Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield
Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield at today's unveiling of Slack Enterprise Grid.

Slack took aim at large businesses — and some of its biggest competitors — with today's unveiling of a new enterprise edition.

At a live event in its hometown of San Francisco, representatives from the team collaboration tool demonstrated Slack Enterprise Grid, which allows global teams of up to 500,000 employees to collaborate on one platform. 

Enterprise Features

The features, functionalities and user interface remain largely the same as they are in the existing tool for smallish groups. But the enterprise edition comes with enhancements built specifically for large entities, including security, compliance with FINRA and HIPAA, e-discovery functionality, sharing across multiple teams, one infrastructure layer, centralized controls, enterprise-wide search, unlimited workspaces and data-loss prevention.

Slack debuted its collaboration chat tool in 2013 and quickly skyrocketed to 4 million daily active users and more than one million paid users, all of which led to a $3.8 billion valuation for CEO Stewart Butterfield's tech baby. 

Until today, however, Slack was more of an option for small team-based collaboration, officials said. IBM and Capital One, which each had representatives at the Slack event today, shared their thoughts about Slack Enterprise Grid and how it addresses their need for more enterprise capabilities.

"The largest enterprises are not single teams," Butterfield told the San Francisco crowd today. "And everyone is different. This is enhanced communication and alignment for the largest companies in the world."

'All About Microsoft'

Slack needs to be enterprise ready if it wants to compete in the $49 billion enterprise collaboration market today. Facebook and Microsoft each entered the mix in big ways late last year. But Slack didn't even make the Forrester Wave for Enterprise Collaboration released in December because analysts did not view it as enterprise ready.

When Microsoft Teams launched at a New York City event Nov. 2, Butterfield took out a full page ad in the New York Times. In a sarcastic "Dear Microsoft" letter, Butterfield noted he was "genuinely glad to have some competition," but also offered some "friendly advice."

"All this is harder than it looks." 

For Slack, today is "all about Microsoft, really," Forrester Research's Craig Le Clair, vice president and principal analyst serving enterprise architecture professionals, told CMSWire today. 

"Microsoft has the most complete collaboration," he added, "and they'll keep enhancing it and ultimately they’re going to catch a huge part of the market. But Slack is also worried about the other guys, like Facebook coming into collaboration market and Google."

Collaboration providers have already showed they're willing to spare no expense adding technology. Atlassian acquired Trello earlier this month for $425 million.

All big players will need to come up with the next best way that millennials want to work, Le Clair said. 

"That's the battleground," he added. "People entering the workforce today — how do they want to work? That's what Slack nailed. But now they need to blend that with solid enterprise technology."

Fixing Silos 

April Underwood, vice president of product for Slack, admitted during today's presentation the current Slack ecosystem did not provide for strong collaboration for large, global teams.

Different teams could not collaborate in Slack and defaulted to email and other tools.

"Slack was being used in these silos which created a real challenge," Underwood said. "People wanted to do work in Slack, and we had a design challenge." 

Slack's new enterprise edition allows for the same flexibility and local controls for teams but allows for cross-team collaboration. CIOs can control oversight but leave autonomy for local teams, which can leverage Slack's approximate 900 app integrations.

"CIOs and IT leaders were very clear: they wanted a centralized place to manage and control Slack in their corporations, so we've built a new administrative dashboard that allows you to do that," said Slack's Ilan Frank, product director for Slack Enterprise Grid. "But they also wanted teams to remain autonomous so that each team has an identification." 

Slack also announced a partnership with SAP. It includes integrations across Hana Cloud Platform, SuccessFactors and Concur. The capabilities include real-time reporting and feedback on performance goals and message-based expense and travel management.

Right Move, Lots of Work

Le Clair told CMSWire today's move into the enterprise was the "obvious thing for Slack to do."

"Let's say you're IBM, which is a big customer of theirs," Le Clair said. "You have 1,000 teams, and you want to have the ability to have a manager of those teams and a manager of the community to administer them to have some central control to pull them together."

Le Clair, who authored Forrester's enterprise collaboration wave, called Slack's move a "very fresh approach" that will allow it to accelerate worker productivity at scale.

The enterprise collaboration platforms in Forrester's Wave, he said, included advanced security, encryption, encryption at rest, the ability to monitor for malicious content, the ability to build external communities, etc. — things Slack lacked until today.

"All that stuff is really hard to build. Takes years," Le Clair said. "My only caution here for enterprises is that Slack's migration to the enterprise grid from an existing array of teams is going to take months. Slack got viral because someone could build a community and a team in a channel instantly and boom, you're communicating. Now someone has to come in and design how you want these different teams to be a part of the broader community configuration."

Moving to enterprise would also include content migration from existing Slack teams to broader areas.

"It's not days. It's going to be months," Le Clair said. "For any organization to go through that they're going to have make a strategic decision, a CIO-level decision about whether or not they want to get on the Slack train."

No Slacking

Slack hasn't exactly sat still the last few months, presumably to keep up with new arrivals to the collaboration scene — Microsoft Teams and Workplace by Facebook.

Slack updated its collaboration chat tool earlier this month to better manage conversations. The move was designed to allow users to target a conversation with someone on a particular topic by hovering over that message and clicking "Start a thread." The right sidebar in Slack will open, and you can add your reply.

Google and Slack partnered in December to deliver a "deep suite of integrations," including advancements with Google Drive integrations, permissions and provisioning from G Suite.

In October, IBM and Slack announced a partnership that combines Slack’s digital workplace with the cognitive computing capabilities of Watson. The goal is to use Watson's artificial intelligence learning engine to power offerings such as bots and other conversational inferences to improve the Slack user experience.