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4 Slack bots disrupting the enterprise

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Conversational interfaces have become more common in our lives, from consumer bots on Facebook, to Alexa and Google helping us at home, to bots on Slack that make your working life easier and more productive.

To understand more about products helping shepherd conversational UI into the enterprise, I interviewed four companies who are preparing to pitch their products on stage at Slack’s Frontiers conference. We explored how they are changing the way businesses are run, using conversational interfaces to disrupt and reimagine business workflows.

1. Growbot: disrupting team recognition

Tell us what Growbot does

Growbot is a tool for tracking and encouraging team recognition. For employees, it’s a great way to feel appreciated for going above and beyond at the office, and for managers (or HR), it helps to quantify and highlight the people on your team who are living out your core company values every day.

There are many heavy-duty tools handling employee recognition, retention, and engagement. However, most of these require employees to take time out of their day to complete a survey, write a performance review, or otherwise stop what they’re doing. We’re focused on real-time recognition, capturing it as it happens in Slack using natural language. We also have a deep focus on highlighting core company values and making them actionable.

What have you learned in the last year of building your product?

We focused on our design and copy in the past year, making the most out of Slack’s design best practices. We cut down the number of messages we send users, and instead focused on making our messages as compact, informational, and as easy-to-read as possible.

An example of our previous 24-hour recaps:

And our new 24-hour recaps:

What does the future look like?

Right now we’re all about helping companies build stronger company cultures. We’ve discovered that many companies care deeply about their values, yet they have a very hard time communicating to their employees why they’re important or how they embody them in their day-to-day work.

We’re working on ways to encourage our users to give kudos around values (by tagging them with custom emoji or reminding them what their values are via ephemeral messaging), and we’re creating ways for managers to view and share that data (such as downloadable PDFs and emails, charts that show improvement over time, etc). All of this takes your company’s core values and makes them actionable.

2. WorkRamp: disrupting enterprise employee training

Tell us what WorkRamp does

WorkRamp is an employee training tool built for Slack. WorkRamp embeds training directly into existing workflows on Slack, so companies can train their employees in the context of their jobs. Action-based triggers can kick off relevant and digestible training modules for users in context, like teaching the latest sales pitch when an employee is in the workflow of setting up a call with a prospect. Performance on these modules are reported directly back to managers, so teams know how prepared they are in real-time.

What have you learned in the last year of building your product?

Messaging platforms are making learning and productivity fundamentally more valuable and relevant. For instance, sales leaders can tie training performance from WorkRamp to sales results in Salesforce and access that information directly in Slack. As a result, Slack has become a unique platform where teams can seamlessly connect disparate sources of information in a fluid user experience.

What does the future look like?

Although the consumerization of the enterprise has been underway for years, we think there is a new wave of innovation emerging because of messaging platforms. Due to advances in AI and conversational interfaces, we see tools like WorkRamp and Slack enabling more robust and valuable workflows. Whether it’s predicting performance or increasing employee retention, we’ll soon be able to answer questions we wouldn’t have even thought to ask before.

3. Memo: disrupting enterprise knowledge management

Tell us what Memo does

Memo disrupts the way technical teams manage knowledge. Traditional internal wikis are barely used and usually have stale information — new content takes a long time to write and keep updated. Information is hard to find & keep track of –knowledge workers spend good chunks of their day searching for information (20% of their time, according to McKinsey). Finally, wikis are inaccessible and isolated from where your team works all day long.

Memo is a wiki for Slack teams that’s always up to date. With Memo, saving content is easy—you can pick up relevant information from Slack and save it in Memo in one click. Memo’s straightforward organization and powerful search makes it easy to find anything — onboarding information, meeting notes, devops instructions, or links.

What have you learned in the last year of building your product?

Most bots rely on text communication only, but we learned that combining rich interactive elements like buttons and menus makes our product easier to use. Now we limit conversational interactions to simple tasks, and use rich GUI elements for more complex interactions. Here’s how we enriched our interface in Slack with rich controls:

We learned to keep people in their flow. Context switching decreases productivity by as much as 40% and few things are as annoying as searching for your wiki through browser tabs, then looking across silos of information to find an answer to a simple onboarding question. That’s why having access to your knowledge base in Slack is so important.

What does the future look like?

Messaging systems will become the central hub for getting work done and for sharing knowledge from a wiki like Memo. In the future, a company’s wiki will always be up-to-date thanks to machine learning and will actually be used by everybody, making you and your team smarter..

4. Paste by FiftyThree: disrupting the traditional slide deck

Tell us what Paste does

Paste is a new kind of presentation tool built for Slack.

Presentations are long overdue for a rethink. They’re painful to pull together, don’t work well with web content, aren’t mobile friendly, and become instantly stale.

We suffer through them because they serve a fundamental need on our teams — to pull a team of people together around a common story. We tell stories to give purpose and direction to what we do. Paste is made to tell great stories from images, videos, links, pdf, and text. Our automated layout engine instantly makes great slides for you. Our native integration with Slack means multiple people can easily collaborate on a deck as part of their typical workflow.

What have you learned in the last year of building your product?

Messaging is profoundly changing the design of productivity tools. After building productivity tools for over 15 years, first at Microsoft and now at FiftyThree, this is the first time we can center products around people rather than folders or inboxes: Conversation and content evolve together seamlessly, work visibility is increased in channels rather than trapped in attachments, collaboration is the norm rather than something that needs to be permissioned.

What does the future look like?

We see tools like Paste advancing the pace of innovation for companies, where ideas are heard, seen, improved, and implemented faster than ever before. Bot interactions will help you complete a slide or organize a vote in a deck. Replace drudgery with joy, speed, and beauty. We believe the best work happens across disciplines and we will continue making Paste accessible to all types of workers across disciplines and raise the transparency of their ideas. We are looking to a world with more creativity, for more people.

Conclusion

Each of these tools were able to disrupt traditional enterprise software because they focused on the people using the software first. Users spend a big portion of their work time in messaging apps, collaborating on tasks and sharing information. Slack gave them a way to do that in a natural, conversational way that reduced context switching costs and created more delightful work experiences. As more workflows move to conversational interfaces, enterprise companies and startups will seize the opportunity to use this new UI to change the way they work.

Amir Shevat is head of developer relations at Slack.

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