The work-from-home revolution has prompted some dramatic changes in work patterns and some intriguing responses from vendors. In an example of the latter, today sees the launch of Salesforce Anywhere, a new app that builds real-time team chat, notification alerts, comments and video conferencing directly into a user's normal CRM workflow as part of the Salesforce experience.
This is by no means Salesforce's first foray into in-app collaboration — it's had Chatter messaging for a decade now (more on that in moment) — but this is the first time it's offered anything to rival the rich digital teamwork tooling of the likes of Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Facebook Workplace or Cisco Webex.
There's other news from Salesforce today as the company gears up for the opening of its TrailheaDX developer event in the next few hours. To help companies support their newly distributed workforces, it's announcing a partnership with Tanium to help provide remote IT support, as well as introducing the Employee Data Model — a new set of standard objects and fields for use when developing employee apps. This has already been used in the recently launched Work.com bundle and has been built to the Common Information Model (CIM) to ease integration and interoperability with enterprise people management systems. Salesforce will also unveil new industry-specific technology arising from its acquisition of Vlocity earlier this year.
But it's the Salesforce Anywhere announcement that takes center stage in today's announcements. Expected to be available in beta globally in July, via desktop and a native iOS app, and generally available before the end of the year, these are the features highlighted in today's announcement:
- Stay up to speed from anywhere — Users or teams can subscribe to real-time alerts for any changes and updates made within Salesforce, such as a deal advancing to a new stage or a service case getting revolved or escalated.
- Collaborate in context — Teammates can start chatting, via instant message or video, while viewing the same page within Salesforce. This new native real-time chat and video capability is powered by Amazon Chime technology, while Zoom will also be offered as an out-of-the-box integration. Screen sharing isn't needed, says Salesforce, because users can always see which teammates are working on the same Salesforce page, and can even follow teammates to other parts of Salesforce to keep in sync virtually.
- Take action in the moment — Use in-line comments to add feedback to any part of a record that needs discussion, or follow personalized suggested actions offered by Einstein.
What about Slack, Teams - or Chatter?
Salesforce emphasizes that these new capabilities, especially when combined with its existing Quip technology for shared documents and workspaces, allow all team collaboration to be done directly within Salesforce, securely governed by its permissions infrastructure. While customers are free to continue using alternative digital teamwork tools such as Slack or Teams, Salesforce Anywhere will now be the recommended channel for messaging inside Salesforce, says Chief Business Officer Ryan Aytay:
Really Salesforce Anywhere is focused on bringing the power of Customer 360 across all aspects of this work-from-anywhere world. If you think about being able to click into the field level, on the record level, and really understand what's happening across the board, that is Salesforce Anywhere ... Of course we have integrations with others like Slack and Microsoft Teams as well. We'll continue to do that, but this is really about focusing on Salesforce.
But what about Chatter, Salesforce's veteran in-app chat channel still actively used by tens of thousands of users? It's time for Chatter to head off into the sunset, apparently. Aytay again:
Chatter has been an amazing tool. Many of our customers use it. [For] over 10 years now we've had Chatter in place. Chatter will continue to be there. But ultimately as we launch this new application, Salesforce Anywhere, we will of course listen to our customers, we will hear their feedback, and really think about, you know, this modern experience ...
There could be a world where the Salesforce Anywhere app takes over and becomes 'the new Chatter’, if you will, but it's much more than that. It’s much more powerful. It's modern. It's mobile. It's focused across the entire Customer 360 and it's really about being able to collaborate internally, as well as externally with your customers, and then bring that to play.
OK, so it really is the end of Chatter, which when first introduced was way ahead of its time, but has since seen more modern alternatives rise in popularity. Those other digital teamwork platforms have been gradually taking over more and more of the user experience — to the extent that it's now possible to access Salesforce functionality and data using workflow automation in Slack without the user even needing a Salesforce license. Salesforce needed to offer a far richer native collaboration channel to keep that activity and those users within its realm.
This is part of an ongoing battle between application vendors and collaboration platforms as to where is the best place to get work done. Today's launch is in line with the sentiment expressed by former Greylock investor Kevin Kwok writing last summer on the future of collaboration:
When things are running smoothly, work happens in the apps built to produce them. And collaboration happens within them. Going to Slack is increasingly a channel of last resort, for when there’s no established workflow of what to do. And as these functional apps evolve, there are fewer and fewer exceptions that need Slack. In fact, a sign of a maturing company is one that progressively removes the need to use Slack for more and more situations.
My own view, as I responded to Kwok at the time, is to agree that collaboration must exist seamlessly in the flow of work, while recognizing that most people's work inevitably spans more than one specific function. At a time when the trend is towards most people's work spanning a growing number of best-of-breed apps, enterprises are going to have to construct what I call a collaborative canvas for digital teamwork to keep all of this in sync across the organization.
In that context, Aytay's answer about focusing on Salesforce Anywhere in preference to the likes of Slack and Teams falls short of what's really needed — there's going to have to be interoperability between different collaboration tools in an enterprise, otherwise the in-app channels are going to lose out to those that can span across multiple apps. But that's a story for another day because the standardization that would require isn't yet in place. For now, enterprises have to choose what makes most sense for their own users and situation. Salesforce Anywhere brings yet another option to throw into the mix.