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How Slack and Hipchat made collaboration cool in 2015

Clint Boulton | Dec. 23, 2015
Buoyed by consumerisation, Slack and Atlassian rose to prominence in 2015. CIOs, as well as executive for both vendors, discuss why everyone suddenly wants to collaborate.

Atlassian President Jay Simons notes that as recently as five years ago, most workplace technology was deployed top-down from the CIO, who decreed "you shall use this." Today end-users are choosing technologies, leaving CIOs scrambling to catch up. "Our business model is predicated on users choosing us," Simons says. "We can't convince customers to buy our software because we have no vehicle to do that."

He's speaking literally. Atlassian doesn't have a sales team. That means Atlassian can sell its software for a fraction of the cost incumbents charge because it doesn’t have to pay sales and marketing to get the product on the street. Instead it invests those dollars in research and development. At this stage in Atlassian's lifecycle, CIOs have become so smitten with the company’s products and model that they tell their peers about it. So while Atlassian adoption literally started at the bottom, it's risen to the top over time.

Why enterprises love Slack

Slack CMO Bill Macaitis says that the company's “account managers” assist customers with using Slack, including resolving questions around provisioning, security and uptime as they arise. Slack takes this approach because its executives have had negative experiences buying enterprise software – the scenario in which sales people woo you with steak dinners and then disappear once the deal is signed. Its success metrics are predicated on net promoter scores and customer satisfaction rather than revenues, he says.

Perhaps it's not surprising that Slack can so easily turn a blind eye to traditional enterprise software practices. CEO Stewart Butterfield has no enterprise software experience. That counts for something in in an era of software that is driven largely by consumerization. Ironically, it's the CIOs who may change that paradigm. Corporate consumption of Slack has grown so rampant in 2015, that CIOs are calling the company to get a handle on its use within their enterprise.

"CIOs are coming to us and saying, 'we see that this is being used inside our organization and we want better consolidated controls for permissions, and billing and sign-on," says Slack CTO Cal Henderson. CIOs will soon get their wish, as Slack will launch an enterprise product in 2016. The corporate version will include a management console, allowing administrators to control identity management, single sign-on and provisioning. It will also allow Slack channels, typically walled gardens within which teams operate, to connect other channels within an organization, he says.

Count Behrooz Najafi, vice president of IT at biopharmaceutical manufacturer Medivation, among those interested in a hardened version of Slack. Although Medivation uses Microsoft SharePoint for collaboration, he has used Slack as a consumer and found the user experience, particularly the search and auto-archive capabilities, appealing. But for enterprise adoption, he says CIOs working in regulated industries would require the capability to control the communications within Slack. "That's what it will take for more CIOs to take it seriously," Najafi says.


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