Tag Archives: Slack

Slack encryption will soon include enterprise key management

Slack will soon give businesses an additional level of security by letting them manage their encryption keys. The feature will appeal to a small number of large organizations for now, but it could help the startup expand its footprint in the enterprise market.

Slack already encrypts the messages and files that flow through its premium platform for large businesses, called Enterprise Grid. Now, the vendor plans to give customers control of the keys that unlock that encryption.

“Enterprise key management is another significant step that Slack needs to take to meet increasing security demands — and according to their promise, without hurting speed or usability, [which are] common side effects of EKM,” said Wayne Kurtzman, analyst at IDC.

Slack touted the forthcoming feature as providing “all the security of an on-premises solution, with all the benefits of a cloud tool.” But the vendor clarified that the keys will be created and stored in Amazon’s public cloud.

“In the future, we may expand this offering to support an on-prem or private cloud [hardware security module] key store,” said Ilan Frank, director of Slack’s enterprise products.

Cisco Webex Teams lets businesses manage encryption keys on premises or in the cloud. It also provides end-to-end encryption. In contrast, Slack only encrypts data in transit and at rest, which means the data may get decrypted at certain routing points in the cloud.

Slack has no plans to change its encryption model, Frank said, citing potential “usability drawbacks” related to search and advanced app and bot features.

Symphony also offers end-to-end encryption and enterprise key management. Its team collaboration app has found a niche among banks and other financial firms, which generally have strict compliance and regulatory standards.

“I think, from Slack’s case, it’s a good first step in allowing customers to control their own keys,” said Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research in Westminster, Mass. But Slack should also ensure businesses can store those keys in their own data centers and eventually pursue end-to-end encryption, he said.

Slack’s enterprise key management feature will be particularly useful for external communications done through Slack, said Alan Lepofsky, a vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, based in Cupertino, Calif.

When partners communicate through a shared channel in Slack, the company that established the channel will have control over the encryption keys.

“I think this will be a very important use case, as it’s that external communication where you really want to ensure security and privacy,” Lepofsky said.

Slack expects to make enterprise key management available for purchase to Enterprise Grid customers sometime this winter.

Slack looks to appeal to more large enterprises

Slack launched Enterprise Grid last year in an attempt to expand beyond its traditional base of teams and small businesses. The platform lets large organizations unify and manage multiple Slack workspaces.

Slack said in January that more than 150 organizations had deployed Enterprise Grid, including 21st Century Fox, Target, Capital One and IBM. But the vendor did not mention the product in May when it announced that 8 million people at more than 500,000 organizations worldwide were using Slack daily.

As the vendor tries to win more contracts with large businesses, Slack faces competition from vendors that already have deep penetration in the enterprise market — notably Cisco and Microsoft.

Cisco recently tied its team collaboration app to the online meetings platform Webex, which has 140 million users. Also, Microsoft has been aggressively building out the features of Microsoft Teams, which integrates with the Office 365 productivity tools relied upon by 135 million people.

“[Enterprise key management] is an important addition to Slack as it becomes more mature for enterprise needs,” Lepofsky said.

SAP Concur creates Slack bot for booking flights

SAP Concur has created a Slack bot that lets users book travel and submit expenses within the team collaboration app. It’s the type of advanced business integration that Slack has embraced as a way to differentiate its platform from Microsoft Teams and Cisco Spark.

The SAP Concur Slack bot lets workers search and book flights within a Slack messaging channel. The integration makes it possible to share a flight itinerary with other Slack team members, who can then schedule the same travel arrangements with a couple of clicks. After travelers book a flight, they can direct the bot to create an expense report.

The travel bot is SAP Concur’s latest partnership with Slack. In March, the two vendors released a Slack bot that lets a user file, approve and manage expense reports. A worker could create an expense report, for example, by messaging the bot, “Expense $15 for lunch.”

SAP Concur has not released any bots that are compatible with Slack competitors Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex Teams, although it does have integrations with Microsoft Outlook 365 and the AI voice assistant platform Alexa for Business.

