Team communication service Slack today announced a new product designed to help its software scale to organizations with tens of thousands of employees. It’s called Slack Enterprise Grid, and it’s essentially a rethinking of the core app. It takes new features, critical design changes, and other alterations that make Slack easier to use and more efficient for corporations that are large and sprawling.
For those familiar with Slack, this new product doesn’t change much about how you use the app to communicate with your co-workers, get work done, and go about your day. For those in administrative roles, however, Slack Enterprise Grid is supposed to tackle how large companies are organized and how a myriad number of smaller teams are able to work together.
For instance, now companies will be able to create an unlimited number of “workspaces,” which is Slack’s parlance for different instances of its app that have a one unified login system and various channels. As it stands today, a company of maybe 500 people relies on just one Slack workspace. For a company with, say, 18,000 employees, this doesn’t work — or at least not as well as it should. What ends up happening is that smaller teams within a company use Slack while remaining disconnected from the way the rest of the organization operates, the company says.
Now, Slack says marketing can have one workspace, while sales can have another. Customers of this new enterprise version will have the ability to talk across teams with shared channels, while an administrative layer helps wrap everything together. That means you can still find and message co-workers in Slack who work in entirely different departments, and features like search allow you to pull data, files, or messages from across every available channel and team you’re a part of.
Slack is quick to point out that its existing standard and plus tiers are not necessarily unfit for larger organizations. “Slack has worked with some of the largest companies in the world. We have many customers that have 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 people at their companies,” says Slack co-founder Stewart Butterfield. “But it’s been a slow organic bottom-up evolution.” In other words, small teams pick up on Slack and then spread it to the rest of the company, or as far as it can go. What the Enterprise Grid product allows for, Butterfield points out, is a smoother, faster, and more complete transition from a previous system over to Slack.
The company, which has about 5 million people logging in every day, hopes to expand its customer base to some of the largest industries in the world. Slack says it now has FINRA and HIPAA certifications, so it can be used by health care companies and large medical organizations. It’s also adding security and privacy integrations with encryption, data loss prevention providers, and other third parties that should help Slack be more appealing to companies in finance, government, and telecommunications. As of today, the company says it’s already deployed its new enterprise product to companies like IBM, PayPal, and Capital One.
Yet as Slack moves into larger companies, it will have to contend with the reality of how slow-moving, legacy industries work. That means wrestling with the notion that a new communication tool and another app to contend with might create more noise, especially as employees juggle email and other workflow necessities that Slack won’t be able to completely eliminate. To that end, Butterfield says the company’s SLI team, for Search, Learning and Intelligence, is working on new methods to harness artificial intelligence to combat information overload.
Some of these include more robust universal search, daily briefings, and channel highlights to help people make sense of what’s happening on Slack without spending hours reading backlogs and catching up. Slack’s early investment in bots helps in this respect, but in a greater sense it involves more serious investment in how to make sense of human language and train software to understand what’s truly important. “There’s a holy grail for us and this is not just a single feature we’re going to launch,” Butterfield says. “This is a multi-decade quest, to try to harvest that info out of the conversations people are already having and making it available to people.”