The Rise of Collaborative Apps - Q&A with Andy Pflaum of Slack
In the latest of an occasional series, today we hear from Andy Pflaum, Director of Platform Solutions at Slack, discussing the rapid growth in the number of apps being built by developers within the platform, the effect of the recent pandemic and remote working on current and future direction, as well as the recent tie-up with Salesforce.
- To what do you attribute the explosive growth in the number of apps (and app developers) over the last 2-3 years?
“Software is proliferating wildly, with specialised products providing the best niche solutions. Software users and purchasers respond by choosing the best tool for a specific need, rather than relying on a handful of monolithic software suites. Meaning, every day there’s more incentive for software developers to build ‘best of breed’ apps that solve a need better than existing software has.
“At Slack, we see a downstream effect of app developers wanting to reach users, and the best way to do that is to meet them where they already are. For users in over 750,000 companies, the place to find them is on Slack – creating an ecosystem with hundreds of thousands of corporate developers and about 2,500 ISVs (independent software vendors) connecting their software into Slack.”
- Are there any particular sectors or technologies where the growth has been more pronounced?
“A big jump in apps supporting this new world of distributed and digital-first work—for example, apps from partners for whiteboarding and video messages. We also see more interest in apps tied to the customer-facing side of the business—for sales, customer success, customer support, marketing.
And of course apps and integrations have always been popular with technical teams like developers, DevOps and IT.”
- How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the focus of organisations on collaboration tools and remote working?
“The virtual office is here to stay. The past year has put many misconceptions about remote work to rest and given businesses a chance to adapt. Organisations should now focus on both employee and customer experiences in the remote and hybrid world.
“The Future Forum, a consortium launched by Slack, recently released a new global study which found fewer than 20% say they see the office as a place for focused, solo work. Instead, more than 80% of knowledge workers want access to an office for in-person collaboration and team building—activities like collaborating with co-workers and clients, attending in-person meetings and building camaraderie.
“If offices are primarily for in-person collaboration and team building, then digital channels are where work happens everyday. Companies that invest in new digital infrastructure see dramatic improvements, compared to those relying on legacy systems. This shows up not only in expected areas such as productivity, but also in the sense of belonging and ability to manage stress and anxiety.
- Has the pandemic consequently also affected your own app strategy and direction?
“At Slack, we focus on providing a platform that makes it easy for software partners to build apps for their customers, and internal corporate developers to connect their internal tools and services for their team members.
“Within the core Slack app, we’re helping customers succeed in a digital-first way of working. Examples include letting them collaborate securely with customers and partners in Slack Connect, and helping users automate routine processes and workflows.
“In the UK, a great example of a customer who is doing this is Autotrader: we help the digital automotive marketplace to improve its service reliability and ship quality code faster.”
- What are the new apps or features that are generating the most engagement with your users?
“We’ve received great feedback for our investment in making app set-up and logistics easier through our first-party developer tools. There’s an full list at slack.dev—highlights including Bolt, our framework for building Slack apps quickly, and the recent beta launch of app manifests—letting a developer easily create, configure, and copy Slack apps, instead of starting from scratch each time.
“Workflows that any user can build are another big one. We launched Workflow Builder not long before the pandemic and since then more than a million people have automated everyday tasks inside and outside of Slack, without writing code. And any kind of work between organisations in Slack Connect. More than 90,000 organisations are using it today across nearly one million connections (endpoints) between customers and partners — securely collaborating, sharing files, scheduling meetings, working on deals together.”
- Which new technologies or features are on your roadmap that will particularly excite new developers in the future?
“We publish some developer features on our Platform Roadmap. For example, a lot of developers are excited about the upcoming ability to provide metadata about events from their service along with the messages posted into Slack—so customers can build workflows based on the specific notifications they receive from those services.
“Also, late last year at our annual Slack Frontiers user conference, we previewed The Next Generation of the Slack Platform. This is an engagement layer for an organisation—connecting the software and the people of the company to improve and accelerate how teams make decisions about key events and opportunities, and accomplish business goals. We’ll have more news on this later this year.”
- With more and more new companies entering the collaboration tools market, what is your secret to staying ahead of the curve?
“Listening closely to our customers and partners and understanding the needs they’re expressing. With hundreds of thousands of customers and nearly a million developers, we get impassioned feedback from customer meetings and customer support, firstname.lastname@example.org, and the Slack Community, among other sources.
“Also, because we can’t imagine every need our customers have, we focus on providing a flexible platform so our software partners and corporate developers can customise and integrate with Slack in the way that best meets their specific needs. We work in this way already with most of the collaboration tools that come into the market, such as video messaging and conferencing apps”
- How do you think the Salesforce acquisition will affect the investment and growth over the next 12 months?
“The all-digital, “work anywhere” world is here to stay. Joining forces with Salesforce will allow us to create even more value for our customers and partners, helping them create end-to-end digital transformation and grow in this new normal.”