SAP Concur’s Slack bot for travel uses technology from the consumer flight search tool Hello Hipmunk, which SAP Concur acquired in 2016. The business-grade application of the software syncs with the travel policies enterprises set within SAP Concur.

“I can see significant potential for this to cut down on email back and forth that typically occurs when a travel department sends a list of options to an employee, and then they respond, and then there’s some back and forth before everyone agrees on a travel plan,” said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research based in Mokena, Ill.

Slack builds on integration advantage

Slack has a better track record than its rivals for being able to accommodate and take advantage of deep integrations with third-party business software like SAP Concur, said Wayne Kurtzman, analyst at IDC. Slack has more than 1,500 apps in its directory, far exceeding the inventory of other leading team collaboration platforms.

“Microsoft and Cisco have to make pushes — and they will — to leverage AI in new and different ways that make work easier, but it really has to be easier,” Kurtzman said. “Slack appears ready for the competition, and the team collaboration market will retain double-digit growth rates for most of the next 10 years.”

Slack has recently taken steps to make integrations more useful, and easier to create. Last month, the vendor acquired Missions, a division of the startup Robots & Pencils, to incorporate its technology for helping nondevelopers build workflows and integrations within Slack. The company also introduced a new paradigm for using third-party apps, letting users export contextual information from Slack into those business tools.

Businesses are looking for ways to streamline workflows so that employees can get work done faster, and with easier access to the context they need to make decisions. As a result, the integration of business apps with team collaboration platforms like Slack has become one of the hottest new trends in collaboration.

But those integrations need to balance convenience, complexity and confidentiality, said Alan Lepofsky, analyst at Constellation Research. The industry is still in the early stages of determining which tasks are best done in separate apps rather than within a platform like Slack — as well as which types of apps to trust with confidential data, he said.

“That said, I think the creation of these ‘work-related’ bots is a step in the right direction, as our future will certainly be filled with digital assistants. The question is when and to what level of granularity,” Lepofsky said.

Atlassian-Slack deal marks end of HipChat, Stride

Atlassian has sold HipChat and Stride to Slack Technologies, exiting the business chat market as Microsoft increases the competitive pressure with its Teams collaboration software.

As part of the deal, which was announced this week, Atlassian agreed to make “a small, but symbolically important investment” in Slack, the latter company said in a blog post. The companies did not release details of the investment or the purchase price.

Atlassian sold the products less than a year after it launched Stride to compete with Microsoft and Slack in the team messaging and communications market. Stride had all of the chat features of HipChat, plus file sharing and video and audio calling.

Despite being a “very good” product, Stride did not attract many customers, said Alan Lepofsky, an analyst at Constellation Research, based in Cupertino, Calif. “I think it was just not a business that Atlassian wanted to be in.”

Instead, the Atlassian-Slack deal shows Atlassian is more focused on the project management market, with products that include Trello, Jira Cloud and Bitbucket Cloud, Lepofsky said.

Atlassian had integrated the three products with Slack long before announcing the latest deal. In fact, the two companies have been friendly competitors for some time, sending each other cookies and cake when reaching milestones.

Microsoft aggressively markets Teams

Nevertheless, how helpful the strategic partnership with Atlassian will be to Slack in battling the much larger Microsoft remains to be seen. Microsoft is aggressively marketing its Teams software to its 135 million Office 365 customers, while providing others with access to a free version of the cloud-based software.

I think it was just not a business that Atlassian wanted to be in.
Alan Lepofskyanalyst, Constellation Research

Atlassian and Slack plan to work together in making both companies more competitive. Today, hundreds of thousands of business teams use Atlassian products from within Slack, the companies said. In the future, the vendors plan to deepen those integrations and work together in adding other Atlassian products.

Today, Slack and Atlassian team messaging are often found within IT and application development departments, so Slack is in a strong position to consolidate those communities under its brand and to hold on to those customers, said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill. “Replacing a team collaboration app that’s tightly integrated with app dev tools and workflows is a difficult sell in many of the companies we study.”

Slack, however, could run into trouble if it follows through with plans to move Atlassian customers on the on-premises version of HipChat to the cloud, Lazar said. “If Slack ends support for on-premises HipChat, and those customers still aren’t willing to go to the cloud, then they are likely to turn to a vendor like Mattermost that supports on-premises and private cloud deployments.”

