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Slack’s (WORK) – Get Report stock rose 3.5% in Wednesday trading — leaving it back around where it was prior to a post-earnings tumble in September — after the company unveiled a host of new and planned features for its collaboration platform.
On Wednesday morning, as Slack kicked off its Frontiers conference for customers and developers, the company announced that its Connect platform, which currently lets workers from different organizations communicate with each other via shared channels, will support direct messaging between individuals starting in early 2021.
How Slack Connect Is Evolving
Provided that the companies in question have approved such activity, an employee at Company A will only need to click on a link shared by an employee at Company B to request a DM connection. Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield notes that (in addition to sharing links via Slack) users could do things such as put links within their Twitter profiles or place QR codes on their business cards that trigger Slack Connect DM requests when scanned by a phone’s camera.
In addition to DMs, Slack plans to bring a service called managed connections — it lets IT admins pre-approve requests to share channels with trusted organizations — to Connect in early 2021. Also planned: A verification service for organizations, with verified orgs getting a Twitter-like checkmark next to their names.
While discussing the new features with TheStreet, Ilan Frank, Slack’s VP of Product, noted that users from different companies who are messaging via Connect DMs will be able to jointly use Slack integrations for third-party apps such as Google Calendar and Zoom (ZM) – Get Report, as well as use Slack’s voice and video calling tools (now powered by Amazon.com’s (AMZN) – Get Report Chime service).
“The way that applications work is that you can launch applications in Slack Connect on your side. And then other people in that channel can see the messages of those applications leave and interact with those messages,” Frank said. “So the security model is that other people cannot launch your applications, but once you launch them, they can have access to it.”
Slack Connect, which represented a major expansion of Slack’s existing Shared Channels service, was officially launched in June to paid customers and lets up to 20 organizations communicate via the same channel. Slack now reports that more than 56,000 organizations are using Connect, up from 41,000 as of June.
Connect is both a valuable differentiator and a customer acquisition tool for Slack as it continues battling Microsoft’s (MSFT) – Get Report fast-growing Teams platform. In July, Slack filed an EU antitrust complaint over Microsoft’s bundling of paid Teams features with Office 365 subscriptions.
Frank indicated that the most popular use cases for Connect to date involve customer support, sales and business development workers using the platform to communicate with customers and partners. And when asked what Slack’s biggest R&D priorities are for Connect going forward, he said security features are at the top of the list, followed by continuing to improve ease of use.
“For Connect, the things that we’re mostly focusing on are security features. We’re going to roll out several of them over the next three to five months,” Frank said. “We want to make this the place where you can have external conversations, but we understand that we have to provide security and data control functionality in order to allow customers to make that decision.”
New Workflow Options, Recorded Videos and Push-to-Talk Audio
Slack is also using Frontiers to unveil several enhancements to its platform that aren’t related to Connect (at least not directly). Among them:
- Workflow Builder: Steps for Apps, an expansion of Slack’s existing Workflow Builder tool for enabling workflows within Slack that can involve third-party app integrations. Steps for Apps, which is initially supported by developers such as Datadog (DDOG) – Get Report and PagerDuty (PD) – Get Report, can trigger actions within third-party apps that are running independently of Slack, rather than just integrations within the Slack app.
- Socket Mode, a feature for connecting enterprise apps that reside behind firewalls with Slack.
- Granting IT admins the ability to quickly deploy Slack app integrations throughout an organization, with no action necessary needed by individual workers.
- A partnership with e-signature software leader DocuSign (DOCU) – Get Report through which Slack users can quickly access document templates for common processes, as well as send and sign docs via the Slack app.
- Plans to give users — in the wake of survey data that suggests remote workers want a greater sense of belonging — the ability to share brief recorded videos with co-workers, as well as a walkie talkie-like push-to-talk audio feature, by year’s end.
Butterfield compared the recorded-video feature to Instagram and Snapchat’s stories services, while suggesting that it’s meant to be a way for workers to do things such as check in with colleagues or outline a daily agenda. He deemed it “a little bit more of a human way of giving updates.”
Frank, meanwhile, indicated that Slack plans to further evolve its Workflow Builder tool, which has been used by a mixture of technical and non-technical workers to create more than 515,000 workflows, so that companies can create custom steps involving apps running independently of Slack.
“A developer could develop a custom step [for a] company’s ERP [software], for example…to look up invoices,” Frank said. “And then make that available to non-technical folks to [allow them] to develop workflows using that custom build step. That’s the path that we’re going down.”