Oct 11, 2018 Slack Frontiers NYC 2018: Highlight and Takeaways
Last week my colleague Irwin Lazar and I attended the Slack Frontiers conference in NYC. We both walked away impressed. Sure, we’ve been Slack fans since Nemertes moved on to the platform in 2016. And Irwin consistently hears good things about the platform in his research into Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC). In our most recent UCC research study, Slack delivered the highest productivity gains of any team collaboration suite, and the lowest cost. So we weren’t surprised to encounter hordes of enthusiastic customers and prospects.
Slack Scope and Scale
What was a bit surprising was the scope and scale of the Slack deployments. Slack Enterprise Grid, the enterprise platform, is rapidly gaining traction among companies with tens of thousands (and even hundreds of thousands) of employees. Why? Partly the user interface and customer experience. Slack is just plain fun to use. The design is fresh and whimsical. For example, each time you log into Slack you get a cheerful message. My favorite: “You’re here. The day just got better!” Silly, but little boosts of energy like this add up. (The messages are also customizable).
But if user experience were all, Slack wouldn’t have such momentum among large enterprises. One key takeaway from Frontiers was the accelerating rate of integration with other large enterprise platforms, including Salesforce, Oracle, Google Cloud, SAP, and ServiceNow. Slack is also partnering with emerging players like Zoom and GitHub. In fact, chances are that whatever your enterprise productivity ecosystem, Slack will integrate in well (unless, of course, you’re a full-on Microsoft shop). That’s critical, because a big problem with employee productivity is the overhead caused by switching among applications. Slack’s integration with those apps makes that painless, and in some cases unnecessary.
Enterprise Grid also supports multiple workspaces (eg for separate divisions of the same company) and shared channels (channels that can be shared with third parties, including customers and suppliers). This extends the “Slack mode” of working to an enterprise’s entire organizational ecosystem.
Enterprise Security Enhancements
Another takeaway from the event was some major advances in the areas of security.
Slack partners with key security players, including Palo Alto, Netskope, and Skyhigh (the latter two offer CASB solutions). It also offers various security features, including encryption at rest and in transit (though not end-to-end), and compliance with a range of standards.
But the company announced at Frontiers a critical new feature: Enterprise Key Management. This is actually a big deal. Slack already encrypts data, but if the encryption keys are controlled by the provider, the data is not secure. With EKM, enterprise Slack administrators can granularly control decryption of messages, including by channel, by user, and by time period. So, for instance, if the cybersecurity team has detected a compromise that might have affected Slack between 8:00 and 9:00 AM last Thursday (ie the compromise was remediated no later than 9:00 AM), with EKM only messages sent during that time period are no longer available.
Slack is playing a bit of catch-up with EKM; competitors like Cisco have had EKM for a while (along with end-to-end encryption and on-premise key storage, which Slack does not) as does Symphony (Symphony also allows keys to be held in escrow). With Slack’s EKM, the keys are stored on AWS (though under exclusive control of the enterprise administrators). So while the new capability doesn’t yet bring Slack on par with other solutions, it’s definitely a big step in the right direction.
Finally, Slack provided some key performance metrics, both financial and functional. The company announced in January that 150 organizations were using Enterprise Grid, and said in May that more than 8 million people at 50,000 organizations were using some flavor of Slack. And the company was quite forthcoming (though unfortunately for blog readers, under NDA) about both the root causes of recent outages, and the steps it had taken to fix them. As with security, Slack appears to be taking the right stance with the right degree of rigor. That’s on top of the fact that the firm publishes a regular blog listing all outages in real-time. “We’re probably too transparent,” joked Ilan Frank, Slack’s head of Enterprise Products, at the event.
In sum? We already knew Slack was a great fit for small, aggressive businesses that need the best tools to stay nimble. But we came away with a fresh appreciation for Slack’s ability to scale, and deliver team collaboration to the largest enterprises.
And we really enjoyed the focus on the non-technical aspects of work from outside experts. That focus included Lindsay MacGregor’s discussion of “TOMO” (total employee motivation) and organizational psychologist Adam Grant’s take on creativity. We found out what Lord Nelson’s strategy at the Battle of Trafalgar has to do with corporate competitiveness (and how to win nautical battles when you’re dead). And we learned that it’s really, really hard to guess a song when another person just claps it–and why that’s important to keep in mind when pitching ideas!