Slack’s Platform plan: To be ‘the central nervous system’ of businesses everywhere

Steve Wood joined Slack three months ago as head of Platform, and he wants to turn the chat app into a way to understand everything happening inside a company.

Slack workflows

Slack's move beyond just communication starts with Workflows, helping connect apps to each other (and Slack).

Photo: Slack

Not long after Steve Wood joined Slack in June, as a VP of product for its developer platform, he had a sort of an epiphany. Slack, it turns out, is really good at what Wood calls "events." An event, in his world, is any moment that matters to a business: a lead comes in, a server goes down, a sale is closed, code is committed. Lots of companies use Slack to talk about these moments and to figure out what to do next. But Wood wanted to do even more.

In his first three months at the company, that's how Wood and his team have come to talk about Slack Platform, its tools that allow developers to build their own apps and workflows within Slack. They talk about "the event-driven enterprise" and giving companies and users the ability to know everything important that's happening in their company, no matter where it's happening or how it's being tracked.

At its Slack Frontiers conference, Wood announced new features for Platform users, like the ability to roll out a new app across an entire organization and an increased security profile for enterprise apps. Ahead of his keynote, Wood explained his vision for Platform — and for Slack's future as more than just a place to chat with co-workers.

Steve Wood Steve Wood, Slack's VP of product for Platform.Photo: Slack

Ultimately, Wood said, Slack could act like a traffic cop, telling users what to focus on without forcing them to check a dozen browser tabs or in-app notifications. "The thing with events is that the value of them often degrades with time," Wood said. Stock price changes matter only in the moment; new business leads are far more likely to pan out if they get a call in the first hour. "It's not that our customers aren't already doing this," Wood said, "but we had this idea to take the world of system events to the world of human events, and then bring the two together and have Slack Platform be that mediation layer that kind of manages between the two."

Done poorly, that sounds like notification hell, an endless stream of tiny changes that mostly don't matter. Done right, it turns Slack into the first place people check to see what's happening in every part of the company. Doing it right will be tough, Wood acknowledged: They're working with IBM's Watson to better contextualize and personalize these updates, and will rely on developers and users to figure out for themselves what's important and what isn't.

What Slack doesn't want to be is a full-fledged workplace a la Office or the new Google Workspace. Wood said that Stewart Butterfield likes to joke that building a best-of-breed messaging system is hard enough, without also trying to do the same for spreadsheets and CRMs. "If we become that sort of central nervous system, where events are coming in that need human attention, then all of a sudden we drive the workflows that go back to the systems that are really great at what they do." He's happy to let Salesforce do Salesforce things and Zoom do Zoom things, and Slack can be the jumping-off point for all of them. Slack likes to say that the 2% of your software budget you spend on Slack makes the other 98% more useful.

The other thing Wood is working on is making it easier for people to build these apps and workflows in Slack. He spoke proudly of the fact that 175,000 people have built workflows for Slack, and 77% of them are classified as "non-technical." Slack's now working with Zapier to bring its huge library of integrations into Slack, too. In theory, many of the workflows that currently require human intervention could soon happen entirely automatically, with only a notification showing up in Slack that everything is done and dusted.

The trick with making all those foolproof no-code tools, though, is that they can often prevent tech teams from building more powerful, custom things they need to run their business. That's where Wood said some of Slack's Platform APIs will come in. "I tend to bifurcate the platform a little bit," he said. "We have this no-code piece, which is really to empower our Slack customers and allow them to do more. And then we have the developers that can extend those things. But I see less of a model where one would jump between those two things." The no-code opportunity seems to be the larger one for Slack, though.

Slack's main project continues to be interpersonal communication. At Frontiers the company announced new ways for users to connect with people outside of their organization, new ideas about audio and video chat, and more. But remember: Slack is trying to kill email. And the only way to kill email is to kill the notifications, the status updates, the "something happened" notes that clutter too many inboxes. If Slack can move those into Slack, and make them a little smarter, that's one less reason to ever check email.

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep Reading Show less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep Reading Show less
FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep Reading Show less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories
Bulletins