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Asana unveils new tools to manage work at enterprise scale

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright October 20, 2021
Work management vendor Asana ups its enterprise pitch with new security and compliance partnerships, improved workflow automation and cross-functional reporting and goal tracking.

Asana goal overview
(image by Asana)

Work management vendor Asana is aiming to appeal directly at the enterprise market with a new raft of announcements today, timed to coincide with the vendor's first event targeted at enterprise buyers. The new capabilities encompass security, administration, scalability, reporting, improved workflow automation and cross-functional goal tracking. They're a response to growing demand from large enterprises for tools to help manage work across distributed teams, says Alex Hood, Chief Product Officer at Asana. "We're crossing the chasm now into more mainstream," he says, adding:

As we serve these larger customers, we have to make the kind of announcements that we're making today, that they're able to do it in a way that best supports cross-departmental work, that supports the C-suite and the individual contributor, and does in a way that's safe and secure for the whole team.

New security and admin features include enterprise key management, support for SCIM to automate group set-up and sync with Okta (and soon Azure AD), and broadcast announcements. An Audit Log API offers SIEM integration to Splunk, making it possible to automatically trigger notifications of unusual behavior, such as an employee attempting logins in multiple regions. A new integration with NetSkope enables Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) capabilities to enforce security and data access policies. Various other partnerships offer additional security, compliance and SaaS management functions, along with platform integrations to IBM App Connect, Salesforce-owned MuleSoft, and Microsoft Power Automate. Noting that Asana now scales up to 100,000+ users in a single enterprise, Hood comments:

Partner integrations for things like data loss prevention, e-discovery, those are the types of tools that five years ago, we weren't focused on in our admin console, because our eyes were more set on smaller teams. It was a lot of work that's gone into this enterprise scalability and security component of Asana, which just means that it's maturing and growing up, as the category is maturing and growing up.

The new point-and-click workflow builder is a significant step up from the previous rules-based workflow function, providing visualization of the various steps, including integrations with other applications and insights into performance. Designed to enable cross-functional processes as well as those that run within a single team or department, it will soon be extended with a library offering pre-built templates that users can then save and customize for their specific needs. Asana sees this ability to span different teams and functions across the enterprise as an important differentiation from other tools. This also comes through in its reporting, which can look at global trends to help identify opportunities to reduce disconnects and logjams across the organization. Hood comments:

Enterprises tend to have matrix management arrangements. It's very difficult if your projects are tracked in a spreadsheet, or a project management application that's a spreadsheet in the back end, to then see how all the work is coming together across teams in one view, without calling a status meeting. So we built robust reporting capability in Asana in the last twelve months, and we're continuing to invest there. The next big piece is time series reporting, so you can track efficiency and progress over time and across multiple divisions, taken together.

Connecting goal management to execution

Goal management is the other enterprise-scale aspect of the Asana offering, built on its enterprise work graph, which collects and analyzes data about work across the organization. Asana Goals then connects that execution data back to the top-level goals that the work is designed to support. This approach to implementing the modern management practice of Objectives and Key Results (OKR) provides a direct connection between the goals and the execution, as Hood explains:

With Asana, there's a direct linkage between the underlying work which we've done with you and the goal itself. So if the goal is red, you can drill five layers into the organization three teams over and see where the issue is, and correct it so that your team can get unblocked.

I think the prominence and importance of the OKR market has shown that setting goals is important. But if you have those goals only live in a spreadsheet, you're not getting the full greatness of setting those goals. When they're hooked into execution inextricably, that's where technology can really help align execution and strategy.

The latest announcement adds an API that plugs external inputs into Asana so that, for example, when a deal closes in Salesforce, that information automatically updates in Asana. So that a team can instantly see that they're a step closer to achieving their current sales goals. Providing this level of transparency about progress is particularly important at a time when people are working outside of the traditional office structure, and have to find new ways of understanding what work is getting done. Hood explains:

At least when you're in the office, the 'work about work' was the work about work you could see. Now you can't even see that work about work. So what are the tools out there to align your organization, get everybody charging up the right hill? Setting goals, and then tracking those goals, is an attractive way to do that. And you can do that in software that also aligns with the intentions and work of individuals on the team. That's where we're coming from.

Improving the work experience

According to research carried out for Asana, that 'work about work' — co-ordinating what needs doing, rather than actually doing it — takes up as much as 63% of people's time in organizations of 5,000 or more employees. The research finds that the problem is compounded for top executives, who on average use 14 different tools in the course of a day's work, switching between them at least 30 times in the course of the day. This is even worse than for those elsewhere in the organization, which means they too will appreciate the impact of a tool like Asana, argues Hood:

Everybody's an individual contributor at some level, trying to amass the information that they need to do the job, to synthesize. That pain point is felt by the C-suite, just as much as the individual contributor is trying to get the context to do their job well.

He emphasizes that it's important to use these tools to help improve the work experience, rather than seeing them as purely a mechanism for driving efficiency. He explains:

We don't see the reporting aspects or even the goal aspects of Asana is being like, how do you squeeze that next level of efficiency out of the same crew? It actually is meant to be like, how do you get this crew to have fewer distractions? How do you get the individuals to spend more time in flow, in focus time? And how do you remove barriers the minute that you find them? Or re-route around drama, so the drama has to never exist?

We really do a lot of user research and design around these benefits for individual contributors, to do great work, to then have shared victories on their team, not to pound out the next unit of productivity. That's a different stance, and how we think about the problem.

My take

This is a very strong pitch to enterprise from Asana, covering a lot of the ground that matters to large organizations on the security and administration front, as well as some important capabilities that will appeal to the more forward-thinking among them. As I commented last year on the launch of Asana Goals, Asana continues to stick to the roadmap it set out at launch, and it's impressive to see it coming to fruition as envisaged.

I continue to see Goals as the most important and ambitious element of Asana's offering. It's not alone among enterprise teamwork players in offering OKR tooling, but both Adobe Workato and Atlassian's Jira Align currently focus more on their favored functional domains, in marketing and development respectively. Meanwhile, Microsoft's acquisition of earlier this month brings another big teamwork player into the mix, but it will take time to integrate those capabilities. This gives Asana a window of opportunity to claim leadership at the very highest level of the digital teamwork maturity model.

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