Slack, a popular communication channel-oriented app and service, has experienced phenomenal growth since it was formally launched during early 2014, and is one of the most prominent “unicorn” (venture-backed startups with valuations of more than a billion dollars) case studies.
Slack’s success and its potential applicability for enterprise communication, collaboration, and content management needs serve to beg the question of how Slack fits relative to Office 365. In this post, we’ll provide a quick overview of Slack and its fit in the broader communication/collaboration market, consider Slack’s enterprise potential, and assess how Slack can be positioned relative to Office 365.
As the post subtitle suggests, and as a preview of the rest of the post: we believe Slack is an impressive offering but that it’s also highly redundant with Office 365 apps and services, and that Slack is not complementary for enterprises that are effectively leveraging all that Office 365 has to offer. As such, we believe many enterprises using Slack today will eventually seek to migrate conversations, files, and other enterprise resources they have captured in Slack to Office 365.
The Slack Stack Attack
Slack essentially started as an Internet Relay Chat (IRC)-like solution with compelling mobile client applications and has since expanded to address other types of communication and content sharing. Here’s a snapshot of the Slack desktop user experience:
Slack Desktop User Experience (Source: Slack Product Page)
The company has been very effective at leveraging many of the market dynamics we reviewed in an earlier blog post (on leveraging new enterprise content/collaboration opportunities with Office 365), and has also developed an impressive ecosystem of partners offering integration and extension tools. Some specifics about how Slack has leveraged related market dynamics:
Mobile: Slack offers intuitive and responsive client apps for Android and iOS devices, and has a Windows Phone app in beta as of 2/2016 (it also offers desktop apps for Mac OS, Windows, and Linux, with the latter in beta as of 2/2016)
Cloud: Slack is exclusively cloud-based, built on Amazon’s AWS public cloud platform, and has been able to rapidly scale up and extend its service (it doesn’t offer an on-premises option); Slack has also used related cloud market dynamics to offer integration options with a wide variety of systems and services (such as Salesforce and other SaaS apps, either directly or via partners such as Zapier)
Social: Slack’s user experience offers a range of actions that are familiar to people who have used leading consumer-oriented social tools/services such as Facebook and Twitter; popular social capabilities include conversation threads, simple sharing (e.g., conversations, files, and posts), @mentions, and more
Big data analytics and machine learning: Slack logs a wide range of user activities, and the Slack pricing guide page references a forthcoming Enterprise edition which will include “organization-wide reporting, metrics & analytics;” it’s probably safe to assume those features will be similar to some of the capabilities offered by Microsoft’s Office Graph and Delve
Modern user experience: Slack’s user experience helps people stay focused and working in context through the use of modern hypertext conventions, and makes it easy to communicate with a variety of resource types (e.g., links to Web pages, images, and more)
Revitalized productivity tools and services: Slack has a complementary fit with cloud file services, with straightforward options for sharing (and managing conversations about) files managed in services such as Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive
Another important industry trend Slack has effectively leveraged is the “freemium” business model. Slack users can create teams in Slack and use a wide range of capabilities at no cost, with per-user billing available for more advanced capabilities (see the Slack pricing guide for details). This approach makes it very simple for project teams to get started with Slack, and many small- to medium-sized businesses can probably address many of their communication needs without having to upgrade to a fee-based Slack service option.
Slack has been especially effective in addressing longstanding enterprise user frustration with email overload and with traditional enterprise communication/collaboration/content platforms that, in the past, evolved slowly and often weren’t best-of-breed for specific needs.
When considered in the communication/collaboration framework included in our previous post (How to Avoid the Collaboration Curse), however, it’s important to note that Slack, architecturally, is primarily a communication channel-based service. It includes some basic file storage and sharing features, for example, and integrates with a wide range of collaborative workspace-based tools/services, but Slack does not directly offer collaborative workspace-oriented capabilities. Revisiting the framework introduced in the previous post, with Slack’s primary focus areas circled in red:
Slack’s Focus in the Communication/Collaboration Framework (circled in red)
Slack started with a primary focus on asynchronous messaging-based communication channels (similar to the IRC model) and has expanded to include a range of information architecture and platform services (e.g., file sharing and user profiles). It doesn’t directly support traditional blog features, although a personal channel could be used as a blog, with reverse-chronologically-sequenced messages and comments.
