What’s coming next for Slack? Plenty

Slack previewed several new features it’s working on for future releases of its popular collaboration software, including advanced security controls and better e-discovery.

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Martyn Williams

SAN FRANCISCO – At Frontiers, the Slack users conference held here this week, company officials shared a roadmap of new features, including many designed specifically for enterprise customers, that the company plans to release during the next 12 months.

Several additions are in the works for Enterprise Grid, the enterprise version of Slack released in January. Enterprise Grid includes advanced security controls and  user and administrative functions for an unlimited number of workspaces. It also includes an e-discovery API that lets companies capture content.

Slack plans to take e-discovery a step further by creating a log that captures all system and policy changes, e-invitations, guests joining channels, file downloads, log-in attempts and other events. The idea is to give companies more ability to monitor what’s happening inside Slack for analysis and security.

“This log is going to be exposed as a REST-based API so you can integrate into it third-party monitoring tools such as Splunk, and Summo Logic or any of our partners such as Palo Alto Networks,” said Ilan Frank, head of enterprise product at Slack.

Enterprise Grid admins and others can already approve and restrict apps at the work-space level, but Slack plans to expand that to the broader organization.

“Now we’re building an app that incorporates governance and the ability for an organization to approve or restrict apps at the organizations level,” said Frank. “The workspaces will still remain autonomous and able to install apps, but now they inherit the rules that are set at the organizational level.”

Enterprise Grid lets users share multiple work channels internally, but a new Channel Administration feature in the works functions as a kind of mega-channel.

“Imagine hundreds of thousands of employees all in one channel,” said Frank. “Combined with the rich text editing we have coming, this is going to be a great way to get the word out in large organizations.”

Enterprise Grid users can also expect to see the release of “unified workspaces” in the next year that will let employees see content from across different workspaces – all in one place.

What can Slack tell about how a company works?

Noah Weiss, who heads the Search, Learning, & Intelligence team at Slack, said the company is tackling some challenging enterprise issues. (It already unveiled Shared Channels this week as one step in that direction.)

“When we talk to senior executives and CXOs who have already bought into Slack, the really big question they have is, ‘What can Slack tell me about how my organization is working?’ There is a tremendous opaqueness to how people are collaborating and how the workflow is happening,” said Weiss.

While he didn’t provide details, Weiss said Slack is building “a new type of organizational telemetry” powered by the data in Slack that companies “from 500 to 500,000 employees” will be able to use to reveal trends in how work flows throughout an organization. This could include things like how experts are being discovered by Slack users and how topics amass.

“You will get a kind of bird’s eye view of what’s happening in Slack across your company,” he said.

Weiss and his team are also working on ways to make it easy to get at the information you need without a lot of clutter or distraction.

“Candidly, you can easily be overwhelmed by how much there is to read in Slack. We’re tackling that head on,” said Weiss.

Prioritizing channels

New features “coming soon” include the ability to prioritize Slack channels in a user’s sidebar. The system will use machine learning to analyze all the ways a user engages with Slack, such as the channels read most often. how the user interacts with them and who gets the quickest replies; users will also gain the ability to reorder the sidebar in a more personalized way.

“It will be more like an inbox showing what you should read first, instead of a directory,” said Weiss.

Later, Slack will add the ability to collapse sections so only high priority channels are shown. “It’s letting you have a more Zen feel to your workday,” said Weiss.

Slack also has plans to revamp and enhance its search functionality so the system isn’t only looking at messages, but discussions that may be archived or content from someone considered an expert on specific topics.

“All of these answers will be personalized to you based on how you use Slack,” said Weiss.  

Slack also plans to respond to what Weiss said is “one of the biggest feature requests” the company gets: making it easier to use filters.

“We understand Slack has powerful filters, but you have to understand a whole new syntax to be able to use them,” said Weiss, who admitted he himself probably knows only half the available filters.

Slack plans to overhaul the system away from command line entries to make it part of the user interface.

“It will feel more like shopping for flights or products online,” said Weiss. And again, the company will use A.I. so that over time the filters will make suggestions that take in account the people and channels a user relies on most.

“The more you use Slack, the more predictive it will be over time,” said Weiss.

Slack 101 for organizations

Slack has long offered an onboarding class for new employees called Slack 101. It not only gives an overview of the software, but the company’s cultural values and sense of community.

Now, it plans to allow its customers to do the same thing.

Slack 101 will feature interactive onboarding guides for employees. “Companies will be able to customize it so you can instill the unique values and collaboration etiquette in your culture,” said Frank.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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