Slack Grows Up, Aims To Take On Microsoft With New “Slack Grid” For Enterprises


Mark Sullivan

February 3, 2017

Slack started as a tool for small-ish groups, but wants administrators at big companies to manage lots of groups with ease.

On Tuesday morning, Slack raised the curtain on “Slack Grid,” a new set of administrator tools for large companies that have many Slack groups running in their workplace. It also announced new SAP integrations and reviewed some work it’s doing in machine learning and natural language-assisted search.

The company’s CEO Stewart Butterfield told Fast Company Monday that many large companies have Slack groups spread around the enterprise but have had no centralized way of managing and connecting them. Providing such a framework is the idea behind Slack Grid. Administrators will be able to provision new users faster and easier, Slack says. Users will be able to sign in once to access multiple workspaces.

Slack says the new tools will let workers communicate better between different organizations within the enterprise. Human resources, for example, will be able to interact with the sales organization with more functionality, Slack says.

The framework also makes possible an enterprise-wide search function and a company-wide directory. As the “grid” framework grows, capturing more kinds of user data and integrating with more partner systems, it begins to form something like a “graph” that captures the life of an organization like the Facebook graph captures personal information.

Larger organizations typically have more regulatory compliance challenges, and Slack has steadily been adding more types of security and privacy support to the platform. Today the company announced new support for the HIPAA health care information privacy standard, and for the FINRA financial information security standard. This may help clear the way for Slack to sell its messaging platform into large hospital systems and insurance companies, or into investment firms and banks.

Slack’s success in large enterprises may depend on its capabilities for pulling in data from legacy systems. Butterfield told me that he sees Slack as the “connective tissue” between the many systems used in the enterprise. Slack has already been busy building integrations with these systems. It’s announced integrations with Salesforce and IBM systems, as well as with Google Cloud services and productivity apps.

Today Slack added SAP to that list. SAP systems and apps are used in 345,000 enterprises. Butterfield told me SAP is building a portfolio of bots for Slack. A Concur bot for handling expenses and travel is in the works, as is a SAP SuccessFactors bot for human resources and performance management.

Slack was originally built for small businesses, but conquering the enterprise may be the engine for Slack’s future growth. It won’t be easy. It’s now facing competition of Microsoft’s version of Slack, Microsoft Teams. Teams has an important strategic advantage because it’s deeply integrated with the Windows 365 cloud-based productivity suite used in many enterprises.

On the other hand, in businesses that already use Slack, many users have altered their work flows to do much of their work and spend most of their time in Slack. This is especially true of highly collaborative work groups. Time will tell how big a threat Microsoft’s Teams will be.

Finally, Slack says it’s imbuing its search functionality with some artificial intelligence. Slack’s ability to retrieve specific messages leaves a lot to be desired. Some machine learning may help. It might also expand the search function’s ability to retrieve files, people, subject experts, or channels where a specific topic is frequently discussed.

Machine learning might also help Slack present a user with the most important posts in a channel, making it easier to catch up after being away. Along those same lines, Slack might someday be able to prepare for the user a daily digest containing the most relevant messages across multiple channels.

This article was written by Mark Sullivan from Fast Company and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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