Collaboration software maker Slack hopes to make it easier for users to create and share workflow automations without having to write code. Features are expected in 2022.
Slack may be best known as just a team messaging tool, but for many users the ability to connect apps and automate actions is a big plus. With that in mind, the company announced a redesign of its workflow engine aimed at making automations more accessible to more users. These changes were revealed during the Slack Frontiers event. The updates aim to extend existing capabilities that allow developers to customize apps and automate workflows within the app. This includes the platform APIs for developers and Workflow Builder, a codeless service launched two years ago that gives non-technical users the means to create their own automations.
This is an important focus for Slack, which said more than 400,000 users have created flows since the introduction of the Workflow Builder, created after the 2018 acquisition of Missions, a startup specializing in this field. Last year, Slack added the ability to include actions in third-party apps in workflows with the rollout of “steps for apps.” The latest updates – planned for 2022 – expand on its ambitions: to help users customize the software to meet their individual needs.
Adapt to trades
“What we’ve always wanted is to give people the equivalent of Lego blocks that they can recombine, because there are so many actions that are common,” said Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield. , during a pre-recorded briefing, saying automations can bridge the gap between recording systems and workers in business roles without requiring developers. “If you’re a salesperson or an HR services administrator, you have a much better idea of where the frictions are and where the pains and challenges are in the way you use the software.”
Slack users and developers can create workflows using “blocks” – essentially snippets of code that trigger actions in Slack, like creating a new channel or initiating interactions between third-party apps – which can then be combined into larger blocks for more complex multi-step flows. An important change is that these blocks can also be shared with other users by sending a link. The recipient can then modify or “remix” the automation to suit their own needs, by adding or removing steps, for example. Changes must be made in the Workflow Builder.
Slack seeks to make it easier for users to create workflows without the need for developers or coding experience. (Credit: Slack)
Customization of tools
These updates should make workflow automations more accessible to users than is currently possible with the Workflow Builder, said Steve Wood, vice president of product for Slack’s Developer Platform. Rather than installing an application and having it appear as a slash command, for example, these workflow engines “give you a library of these blocks, so you have more tools to automate work,” he said. “To have a digital HQ, you need to personalize your space like you would your desktop environment: we’ve made the workflow engine a fundamental part of how you personalize Slack,” Wood said.
Improvements to the Workflow Builder itself include a new drag-and-drop interface and the addition of conditional logic to structure workflows around “if/then” statements. According to Slack, it will also be possible to connect multiple applications in a single workflow, with information automatically updated in the different applications, to obtain more complex workflows. For example, an incident response notification from PagerDuty could trigger an issue to be created in Jira, while a more serious incident could also open a team channel in Slack to coordinate a response.
Target the most novice companies
While channel-based messaging alone can improve communications, integration with third-party tools is also important, said Wayne Kurtzman, research director at IDC. Citing a recent study by IDC, he says this integration can help accelerate project completion times by 77%. “Slack has always sought to be the 2% of an IT budget that makes the other 98% more valuable,” said Wayne Kurtzman. He described this latest building block approach to Slack as “an easy metaphor with serious potential to improve the way people work – even without any coding experience.”
These workflows can be simple or more complex and even linked to other applications and services that employees use to work on a daily basis. (Credit: Slack)
The platform changes are likely to broaden the appeal of Slack’s automation capabilities to non-technical users, said Angela Ashenden, principal analyst at CCS Insight. “Simplicity and reusability are really key, especially for organizations that are newer to automating and building apps within Slack, because you have to recognize that people don’t want to reinvent the wheel every time. times,” she said. The latest moves also make sense for Slack, which continues to compete with Microsoft Teams by building on its existing strengths as an integration and automation platform, Angela Ashenden said. This “hub” capability, with automation and a focus on work rather than just chat, is therefore increasingly important. It’s a “key area they’re investing in for obvious reasons,” she said.
Other tools for developers
At the Frontiers event, Slack also announced other tools for developers, including a command-line interface, a software development kit, and the ability to host data on Slack’s infrastructure to simplify building. applications on the platform. Other updates include an expansion of the number of external users who can access Slack Connect shared channels. Launched last year to verify, simplify communication with external partners via sharing channels and direct messages, Slack Connect does not require guest accounts. Next year, the limit on the number of organizations that can share a single channel will be increased from 20 to 250.