Salesforce-owned digital teamwork platform Slack has announced two big new features for the opening of this year’s Dreamforce conference.
- The Slack canvas is a new collaborative workspace in Slack that can be integrated into channels as a placeholder for links to relevant documents, data, and workflows.
- The Slack platform, now in open beta, combines building block components and no-code workflow templates, plus the ability for professional coders to create custom components and host them in Slack, even when connecting third-party applications.
See my take on it below for a detailed analysis of what this means for Slack, but here’s the tl; dr – Slack has now become a complete platform for enterprise digital teamwork.
Slack Canvas won’t be available until next year, but when it does arrive it will bring a new content surface to what started out as a pure messaging platform. While messaging is well-suited to real-time, in-the-moment teamwork, it’s not a medium that works well for long-running projects or those revolving around creating and editing contents. While Slack has always had the ability to segment conversations into channels specific to a single team, topic, or project, these haven’t had a convenient place to “pin” key information and content that all participants should keep to the point. This is where the canvas comes in.
Slack Canvas is more than a digital document. It is a workspace that can integrate static documents, workflows, real-time data, and information from other applications. If anyone familiar with Salesforce thinks it sounds a bit like Quip, the collaborative document platform founded by Bret Taylor, now co-CEO of Salesforce, then it’s no coincidence. According to Tamar Yehoshua, Product Manager at Slack:
You all remember Quip, and if you’ve used Quip, that gives us some of the canvas stuff. We’ve taken Quip’s collaborative components and integrated them natively into Slack. And that’s the Slack canvas.
Slack Canvas is a persistent layer of information that captures responses. It allows you to align and complement the real-time nature of Slack channels.
A canvas can be shared as a channel, or it can be associated with a specific channel, including channels shared with external collaborators. It can embed text, videos, documents, checklists, curated lists of Slack channels or profiles, or links to external content such as YouTube videos from Twitter feeds, with the ability to display external links as a pop-up card without leaving the canvas. Even more powerful is the ability to integrate workflows and connections to other applications. Yehoshua clarifies:
Any workflow you create in Slack, you can embed directly into the canvas. And you can request it, run it, and run it right from the canvas. This allows you to update an account opportunity through integrations with Sales Cloud. You can update a case through integrations with Service Cloud directly in the canvas. And you can extract data from your system of record.
All integrations with Customer 360, you can integrate them directly into your canvas. So any integrations you have will appear here in the canvas with Sales Cloud, Tableau Analytics, or Google Workplace. Any third party can also comment on the canvas, and the comments are integrated into a Slack thread. So whatever features you have in a Slack thread, you’re going to have them for your canvas feedback.
Suggested use cases for Slack Canvas include sharing key business information in an account channel, onboarding new team members, managing marketing campaigns, gathering information for executive briefings, or incident report follow-up. Many more are expected to emerge once customers can get their hands on the new feature.
Much of today’s Slack platform announcement is a revamp of the original announcement from last year, but now available in open beta for developers to work with the toolkit. . Here is a brief summary of the key elements:
- The new platform extends Slack’s existing drag-and-drop workflow builder with the ability to compose workflows from building block functions.
- These reusable workflow building blocks can be created by developers using a command line interface (CLI) and software development kit (SDK) built using TypeScript. The SDK targets the open-source Deno runtime, a more secure implementation of node.js that is increasingly being adopted for composable web applications.
- Functions and data can be stored and executed natively on Slack. Functions can connect to external apps using Slack credentials and, by passing metadata, act as a connection between third-party apps.
- Starting today, there is a new library of sharable and customizable templates that provide a starting point for a wide range of workflows, including incident response, PTO requests, approval contract, budget review, daily position statement, request for help, congratulations from the team and many more.
- Workflows are started with a customizable trigger or link that can be event-driven, scheduled, or selected by a user from a Slack message, channel favorites bar, thread discussion and, from next year, integrated into a framework.
Today also sees the general availability of the previously announced update to bring video, screen sharing and reacji to Slack huddles, extending the reach of this impromptu conversations tool.
Why do I say it’s the majority of Slack? That’s because canvas adds the crucial missing piece that elevates Slack from a simple messaging channel to a full-fledged digital teamwork platform. For a long time I’ve written about the shape of what diginomica calls the collaborative canvas for digital teamwork, which must address four distinct models of teamwork: conversation and messaging, content, functional, and workflow. . Slack amply fulfills the first of them, and with its growing connections to third-party apps as well as its composable workflow builder, it has expanded the latter two. Canvas now supports content in a way a messaging channel could never do on its own. At the same time, it provides a more flexible format for anchor functions and workflow.
That doesn’t mean I think Slack will now replace Box, Dropbox, or Google Workspace as the primary enterprise content management platform. These platforms have much more specialized functionality to manage content that remains beyond the scope of the Slack canvas. But what Slack will have, once it delivers the canvas, is the ability to act as a coordinating layer that covers all of the various more specialized pockets of digital teamwork across the enterprise. Very few players in digital teamwork have that kind of reach.
The other intriguing element of this announcement, as well as others this week at Dreamforce, is how well it resonates with the points I was making last week when discussing what I call levelless architecture composable computing. First, there’s the close collaboration the Slack platform entails between pro developers and pro app makers, where pros can use the drag-and-drop, no-code workflow builder. to assemble workflow automations, but may call on their fellow developers. to provide missing building blocks as needed. My term for this type of no-code, pro-code collaboration is co-code.
Second, there’s the move towards composability, with Slack acting as the engagement layer through which users interact with features and resources. I call the architecture levelless because it breaks with the old pattern of having to go through an application layer to access the underlying data. This of course threatens to break traditional monolithic applications, of which Salesforce itself is an example. But maybe Salesforce is already anticipating that by dividing itself into more composable building blocks, not just here with what Slack does, but maybe also at the data layer with Genie. It’s an idea I’ll explore when I talk to Salesforce executives over the next few days at Dreamforce.
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