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PHOTO: Igor Ovsyannykov

All sniping with other collaboration platforms aside, Slack continues to build. If one of the big advantages of using Slack to date has been the integrations with other digital workplace apps and the growing number of vendors that have been falling over each other to make their apps accessible from the Slack platform, one of the unforeseen consequences of that has been accessibility. For developers, ensuring app accessibility is always a problem, but when accessibility is hindered by the sheer number of possible integrations or apps that can be pulled into the environment, then something must be done.

In a recent blog post, Slack outlined its solution to this growing problem. It has introduced new platform features that will simplify access to apps and make work easier. In fact, according to the blog the new tools will make third-party integrations easier to find and use and will help developers design Slack integrations that users can intuitively interact with by clicking buttons, rather than by typing a command or messaging with a bot.

Unveiled at the recent Spec conference, Slack’s annual get-together of developers, the improvements are still largely in beta, but expected to be available very soon. In all, according to Slack, they include easier ways for users to discover apps, new features that unlock richer app experiences, and granular permissions for building more enterprise-friendly apps.

Block Kit, the UI framework for building apps in Slack, has two new components that will bring more interactive, user-friendly experiences to life.

1. A New Home Tab For Apps

Soon apps will have the option of including new features in the app home. Developers can customize this view, enabling detailed displays and allowing users to interact with their apps through actions and buttons.  

2. Multistep Modals

Modals are windows that appear on top of the Slack interface. They’re a go-to tool for gathering data in forms or for displaying results and interactive choices to users. Developers can now display as many additional screens as needed for custom information and more complexity — a pleasant replacement for lengthy bot exchanges. These multistep modal windows can string together previously complex workflows

There are more than 1,800 apps in Slack’s App Directory, including tools from Atlassian, Google, Microsoft, SAP, Workday and Zoom, as well as Slack-first services like Guru, Lattice, Polly and Troops. To give some kind of insight into how widely these third-party apps are used, more than 500,000 custom apps were used in a typical week during September 2019 while there are 600,000 daily active registered developers building on the Slack platform with 95% of users indicating that integration with Slack makes the parent, third-party app more valuable.

But then it would say that, especially in the current climate where Slack seems unable to pass a week without brushing up against one of the other collaboration platform vendors. At the Wall Street Journal's Tech Live conference in Laguna Beach on Wednesday, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield said of Microsoft: "I think they feel like we're an existential threat.” He also pointed to the fact that several of the recent top Google search trends for Microsoft Teams are related to how to uninstall the Teams app. While that may indeed be the case, to consider Slack an existential threat to Microsoft Teams is a bit much. That said, for the medium term at least it will continue to be business as usual and Slack will continue to build. The introduction of Block Kit is a major addition to the platform and will extend the reach of Slack.

SAP And Microsoft Deepen Cloud Migration Partnership

Last May, SAP announced project Embrace,  a collaboration program with Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud as well as global strategic service partners (GSSPs). At the time, SAP said that Embrace enables enterprise to move to SAP S/4HANA in the cloud by offering a roadmap, reference architecture, and SAP services to support migration to hyperscale cloud providers.

This week the two companies formalized  three-year deal based on this, which means that Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft will formally help Germany-based SAP’s large enterprise customers move their business processes into the cloud. In a statement about the deal Judson Althoff, executive vice president of worldwide commercial business, said the deal creates, a trusted path to digital transformation in the cloud, to simplifying and accelerating cloud journeys through a shared commitment under the Project Embrace program.

The new go-to-market agreement ensures Microsoft customers choose a cloud migration strategy to SAP S/4HANA on Azure that reduces complexities, minimizes cost, and uses the best-in-class technologies and expertise of both companies.

The new deal follows on the creation of the Open Data Initiative. The ODI which was announced at Ignite 2018 brought together Adobe, Microsoft and SAP to enable data to be exchanged — and enriched — across systems, making it a renewable resource that flows into intelligent applications. The companies work together on other projects, but said the purpose of this new partnership is to re-imagine customer experience management (CXM) by empowering companies to derive more value from their data.

Embrace is the outcome of this, at least for SAP and Microsoft. As yet there is no sign of Adobe jumping in, but as a member of the ODI it shouldn’t take long. SAP said it expected annual revenues of around 75 million euros ($84 million) from the deal.

Disclosure of the Microsoft partnership comes after long-time CEO Bill McDermott stepped down to make way for Jennifer Morgan — the first woman to become CEO of a company in Germany’s blue-chip DAX index.

Why You Have To Get Off Office 2010

Sticking with Microsoft, you will be aware by now that SharePoint 2010 is coming to the end of life next year. So too, though, is Office 2010, with support ending this time next year. Microsoft is putting pressure on the market again to ensure that that people using Office 2010 move to the cloud, and notably to its Office 365 ProPlus bundle.

Customers do have the option of upgrading to the on-premise Office 2019 for a one-time purchase, but Microsoft is stressing the fact that for those have moved to the cloud bundle, there will constant and regular updates, while Office 2019 will have a long, but limited life. In this respect, Microsoft points out that Office 2019 has the same features it had when it was released in October 2018 while Office 365 ProPlus, which comes with most enterprise plans, includes the full versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Publisher, Access, and Skype for Business installed across the enterprises. It also allows individuals to install Office on up to five devices, be they PCs, Macs, or mobile devices.

Microsoft launched Office 2019 late last year, with an ad campaign that made it clear the company would really prefer that you didn’t buy it. The advertisements that pitted Office 2019 and Office 365 against each other by having three sets of identical twins complete the same tasks in both versions to determine which is better had a single clear message: You’d be much better off with a monthly or yearly subscription to Office 365.

In a post about the End-of-Life, Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, wrote, “Ending support for Office 2010 marks the end of an era. While I love being part of a team that is committed to building the best productivity tool to unlock human potential, what really motivates me is seeing the future that cloud technology is enabling. None of the [new] features are available in Office 2010 — or even Office 2019. To build them (and many more) we need the power of the cloud.” 

ASG Enables Digital Process Automation

Elsewhere, Naples, Fla.-based ASG announced the release of ASG-Zenith, a digital process automation platform — and ASG’s first new product in several years. According to the company, in order to keep up with the speed of businesses, today’s enterprises are increasingly moving toward agile development practices, requiring them to automate processes without sacrificing privacy and security.

With ASG-Zenith, this process is simplified as users are empowered to rapidly and seamlessly build flexible business solutions that can exist on top of existing business services. Further, with ASG-Studio, the low code/no code design environment within ASG-Zenith, internal teams can assemble, deploy and update automated processes without extensive technical training and specialized skills.

ASG-Zenith is a unified platform that accelerates and simplifies digitization initiatives. It creates a new approach to process automation and includes multiple technologies — such as business process management (BPM), robotic process automation (RPA) and policy and content privacy — united through ASG-Studio, a single, common, visual design environment.

As digital transformation progresses, businesses of all kinds are pressed to become more agile in developing their unique competitive business model. ASG-Zenith considers productivity, flexibility and visibility at the model and design phase, enabling greater success of digital transformation projects.

Google Poaches Microsoft Heavy Hitter

Finally, this week, Javier Soltero has moved to Google to take-over the running and management of G Suite for both enterprise customers and consumers. He will report to Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian, Google said.

If his name sounds familiar, it should. Soltero is Microsoft’s former Cortana and Outlook vice president. Soltero tweeted the news earlier this week writing: “The opportunity to work with this team on products that have such a profound impact on the lives of people around the world is a real and rare privilege.”

He took over the Cortana business in March 2018, prior to which, he held a senior leadership positions at VMware, after his company Hyperic was acquired.