New mes­sag­ing apps gain­ing trac­tion in the work­place

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By ROB LEVER in­Wash­ing­ton Agence France-Presse

Look­ing to break out of a “messy” email sit­u­a­tion, the non­profit group do­some­thing.org re­cently switched over to a new way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing among its far-flung teams.

Mov­ing most in­ter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions to the mes­sag­ing ap­pli­ca­tion Slack with its “chan­nels” for var­i­ous teams­madeit eas­ier to co­or­di­nate the group’s so­cial change projects across 131 coun­tries, said soft­ware en­gi­neer Joe Kent.

“All the teams have their chan­nels and any­one can jump in and see what the oth­ers are do­ing,” Kent told AFP. “You can fol­low the con­ver­sa­tion a lot more quickly.”

Slack, cre­ated in 2013, has be­come a leader in a crowded field of new ap­pli­ca­tions aimed at help­ing work­places move away from email.

Face­book this month jumped head­long into this seg­ment with its Work­place ap­pli­ca­tion, aim­ing to lever­age the pop­u­lar­ity of the lead­ing so­cial net­work used by some 1.7 bil­lion peo­ple.

Face­book is among an ar­ray of com­peti­tors vy­ing for a slice of this mar­ket, in­clud­ing sev­eral star­tups andMi­crosoft.

San Fran­cisco-based Slack has raised some $500 mil­lion at a re­ported val­u­a­tion of some $4 bil­lion, mak­ing it one of the most prom­i­nent ven­ture-funded tech “uni­corns” worth over $1 bil­lion.

With some three mil­lion ac­tive users, in­clud­ing nearly one mil­lion pay­ing for “pre­mium” ser­vice, Slack has be­come one of the fastest-grow­ing busi­ness ap­pli­ca­tions.

Craig Le Clair of For­rester Re­search said these ser­vices are grow­ing be­cause younger “mil­len­ni­als” have dif­fer­ent ways of work­ing.

“They want to work when they want to, they want chat ses­sions that bet­ter in­te­grate with their so­cial me­dia lives,” Le Clair said.

LeClair said­many work­places are fac­ing “in­for­ma­tion over­load” due to the vol­ume of emails that need to be sorted and pri­or­i­tized.

“The goal is to get out of email hell,” he said.

‘Just sign up’

Small- and medium-sized busi­nesses find Slack es­pe­cially ap­peal­ing be­cause of its ease of use on both mo­bile and desk­top de­vices, says Mark Bec­cue, an an­a­lyst who re­searched the mar­ket for Com­pass In­tel­li­gence.

“There’s no fric­tion. Com­pa­nies don’t have to go through a ma­jor soft­ware li­cense process, you just sign up,” Bec­cue said. “It’s the con­sumer­iza­tion of an en­ter­prise prod­uct.”

The global en­ter­prise chat and mes­sag­ing mar­ket is set to reach $1.9 bil­lion by 2019, ac­cord­ing to Bec­cue’s re­port.

Slack came at the right time for com­pa­nies seek­ing new ways to im­prove work­place ef­fi­ciency, Bec­cue said.

“I think they are ma­jor driver of in­no­va­tion for busi­ness pro­duc­tiv­ity,” he said.

Slack and ri­vals like At­las­sian’s HipChat and Mi­crosoft’s Yam­mer of­fer so­cial me­dia-style in­ter­faces for mes­sages, and some in­te­grate with busi­ness ap­pli­ca­tions to en­able voice calls, video and other ser­vices.

Slack re­cently teamed with cloud com­put­ing group Sales­force to broaden its of­fer­ings in ser­vices such as cus­tomer re­la­tions man­age­ment.

Slack also al­lows or­ga­ni­za­tions to cre­ate chan­nels for com­mu­ni­cat­ing out­side the en­ter­prise, pow­ered by ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence “bots.”

“Slack is mov­ing away from just be­ing a mes­sag­ing tool, they want to be the home base for en­ter­prise ap­pli­ca­tions, and that’s a dif­fer­ent ball­game,” said Raul Cas­tanon-Martinez, an an­a­lyst at 451 Re­search.

Cas­tanon-Martinez said that “Slack’s suc­cess took a lot of peo­ple by sur­prise” but that it may be dif­fi­cult to sus­tain mo­men­tum in the face of deep-pock­eted ri­vals Face­book andMi­crosoft.

Mi­crosoft ear­lier this year an­nounced that it­sYam­mer­mes­sag­ing plat­form would in­te­grate with its Of­fice 365 groups, while also of­fer­ing easy con­nec­tions to Out­look email and Skype, aim­ing for a broad set of busi­ness tools un­der its um­brella.

“Mi­crosoft hasn’t made a lot of noise, but they have been ag­gres­sive in re­main­ing the dom­i­nant place in pro­duc­tiv­ity ap­pli­ca­tions,” Cas­tanon­said.

Ag­gres­sive pric­ing is also be­ing used as a way to woo busi­nesses away from Slack. Mi­crosoft of­fers its suite of ser­vices for $2 to$4per user, and Face­book $1 to $3 per user com­pared with Slack’s stan­dard $6.67 per user.

The Face­book model

like

All the teams have their chan­nels and any­one can jump in and see what the oth­ers are do­ing. You can fol­low the con­ver­sa­tion a lot more quickly.”

Face­book mean­while is seek­ing to use its ad­van­tage as “the so­cial me­dia world that mil­len­ni­als grew up with,” Le Clair said.

But the an­a­lyst said it is not clear if com­pa­nies and net­work man­agers will move to the Face­book plat­form.

“Most of the em­ploy­ers and man­agers didn’t grow up in that world,” he said.

“They as­so­ciate Face­book with some­thing their kids are do­ing, it’s not as­so­ci­ated with pro­duc­tiv­ity and get­ting work done. Some com­pa­nies Joe Kent,

soft­ware en­gi­neer

even re­strict the use of Face­book in the work­place.”

An­a­lysts point out that Slack and sim­i­lar plat­forms may in­crease the bur­den on em­ploy­ees, be­com­ing an ad­di­tional “feed” to manage, and that email is still nec­es­sary for ex­ter­nal con­tacts and other func­tions.

Le Clair said ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence may be the tool that helps sift through mes­sages to stay on track.

“You’re go­ing to need emerg­ing an­a­lyt­ics to go through those streams,” he said.

“Face­book has done a lot of in­vest­ment in AI so they could be wellplaced to do that.”

JUSTIN TALLIS

A logo for Face­book’s “Work­place” is seen in this posed pho­to­graph fol­low­ing the so­cial me­dia com­pany’s launch event for the prod­uct “Work­place”, in cen­tral Lon­don on Oct 10.

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