Also, Slack will still face “a tough battle against Cisco [Webex Teams] and Microsoft for the broad enterprise user base,” Lazar said. “But our research is showing that organizations are open to supporting multiple team collaboration apps if those apps provide value.”

Indeed, the team messaging and collaboration market remains wide open. Microsoft as a pure-play provider trails Slack, with 200,000 organizations using Teams versus 500,000 for Slack. The latter company said it has 3 million people paying to use the service every day, plus 5 million users of its free version. Atlassian won’t disclose the number of people using HipChat and Stride.

Slack has launched a website instructing HipChat users on how to switch to Slack and take their data with them. The migration tools for Stride are “coming soon,” Slack said.

Missions acquisition will simplify Slack integrations

Slack plans to use the technology gained from its acquisition of Missions, a division of the startup Robots & Pencils, to make it easier for non-developers to customize workflows and integrations within its team collaboration app.

A Slack user with no coding knowledge can use Missions to build widgets for getting more work done within the Slack interface. For example, a human resources department could use a Missions widget to track and approve interviews with job applicants.

The Missions tool could also power an employee help desk system within Slack, or be used to create an onboarding bot that keeps new hires abreast of the documents they need to sign and the orientations they must attend. 

“In the same way that code libraries make it easier to program, Slack is trying to make workflows easier for everyone in the enterprise,” said Wayne Kurtzman, an analyst at IDC. “Without training, users will be able to create their own automated workflows and integrate with other applications.”

Slack said it would take a few months to add Missions to its platform. It will support existing Missions customers for free during that time. In a note to its 200,000 active developers, Slack said the Missions purchase would benefit them too, by making it easier to connect their Slack integrations to other apps.

Slack integrations help startup retain market leadership

The acquisition is Slack’s latest attempt to expand beyond its traditional base of software engineers and small teams. More than 8 million people in 500,000 organizations now use the platform, which was launched in 2013, and 3 million of those users have paid accounts.

With more than 1,500 third-party apps available in its directory, Slack has more outside developers than competitors such as Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams. The vendor has sought to capitalize on that advantage by making Slack integrations more useful.

Earlier this year, Slack introduced a shortcut that lets users send information from Slack to business platforms like Zendesk and HubSpot. Slack could be used to create a Zendesk ticket asking the IT department for a new desktop monitor, for example.

The automation of workflows, including through chatbots, is becoming increasingly important to enterprise technology buyers, according to Alan Lepofsky, an analyst at Constellation Research, based in Cupertino, Calif.

But it remains to be seen whether the average Slack user with no coding experience will take advantage of the Missions tool to build Slack integrations.

“I believe the hurdle in having regular knowledge workers create them is not skill, but rather even knowing that they can, or that they should,” Lepofsky said.

Private Slack shared channels look to boost security, admin controls

Slack is expanding support for external collaboration with a beta release of private shared channels, which should allow separate organizations to communicate more securely across Slack workspaces. Slack announced a beta of public shared channels in September, and earlier this month introduced private Slack shared channels for conversations that could include sensitive or classified information.

The shared channels feature will become more important as large enterprises look to improve the adoption of social tools, Constellation Research analyst Alan Lepofsky wrote in a blog post. Lepofsky said private shared channels will be a more common use case than public shared channels because most cross-organizational communications are better suited to a limited audience.

To access private Slack shared channels, users need to be invited to view or join the channel, and any content shared in the channel won’t appear in search results to non-members.

Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar said his firm’s upcoming unified communications and collaboration study found that nearly 20% of organizations plan to use or are already using team collaboration apps for external communication with partners, suppliers and customers — an increase from last year’s study.

“There are still issues to overcome, like whether or not the external participant needs to archive the conversations,” Lazar said.

Slack private shared channels support more secure external collaboration
Slack’s private shared channels allow organizations to collaborate with external users.

