Slack has announced a major overhaul for its online collaboration platform, parts of which have been “rebuilt and re-engineered from the group up” to help make work simpler and improve productivity.
Speaking at the company’s annual Frontiers event, CEO Stewart Butterfield explained the upgrades will create new opportunities for workflow automation and address the frustrations associated with juggling many different business applications.
“Having a digital HQ that everything can plug into is incredibly powerful for allowing the free interchange of information. The world we want to bring about is one with a lot more fluidity, ”he said.
“This is the culmination of what we’ve wanted from the very early days. We’ve always wanted to give people the equivalent of Lego; blocks they can re-combine themselves [to create new functionality]. ”
It’s all about automation
The headline upgrade centers on a new-look version of the Slack Workflow Builder, a tool that allows any worker to automate their workflows, without having to wait on overburdened dev teams or write the code themselves.
Although the Workflow Builder has been used creatively by customers so far, the service currently offers relatively simple capabilities. However, Slack has rebuilt this platform from the ground up, expanding the pool of potential use cases dramatically.
Soon enough, users will have access to a wide library of “building blocks” that can be linked together via a simple drag and drop mechanism to create new automations involving multiple third-party apps.
For example, any user will be able to quickly spin up an automation that streamlines the process of document approval or requests for time off, which would usually involve hopping between multiple disparate applications. And this is just a simple example.
If there is no available “building block” that fulfills a particular task, a developer can step in to create one on an employee’s behalf. This new block will then become available across the organization, and can be “remixed” into various other workflows.
“We wanted to take the power of what developers can do on the platform, make [this functionality] reusable and remixable and connect them to the Workflow builder, so a non-developer can have access to way more powerful workloads, ”explained Tamar Yehoshua, Chief Product Officer.
The developer-facing tools will enter private beta immediately, giving devs the opportunity to devise new building blocks before the Workflow Builder update rolls out for regular users next year.
The secondary focus area at Frontiers is Slack Connect, launched last year to give businesses a simpler way to communicate and collaborate with external organizations, without having to rely on cumbersome email chains.
According to Slack, the service has been adopted by more than 100,000 businesses worldwide since it went live. And now, the company is expanding the offering with new functionality.
As of early next year, up to 250 organizations will be able to participate in a single channel. And a little further down the line, Slack users will be able to set up “secure work environments” for sprawling projects that require the input of thousands of different partners.
Although small businesses are unlikely to make use of this new functionality, large enterprises required to orchestrate complex projects or organize large-scale events are bound to benefit.