Slack woos developers with new ways of connecting to apps

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright May 22, 2018
Opening its developer conference today, Slack doubles down on connecting to applications with a new API that brings more functions into the messaging layer

Slack Actions - Visualization 370px

To mark the opening of Spec, its first-ever developer conference, in San Francisco this morning, Slack is doubling down on integrations to other applications. The popular team messaging platform is already able to plug functions from other applications into its own message streams. The new functionality, called Actions, operates in the other direction, making it possible to pick up content from within a message stream and send it out to the likes of Zendesk, Hubspot, Jira or Asana, complete with a link back to the original conversation within Slack.

The goal is to increase Slack's appeal as a place where people go to get work done, explains Brian Elliott, GM of platform at Slack, who pre-briefed us a few days ago:

Slack is a collaboration hub. If we're going to be an open platform and a hub, we need to be able to interact with the other applications people use.

From a user perspective, it's the ability to use all of your tools simultaneously and share context between them that makes this really useful.

Actions connect messages to apps

Using Actions, it's now possible to create a task, comment, or follow-up from any Slack message in a range of tools including Zendesk, Asana, Hubspot, Bitbucket, Jira, and several others — "Great examples of best-of-breed software targeting the classic Slack tech knowledge worker," says Elliott.

For example, a message from a coworker asking you to do something can now be turned into an Asana task from within Slack in just a couple of clicks. Previously that would have meant opening up Asana to create the task and then copying the details across.

A published API allows any developer to create their own custom actions, paving the way for enterprise developers to link to their own in-house applications, as well as encouraging a broad range of commercial integrations. The developer can define a set of actions, and that list of actions can then be accessed from within Slack along with a set of options from the target application.

Once the connection out to the application has been created, it includes a link back to the originating message in Slack. This makes it easy to view the context where the original conversation took place, in case further background is needed at any time. Says Elliott:

You're linking it back to Slack in a way that you preserve all the context in Slack.

It's the kind of human-centric, user-centric design that we're always after.

Enterprise developers using Slack

Integrations to other applications are becoming a routine part of how enterprises are using Slack — the functionality launched today will likely accelerate that trend. Already, 94% of paid teams on Slack use apps and integrations to get their work done every week, according to Slack, and customers build no less than fifteen thousand new internal integrations every week, with 65% of paid teams using internal integrations. There are more than 200,000 developers building on the platform and over 1,500 apps in the Slack App Directory.

One example of an internal enterprise app comes from the newsroom at the LA Times, where Slack has streamlined the process of picking up a newly published story and adding it to the home page on its website. This used to be a seven-step process. "Now, you just click a button" in the Slack message stream, writes Andrew Briz, an intern on the LA Times data desk.

Today's event gives many of those enterprise developers an opportunity to swap stories. The agenda is focused on knowledge exchange, says Elliott:

The sessions are predominantly our developers showing each other what they've done.

They will also be able to confer with representatives of some of the leading enterprise platforms that Slack links to, including Google, Workday, SAP, Salesforce, Oracle, ServiceNow and others.

Slack is also taking the opportunity to announce six new investments that have been made through the Slack Fund it set up with a group of leading venture capital firms to encourage development on its platform. This brings the total of investments so far to 38, eleven of whom have since gone on to raise additional capital.

My take

While the chatter around Slack focuses on its addictive messaging — evidenced yesterday by the various reactions to an unfamiliar bout of downtime — much of Slack's success in the enterprise market is down to its easy integration into the applications people use for their day-to-day work.

Today's announcements take that integration to a new level, adding an important extra ingredient that means people can now do even more in a range of crucial applications without ever having to leave the Slack messaging layer. This is a big reinforcement of the trend towards what I've been calling headless applications — one that Slack partner Workday for example is clearly embracing. Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri recently endorsed this trend:

I do think over time transactions will be more and more automated. The fact that they’re visible through other systems is fine ... over time transactions are going to be more and more commoditized. I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon, probably over the next five years. As long as the transactions get done and customers are happy, I’m fine with that.

This trend means that the messaging layer becomes more and more important as the fulcrum of where work gets done. Slack's focus on bringing more and more application functionality into its ambit is an astute strategic move that is helping to bolster its position against strong competition as the enterprise workplace of choice.