There is a pleasing circularity to the recent career of Pip White, who in November took on the role of SVP & General Manager EMEA at collaboration software company Slack.
Previously, White had spent a number of years running the sales operation at CRM titan Salesforce, before departing for a job at Google’s cloud arm. In the summer of 2021, Salesforce finalized an acquisition of Slack worth $28 billion, and now White finds herself in familiar company.
A few months into her new role, TechRadar Pro spoke to White about Slack’s ambitions for the coming year, with the pandemic continuing to confine many workers to their home offices.
The official party line goes a little something like this: Slack is the only viable digital headquarters for the hybrid working era, wherein we will all work in a fluid and asynchronous manner from a variety of locations. It’s a message we’ve heard many times over by now.
However, White also offered insight into the nature of the company’s relationship with its new parent organization, as well as the way it perceives its competition in the collaboration sector.
Asked why she traded in her position at Google Cloud for one at Slack, White explained that the acquisition by Salesforce played a large part, as did the platform’s role in the evolution of work.
“The opportunity to lead Slack in EMEA was a compelling one, especially in the context of the integration into Salesforce and the doors that has opened from an existing customer and growth perspective,” she explained.
“It was also about where we are in the world right now, in terms of the way people are thinking about different ways of working. Slack presents a really interesting opportunity at the forefront of that transformation.”
Having rolled out Slack internally prior to the acquisition, Salesforce was already equipped with a “really good feel for the technology”, White told us. And in future, the new parent company will help guide product development, as well as pursuing opportunities relating to the integration of Slack and Salesforce products.
Slack founder and CEO Stuart Butterfield now reports in to Bret Taylor, who was recently appointed co-CEO at Salesforce. White describes this relationship as a “tight connection and collaboration” from a product perspective.
“It’s a case of collaboration, not of Salesforce taking over, or vice versa,” said White. “It’s about what’s in the best interests of our customers and how we can help them on this hybrid working journey.”
“Slack will be central to minimizing disruption and accelerating the opportunity for collaboration in this new digital economy, and even more so as a result of the new use cases we’ve been exploring since the acquisition.”
This may well prove to be the case, but Slack will first have to see off increasingly stiff competition from a number of directions.
As a result of the pandemic and shift to remote working, the collaboration and video conferencing market has never been hotter, nor more competitive. According to a recent survey from Gartner, there has been a 44% rise in the use of collaboration tools since 2019.
These kinds of services have also become increasingly amorphous over the last couple of years, as the largest players continue to borrow features and design concepts from one another. In a venn diagram that maps out functionality, platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack and others would overlap significantly.
However, White doesn’t accept the notion that Slack can be easily compared with other services, nor that the platform faces serious competition. Asked specifically about the rivalry between Slack and Microsoft Teams, she told us: “it’s not necessarily an apples to apples comparison”.
This felt a touch disingenuous, given the commonalities between the two services; both offer text chat, group channels, audio calls, file sharing and integrations with third-party apps. In our mind, someone could be forgiven for thinking Slack and Teams are fruit of much the same tree.
In 2020, Slack also filed an antitrust complaint against Microsoft over the bundling together of Teams and Office 365 services, which the company says amounts to an unfair advantage. Both White and Slack’s communications agency refused to be drawn into discussing the legal dispute, which is yet to be resolved, but its existence implies there is rivalry there.
Nonetheless, White is ardent that Slack offers a unique value proposition, courtesy of its push towards asynchronous collaboration, short and spontaneous huddles in place of time-hungry meetings, and rich third-party integrations.
“We will continue to innovate around these themes,” she told us. “All employers are thinking about how to approach cultural shifts and flux in the working environment; a lot of employees want different things.”
“The situation is going to continue to evolve, so it’s about anticipating change and being supremely flexible. Technologies that allow for asynchronous working away from the physical office will enable that journey.”
An automated future
Regardless of whether Slack faces direct opposition from services like Teams, however, the company obviously has a clear vision for the future of its software.
As announced in mid-November, Slack has “rebuilt and reengineered” large parts of the platform from the ground up. The main improvement is the introduction of a library of “building blocks” to the Slack Workflow Builder, which make it simpler to develop automations that eliminate the need to juggle many different business apps.
Building these automations requires no coding whatsoever; the Lego-like blocks can be chained together via a simple drag-and-drop mechanism, which means workers don’t have to rely on overburdened developer teams to code-in new functionality.
If there is no available building block that fulfils a particular task, a developer can step in to create one on an employee’s behalf. This new block will then become available across the organization and can be “remixed” into various other workflows.
According to White, customers are beginning to utilize this and other new functionality to great effect, in ways that are not possible on any other platform.
“We see the ability to bring work into channel as a key differentiator for us. The way in which most of our customers are starting to use Slack in anger, so to speak, is all about the ability to collaborate endlessly from one process to another,” she said.
“We’re only beginning to see the start of changes to ways of working. A lot has changed in some sectors and digital transformation has undoubtedly been accelerated, but we’re still at the start of this journey. I think it’s a great opportunity for all of us to reconsider the ways in which we work.”