Changes Coming to Slack Include Speedier Search, Help for Admins

At its second annual Frontiers users’ conference, Slack detailed enterprise adoption as well as recent and planned improvements to the popular messaging platform.


SAN FRANCISCO—At its Frontiers conference here on Sept. 6, Slack detailed improvements coming to its core messaging platform and how it’s being used by a variety of companies to improve collaboration within internal groups as well as external partners. 

Among the features Slack said it plans to release either later this year or in 2019 is Enterprise Key Management for its Enterprise Grid customers to better control sensitive data in messages, files and comments. Enterprise Grid lets large organizations connect and manage all of their Slack channels. EKM gives users control of the keys used to encrypt and decrypt their messages and files.

Ilan Frank, head of enterprise product at Slack, said adding EKM without slowing down Slack’s performance was challenging, but promised to meet that goal when the product’s released. “EKM must give administrators full control of your keys and meet the security requirements of your organization,” said Frank. “Slack’s agility and speed can’t be negatively influenced. It’ll be the same Slack you know and love.”

Slack also plans to release a way for customers with no coding skills to build so-called “No Code Apps” to create custom workflows within Slack.

Slack acquired Missions in July, a startup that offered process automation and ways to streamline custom Slack integrations. Jaime DeLanghe, who heads Search, Learning and Intelligence products at Slack, said Mission’s technology will be integrated into Slack in the coming months. The aim is to help non-technical users automate routine tasks without coding, such as steps required to onboard a new employee, including all the required tax documents to sign, employee guides to read and people to meet.

Also coming by early next year is an update that offers Slack users faster search results.

“It will be a faster user experience in a brand new desktop client,” said DeLanghe. As an example, she said it will be significantly faster to scroll back to a Slack channel you haven’t visited in several weeks or longer and to switch between workspaces.

Which is not to say the current version is numbingly slow. In a demonstration comparing search in the current version to a test version of the faster release, the load time for a new channel was completed in 5,783 milliseconds, versus 1,071 milliseconds.  

The new release will also let Slack users perform at least some tasks, such as read messages and mark posts that haven’t been read for later review even where there is limited connectivity such as when on an airplane.

Also in the works are Announce Only channels for companies making company-wide, department-wide or team-wide announcements. “For administrators, one of the most asked-for features is Announce Only channels,” said Frank.

Diversity of Customers

The morning keynotes at Frontiers focused on customer adoption and usage.

“The diversity of our customers will surprise you, it’s mind-numbing,” said April Underwood, Slack’s chief product officer. She said the messaging platform is now used by more than 8 million users daily in over a hundred countries and in five different languages.

“The proliferation of software at work for any job or task has had a huge impact on productivity, but individuals don’t get work done—teams do,” said Underwood.

“[Slack] Channels are a fundamentally different way to communicate and transforms how knowledge is received,” she said.

Slack estimates there are over 50 million channels in use today with over 202 million messages posted in those channels every week.

Although Slack’s initial appeal was to engineers and other technical users, Underwood said it’s grown well beyond that, with 58 percent of its users in non-technical departments like marketing, customer service and sales. 

John Herbert, CIO at 21st Century Fox, said the media giant adopted Slack because it wanted a platform that could do more than traditional collaboration software or services. He noted that Slack adoption started as a shadow IT operation by users using it on their own. “If you embrace shadow IT rather than fight it, you learn some interesting things,” said Herbert. “Once we made Slack available to the entire enterprise, its use started taking off in ways we never imagined.

“The technology group were huge adopters, but the biggest surprise has been on the content creation side; we now have more non-technical users using Slack. That was a surprise.”

Herbert added that a major shift for the company has been to use Slack as a platform, beyond its core collaboration features, to also take advantage of its ability integrate with other applications. Slack works with such major enterprise apps as Box, Google Docs, Salesforce and ServiceNow.

David Needle

David Needle

Based in Silicon Valley, veteran technology reporter David Needle covers mobile, bi g data, and social media among other topics. He was formerly News Editor at Infoworld, Editor of Computer Currents...