For synchronous communication, Slack also includes presence awareness (i.e., you can see which other team members are currently online) and effectively real-time instant messaging (both in Slack channels and in direct messages to other users or groups of users). A recent TechCrunch article describes Slack plans to add voice and video capabilities, which will make it more directly competitive with Skype and other real-time communication tools/services.
However, Slack does not directly address collaboration-related needs such as workspace-based document libraries and lists, or conversations associated with workspaces rather than communication channels. This aspect of Slack’s architectural focus highlights the strategic importance of Slack working with partners such as Box and Dropbox to expand the scope of collaboration/content capabilities Slack users can address, although that approach also raises additional enterprise security and governance considerations.
Slack in the Enterprise
Slack, as of February 2016, had been available (beyond its initial beta program) for two years. This chart highlights its impressive growth trajectory:
Slack Usage History (Source: Slack Blog)
A large portion of Slack’s initial market success has been with small- to medium-sized companies, especially technology-centric startups and organizations for which news tracking and sharing are mission-critical. Slack is also expanding its enterprise-oriented capabilities, in a forthcoming Enterprise edition (in beta as of February 2016) with new features including, in addition to the previously-mentioned organization-wide reporting:
“Federation across multiple teams with a unified team directory
Unified security, data retention and compliance policies across all federated teams
Consolidated billing & administration across teams”
The customer case studies published on the Slack site provide examples of large-scale Slack deployments including Dow Jones, eBay, Harvard University, NASA, Salesforce, Samsung, and The Wall Street Journal. Slack’s security practices are also highly relevant for large organizations exploring Slack.
For a set of perspectives about Slack’s suitability for general enterprise requirements, a recent Quora conversation, Will Slack succeed with large enterprises?, is a useful resource to explore. The Quora conversation suggests there are some open questions about Slack’s enterprise scalability, but many of the people contributing to the conversation are ardent Slack advocates who believe the service has a bright future in enterprise deployments.
Slack and Office 365
If Microsoft’s strategic communication/collaboration/content offerings were still centered on traditional and on-premises versions of Exchange and SharePoint, Slack would have a highly complementary fit. Microsoft has also invested in some Slack integration capabilities, including Slack/Skype integration for Slack customers that want to extend the range of synchronous communication tools they can directly use within Slack. Third-party integration specialists offer a variety of Slack integration options for on-premises Microsoft products, such as Zapier’s connector for Slack and Exchange.
However, when considering the innovations Microsoft has delivered in Office 365, it’s clear that Slack is more competitive than complementary. Enterprises that are effectively leveraging Office 365, including features such as Office 365 Groups, Delve, and the Office Graph, will find that Slack is in many respects a small subset of Office 365. Microsoft also continues to aggressively invest in new capabilities, such as multifaceted organization analytics driven by the Office Graph. In addition, Microsoft offers integration capabilities similar to those available with Slack, such as Office 365 Connectors for Groups (in Developer Preview as of February 2016) that facilitate seamless integration with external services such as Twitter and Trello.
Migrating from Slack to Office 365
Considering the competitive relationship between Slack and Office 365 and the fact that Office 365 builds on a much deeper and wider foundation of tools and infrastructure services (with many of the latter directly provided by Azure), we believe that most Office 365 customers will consider Slack, if they have previously deployed it, to be primarily a migration source for their Office 365 platform.
Slack conversations can be mapped and migrated to Office 365 Groups, for example, and files managed in Slack can be migrated to OneDrive for Business or SharePoint document libraries. The resources migrated to Office 365 will be incorporated into the Office Graph and made securely discoverable via tools such as Delve.
Please contact CASAHL if you’d like to learn about how CASAHL’s migration solution can help you get the most value from your Slack-managed resources by mapping and migrating them to corresponding Office 365 tools and services.