Management options for secure Slack shared channels

Private Slack shared channels offer IT management options to protect information. Admins can choose whether a specific shared channel is private or public in their respective workspace. Channels can also be designated private or public on both ends or private on one end and public on the other.

Admins can view the external workspaces their organization is connected to, create new shared channels, view pending shared channel invites and stop sharing any or all shared channels. However, admins cannot view names or content of any private shared channel of which they are not a member.

The private shared channel beta is currently available to teams on the standard and plus plans. Support for Enterprise Grid is expected soon, Slack said.

External collaboration still in a silo

While the beta boosts external collaboration for Slack users, it doesn’t address the need for interoperability among team collaboration apps.

“Until social networking supports cross-product communication, communication with people that use different products will remain a challenge,” Lepofsky said.

Lazar said IT leaders have expressed concern over app overload. Because of the lack of interoperability, users often juggle multiple team collaboration apps to meet their external collaboration needs.

“This is common in the consumer space, where people routinely use multiple text and social apps for communication, but it creates governance and compliance headaches within enterprises,” Lazar said.

The top Exchange and Office 365 tutorials of 2017

Even in the era of Slack and Skype, email remains the key communication linchpin for business. But where companies use email is changing.

In July 2017, Microsoft said, for the first time, its cloud-based Office 365 collaboration platform brought in more revenue than traditional Office licensing. In October 2017, Microsoft said it had 120 million commercial subscribers using its cloud service.

This trend toward the cloud is reflected by the heavy presence of Office 365 tutorials in this compilation of the most popular tips of 2017 on SearchExchange. More businesses are interested in moving from a legacy on-premises server system to the cloud — or at least a new version of Exchange.

The following top-rated Office 365 tutorials range from why a business would use an Office 365 hybrid setup to why a backup policy is essential in Office 365.

5. Don’t wait to make an Office 365 backup policy

Microsoft does not have a built-in backup offering for Office 365, so admins have to create a policy to make sure the business doesn’t lose its data.

Admins should work down a checklist to ensure email is protected if problems arise:

  • Create specific plans for retention and archives.
  • See if there are regulations for data retention.
  • Test backup procedures in Office 365 backup providers, such as Veeam and Backupify.
  • Add alerts for Office 365 backups.

4. What it takes to convert distribution groups into Office 365 Groups

Before the business moves from its on-premises email system to Office 365, admins must look at what’s involved to turn distribution groups into Office 365 Groups. The latter is a collaborative service that gives access to shared resources, such as a mailbox, calendar, document library, team site and planner.

Microsoft provides conversion scripts to ease the switch, but they might not work in every instance. Many of our Office 365 tutorials cover these types of migration issues. This tip explains some of the other obstacles administrators encounter with Office 365 Groups and ways around them.

3. Considerations before a switch to Office 365

While Office 365 has the perk of lifting some work off IT’s shoulders, it does have some downsides. A move to the cloud means the business will lose some control over the service. For example, if Office 365 goes down, there isn’t much an admin can do if it’s a problem on Microsoft’s end.

Businesses also need to keep a careful eye on what exactly they need from licensing, or they could end up paying far more than they should. And while it’s tempting to immediately adopt every new feature that rolls out of Redmond, Wash., the organization should plan ahead to determine training for both the end user and IT department to be sure the company gets the most out of the platform.

2. When a hybrid deployment is the right choice

A clean break from a legacy on-premises version of Exchange Server to the cloud sounds ideal, but it’s not always possible due to regulations and technical issues. In those instances, a hybrid deployment can offer some benefits of the cloud, while some mailboxes remain in the data center. Many of our Office 365 tutorials assist businesses that require a hybrid model to contend with certain requirements, such as the need to keep certain applications on premises.

1. A closer look at Exchange 2016 hardware

While Microsoft gives hardware requirements for Exchange Server 2016, its guidelines don’t always mesh with reality. For example, Microsoft says companies can install Exchange Server 2016 on a 30 GB system partition. But to support the OS and updates, businesses need at least 100 GB for the system partition.

A change from an older version of Exchange to Exchange 2016 might ease the burden on the storage system, but increase demands on the CPU. This tip explains some of the adjustments that might be required before an upgrade.