Asana bets on depth vs breadth of integrations for enterprise push

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright November 23, 2020 Audio version
Asana has released tighter integration with teamwork leaders Atlassian, Microsoft Teams, Slack and Zoom as it targets enterprise buyers

Asana Microsoft Teams integration screenshot
Asana Microsoft Teams integration (via Asana)

Work management vendor Asana is seeking to upgrade its appeal to enterprise buyers with new governance controls and deeper integrations to leading collaboration platforms, announced last week. When it comes to digital teamwork, a bulging app store is less important to buyers than close integrations with a core set of tools that let them access functionality in the flow of work, argues Alex Hood, Head of Product at Asana. Here's his thinking:

The app store model that used to work fairly well and be compelling — where an application platform might have 400, 500 different apps that are created by third parties that are very lightweight — that will start to become outmoded, in service of really deeper, higher quality applications where experiences live inside of other experiences.

The point of these best-of-breed integrations is to address the productivity hit in the enterprise, where information workers on average are using ten different applications as part of their daily routine, and spend time switching between them at least 25 times a day. He sums up:

There's a pretty big pain point around having siloed bits of data, or siloed bits of workflows, that don't talk to one another.

Therefore Asana last week unveiled a clutch of extensions to its existing integrations with four leading teamwork tools — Atlassian Jira, Microsoft Teams, Slack and Zoom. Two of these integrations plug Asana directly into the video meetings experience, with Asana becoming one of the first twenty apps that will run inside a Microsoft Teams meeting, similar to the in-meeting third-party Zoom Apps introduced last month by Zoom — originally called Zapps but now renamed after a complaint from Zapier. Zoom also added the ability to attach a meeting transcript to an Asana task so it can be accessed without having to switch back to Zoom.

An upgrade to Asana's integration with Slack now supports Slack Enterprise Grid, which is used by larger organizations to run separate Slack workspaces for different teams or business units. It also expands the detail that can be viewed from Asana within Slack. The new Atlassian integration is to the on-premise Server Edition of Jira, providing the same features already available to Jira Cloud users.

Smoothing the flow of work

The aim of these integrations is help smooth the flow of work across applications, even to the extent that users become less aware of which app they're using at any one time as the experiences blend into each other. Hood expands on his concept of the new apps model he sees emerging:

The new set of integrations will reduce the friction and back-and-forth, and frankly blur the lines between some of these applications ...

The winners will not have 500 applications to their name. They'll have a series of deep app integrations where there's a blurring between experiences. And also, those integrations will take cues from one another.

To support that deeper integration, Asana has plans to offer rule-based automation that can flow into applications such as Slack, Teams and Zoom to trigger notifications and events. Hood elaborates:

Having rules that allow Asana to be looking out for changes that have occurred in other applications, and then triggering other teammates to do other work, or to update the plan of record — or to trigger other integrations to do other things — that ends up being important. Because what we're solving for is end-to-end team experiences that allow for better end-to-end customer experiences that they're serving.

Another aspect of the enterprise push sees new admin controls to increase governance. These give enterprise admins the power to view, block and accept which third party apps integrate with Asana, control whether users can attach files to tasks, or terminate user sessions when a device is lost or stolen. Asana is also emphasizing its encryption of data when in transit and at rest.

Value of asynchronous collaboration

The vendor believes that this year's experience of remote working enforced by the pandemic has brought new learnings that will bring lasting changes in how people work. In particular, being out of the office has shown the value of tools that allow asynchronous collaboration — leaving messages or notifications that colleagues can pick up later rather than needing to have a real-time conversation. Those synchronous conversations have been a staple of office life, but distributed working has introduced new habits, with the support of digital teamwork tools such as Asana. As Hood explains:

What we see is in Asana, in particular, folks might do more work on their own, attach that work, and have folks read it asynchronously. [They're] better managing their flow time, of how they can be an individual contributor, and then saving their Zoom time for more creative work that requires building upon each other's ideas in real time ...

I think that just the hygiene, the efficiency, of how teams work together, will be something that is a lasting impact of this time where we were all apart. We'll know what is best done asynchronously, and we'll have tools like Asana to capture that. And we'll know what needs to be done synchronously, and know that synchronous work can be that much more accountable used in tandem with a tool like Asana.

Asana sees accountability as an important selling point for its solution, because the tool records actions, allows people to see who's doing what, and keeps track of what's been completed. The new integration to add Zoom call transcripts to an Asana task adds a new source of accountability, providing a record of action points agreed during the call. This extra level of digitally enabled record keeping is one example of habits formed during the pandemic lockdown that are likely to continue after people move to a new hybrid pattern of work once offices open up again, Hood believes.

Asana's enterprise push will also be helped by its recent status as a public company after a NYSE direct listing at the end of September that gave it a $4 billion valuation. Hood says:

What is a nice byproduct from going public is that we have a stronger megaphone. We're able to have more credibility and more name recognition with CIOs who are working through this transition. It gives us a new way to talk to them.

My take

Connecting up workflows across several different applications is becoming a recurring theme from digital teamwork vendors at the moment. That's not surprising, as our model of a collaborative canvas for enterprise digital teamwork has always emphasized connecting across the various patterns of teamwork. What's interesting about Asana's stance is the focus on tight integration with a select inner circle of core partners rather than a broader ecosystem of vendors.

Will this fly with the enterprise buyers Asana now seems to be targeting? There's certainly a ready audience for this kind of message in the wake of the pandemic. It hits upon a pain point that's hurting right now as organizations find their dependence on digital forms of collaboration is not proving as efficient as it could be, due to a lack of co-ordination across the different tools. But with every vendor in the space pitching an integration message right now, Asana will need to do more to cut through.