Protocol | Enterprise

Troops, a 'Slackbot for Salesforce,' is cozying up to Microsoft

Slack and Salesforce helped Troops get off the ground, but the sales-automation startup is helping Microsoft build up the ecosystem of bots for Teams.

Microsoft Teams is getting a new partner.

Microsoft Teams is getting a new partner.

Photo: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

For Microsoft Teams, the challenge is no longer getting partners to build integrations. Instead, the next hurdle is deepening those links to capture more of the daily work within an organization.

That's evident in the announcement by Microsoft on Tuesday that Troops.ai would join its startup program. The six-year-old company specializes in helping application providers connect into both Teams and Slack, as well as to other third-party software, tapping into a booming demand from enterprises to enable their employees to quickly build applications that begin to automate common business processes.

Troops is a relatively small startup, but the symbolic shift is clear. Troops was one of the earliest investments by the Slack Fund, and it called itself a "Slackbot for Salesforce." With Salesforce in the process of buying Slack, Microsoft is cozying up to a key partner that's delivering on some of the integration the merging companies are promising their deal will deliver.

Microsoft is not taking an equity stake in Troops, but the product teams will work closely together, indicating that Troops.ai's technology could play a bigger role in Microsoft's offerings in the future. Troops.ai will also migrate to Azure, which will plunge the company much deeper into the Microsoft universe. Despite that, Troops.ai CEO Dan Reich says the partnership with Slack (and by proxy, Salesforce) will be unchanged.

"We're going to continue to work with our customers, Slack included, and we're continuing to invest in the Slack ecosystem," he told Protocol.

This isn't the first time Microsoft has targeted a close Slack partner. In 2018, for example, the company acquired Slack-backed XOXCO, which developed the Botkit framework highlighted at the Slack Platform launch. Slack is just as close with Troops.ai; in addition to being one of the company's first startup investments, it's also a customer.

But while it could bruise some egos, Troops.ai joining Microsoft's startup program is not a huge blow to Slack or Salesforce. Its tech isn't revolutionary and functions similarly to an iPaaS vendor. Even Reich admits that others, including Microsoft, could duplicate it with enough engineering prowess. Troops' differentiator, he says, comes from doubling down on Slack and Teams and enabling customers to build applications on those platforms in drag-and-drop fashion.

"If you look at these ecosystems, what's happened is every different app or company tries to build their integration in a very, very different way," said Reich, which ultimately doesn't solve the problem of workers having to hop from application to application. "It's not about integration, it's much more about how they will run their most important business processes because that is where their people are living," he added.

Salesforce, of course, bought MuleSoft for this very reason. The strength of that pairing was evident in Salesforce's latest product offering, which will allow customers to pull in data from a variety of sources to one platform.

For Microsoft, Troops.ai helps to solve a key hurdle for the company, which is users leaving Teams to work within the native applications. The partnership appears to be a recognition that Microsoft can't just simply rush to increase the number of application providers that integrate into the platform. Instead, those links need to be deeper in order to deliver value for customers. And that requires courting vendors to invest the resources into making that possible.

"If you want to keep chasing $10,000 [small business] deals the rest of your life, then stay on Slack," said Jeff Ma, the vice president of Microsoft's startup program. "But if you really want to build for the enterprise and get million-dollar deals, the enterprise is on Teams."

Protocol | China

Beijing meets an unstoppable force: Chinese parents and their children

Live-in tutors disguised as nannies, weekday online tutoring classes and adult gaming accounts for rent. Here's how citizens are finding ways to skirt Beijing's diktats.

Citizens in China are experienced at cooking up countermeasures when Beijing or governments come down with rigid policies.

Photo: Liu Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

During the summer break, Beijing handed down a parade of new regulations designed to intervene in youth education and entertainment, including a strike against private tutoring, a campaign to "cleanse" the internet and a strict limit on online game playing time for children. But so far, these seemingly iron-clad rules have met their match, with students and their parents quickly finding workarounds.

Grassroots citizens in China are experienced at cooking up countermeasures when Beijing or governments come down with rigid policies. Authorities then have to play defense, amending holes in their initial rules.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. She can be reached at shenlu@protocol.com.


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Protocol | Policy

Google and Microsoft are at it again, now over government software

The on-again, off-again battle between the two companies flared up again when Google commissioned a study on how much the U.S. government relies on Microsoft software.

Google and Microsoft are in a long-running feud that has once again flared up in recent months.

Photo: Jens Tandler/EyeEm/Getty Images

According to a new report commissioned by Google, Microsoft has an overwhelming "share in the U.S. government office productivity software market," potentially leading to security risks for local, state and federal governments.

The five-page document, released Tuesday by a trade group that counts Google as a member, represents the latest escalation between the two companies in a long-running feud that has once again flared up in recent months.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

People

Facebook wants to kill the family iPad

Facebook has built the first portable smart display, and is introducing a new household mode that makes it easier to separate work from play.

Facebook's new Portal Go device will go on sale for $199 in October.

Photo: Facebook

Facebook is coming for the coffee table tablet: The company on Tuesday introduced a new portable version of its smart display called Portal Go, which promises to be a better communal device for video calls, media consumption and many of the other things families use iPads for.

Facebook also announced a revamped version of its Portal Pro device Tuesday, and introduced a new household mode to Portals that will make it easier to share these devices with everyone in a home without having to compromise on working-from-home habits. Taken together, these announcements show that there may be an opening for consumer electronics companies to meet this late-pandemic moment with new device categories.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Protocol | Policy

The techlash is threatening human rights around the world

Some 48 countries introduced laws to regulate tech last year. But researchers say many of those laws are just attempts at censorship and surveillance.

In its latest report, Freedom House President Michael Abramowitz said, "We really see free expression and privacy as under unprecedented strain."

Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Governments around the world are seizing on widespread frustrations with Big Tech as justification for a spate of increasingly restrictive laws governing online speech, a new report finds, a trend that researchers say puts both free expression and the fate of tech companies' overseas employees at risk.

Over the last year alone, some 48 countries worldwide introduced — and in some cases, passed — laws to regulate tech companies, according to the latest report by Freedom House, a nonprofit that publishes an annual survey on internet freedoms in 70 countries. While those laws have often been passed in the name of promoting competition, protecting people's data and moderating offensive content, the report's authors say that, in many cases, these laws are merely thinly veiled attempts to force companies into censorship and surveillance.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

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