiscal year 2020, up 75% year-on-year.

Next Steps

Slack backup options include commercial, open source tools

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