When you think of Slack, you probably think of a chat app that is growing in popularity for businesses large and small. Originally designed by accident as something that could replace email, Slack has not yet deleted email. But for the past four years, Slack has been quietly building a major platform shift for its communications app that could help replace your work email in the future.
Slack Connect fosters the idea of shared channels that enable companies to collaborate, allowing up to 20 organizations to work seamlessly together with apps, chat, and more. More than a million Slack users have been testing Slack Connect in the past few months, and today it’s rolling out for all paid plans.
“Slack’s vision has always been to build Slack Connect so that the benefits you get from channel-based communication within your own organization you get when you communicate with everyone,” says Tamar Yehoshua, Slack’s product manager, in an interview. with The edge. “Email has been around for decades … we wanted to build a model that addresses the limitations of email.”
Slack Connect is enabling companies to use Slack in new ways that go beyond traditional person-to-person communications. Nando’s, a restaurant in the UK that specializes in peri-peri-style chicken dishes, is using Slack Connect for automatic communications with its delivery partner Deliveroo. Other companies like Fastly are using Slack Connect for customer support, and Zendesk is using it to connect with partners. Slack has even created a Slack Connect instance for doctors to share their experiences in fighting COVID-19 in the past few months.
“We have been testing this capability for months,” explains Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield. “We just used Slack Connect to raise just over $ 800 million in a convertible bond.” Slack has also been using this Slack Connect platform to speed up communications with its partners. While that has always been the case for how you use Slack in your own workplace, Slack wants to bring that idea of instant business-to-business communications. Instead of multiple email threads or in-person meetings, businesses can simply drop a link to their partners, customers, suppliers, creative agencies, and more on shared channels and Slack instances.
“This is a very critical part of Slack’s vision,” explains Yehoshua. “I think a lot of the communication that occurs via email will go to Slack. Email will always be available for certain use cases. We’re not going to be a substitute for everything that happens in email … but we do see that when corporations switch to wall-to-wall Slack, there is a significant reduction in email within their corporation. “
Paid Slack users will be able to start communicating with each other simply by sharing an invitation link, but Slack Connect will not be available to free users at launch. While direct messaging and channels will be a part of Slack Connect, the idea is that it forms the foundation for a future where these shared channels become the place for companies to sign contracts with partners, verify invoices, manage orders of purchase or supervise the Tickets service. It is an ambition that goes beyond email or messaging.
Obviously, there are many privacy and security issues in these communications, and Slack will provide detailed options for IT administrators to manage exactly what is shared. Slack is also improving the user interface of its channels, making it very clear when you are using a shared channel and who participates in the channel.
There’s even some machine learning that will allow Slack to scan calendars across multiple organizations and help workers create meetings at the appropriate times when everyone is free. Slack apps can also be shared across organizations, as long as both parties have them installed on their own Slack instance.
If Slack manages to convince companies that he has the answer to their communication needs, it certainly seems like one more step to reduce tedious email threads and even inter-company meetings. Slack’s recent funding round meant that all of its various partners could participate in a shared channel, the ultimate test of the technology it has built. “All of the Slack members who were working on the deal were on a channel with our bankers, lawyers and consultants … and they all knew what questions had been asked and answered,” says Butterfield.
Obviously, Slack has a great incentive to gradually move companies away from email. Butterfield spoke to The edge recently about Slack’s competition with Microsoft teams. Microsoft has seen rapid growth with computers recently during the pandemic, but if Slack can reduce the importance of email, this strikes at the heart of the Microsoft Office domain with Outlook and Exchange.
“In a different universe where Slack is incredibly successful in the next two years and 98 percent of knowledge workers use Slack, Microsoft cares because the relative importance of email decreases enormously,” Butterfield said in a statement. Vergecast interview last month. “It really is about email, and if email becomes less important, then that whole $ 35, $ 40 billion a year collaboration productivity business unit is under threat.”
With 65 million messages sent through Slack at peak times, it’s clear that people love the idea of instant communications. With Teams, Microsoft is behind Slack’s vision of shared channels. The software giant only introduced private channels last year, and while it can invite guests to Teams channels, it’s not close to what Slack Connect is offering today.
Slack Connect will inevitably force Microsoft to respond with teams, but it highlights how both companies have positioned their communications clients. Microsoft Teams has been tightly integrated into Office, bundled with Office 365 subscriptions and really geared towards Microsoft-dependent companies. Slack has taken the approach of trying to be the platform that connects a variety of productivity applications and services for businesses, and in particular the smallest ones that grow and use the most tools.
Slack has now realized the entrepreneurial side of business that Microsoft dominates, but still has a lot of work to do to convince customers even bigger than Amazon or IBM to participate in Slack about Microsoft teams. However, Slack Connect could help convince some.
“We have seen companies that bring their partners or customers to Slack so that they can have a shared channel across organizational boundaries because that way of working together is much more effective and productive,” says Butterfield.
While Slack started out in a battle to kill his own email in the workplace, the biggest war is eliminating emails between companies. Slack now wants to be seen as the communication tool of the future to achieve this, and it is a war that has just begun.