How apps for Slack help IBM and Hearst get more from their tech stack

Learn how custom and third-party apps, along with our upcoming Workflow Builder, can streamline everyday tasks for teams big and small

Speakers from IBM, Hearst and Slack

The average enterprise uses more than 1,100 cloud services. That’s a substantial investment—both in terms of licenses and subscriptions, as well as time. According to business analyst firm Forrester, 30% of an employee’s time is spent interacting with internal systems, repositories and apps. Companies that use Slack, however, have a chance to give employees some of that time back by bringing data and tools into the same place where collaboration is happening.

“It’s great to build a single application, but it’s better when you tie multiple applications together to deliver bigger business value,” said Kirk Pedersen, a senior IT leader at IBM, from the stage of our recent Frontiers conference, where business leaders joined Slack partners, customers and technologists to explore new ways of working together.

There are three different ways to unlock this kind of value from your tech stack using Slack:

  1. Off-the-shelf third-party apps, available in the Slack App Directory.
  2. Our upcoming Workflow Builder release. This will let you automate routine tasks, like sending a welcome message or collecting information in a form to share in channels and DMs.
  3. Custom apps, which are built with Slack’s API and can open up your development team’s imagination and capability.

 

 

Pedersen, along with Hearst Magazines’ product strategy director Michael Solomon, took the stage at Frontiers to share how they’re bringing the tools their teams use every day into Slack. Watch a video of their session above (which also includes a demo of Workflow Builder). Or, read on for the highlights.

Automating incident management at IBM

IBM is one of the largest IT service companies in the world, and its use of Slack is novel for being so big. With around 165,000 employees actively on Slack, IBM has installed more than 3,000 off-the-shelf and custom apps into its over 10,000 Slack workspaces. “Our employees identify how to best use Slack,” said Pedersen, whose team interfaces with every business unit within IBM. “Part of that is apps.”

About a year and a half ago, Pedersen tasked the development team that originally brought Slack into IBM with identifying new opportunities for automation and orchestration. One of the team’s most successful results was an incident manager bot, which brings updates from tools such as PagerDuty and Statuspage into Slack.

The use of a bot in a real-time interface like Slack means IBM’s teams can troubleshoot support issues faster, reduce their mean time to resolution, and increase customer satisfaction in the process. “The goal is really to align multiple applications together and deliver it in-app, where the engineers are,” Pedersen said.

Democratizing data at Hearst Communications

Slack is used organization-wide at Hearst, a publication empire that produces more than 2,500 pieces of content each day under brands like Cosmopolitan, ELLE and Esquire.

Data at Hearst has historically been difficult for publishing teams to access. If you work on the print side, your data is primarily sourced from infrequent, expensive focus groups that rarely yield actionable insights. On the other hand, folks in digital publishing are awash in data, and the volume makes pinpointing what you need difficult and time consuming. “Dashboards are where data goes to die,” said Solomon. “Surfacing data in Slack helps us solve that last-mile problem.”

To help everyone at Hearst surface the right data to the right people at the right time—and drive better editorial decisions—Solomon’s team developed a custom bot called Hans. It’s a bot of many talents, which include:

  1. In the morning, an editor can ask Hans what topics are trending. Hans sorts through hundreds of RSS feeds to return the day’s top headlines, along with any related stories published by Hearst. If a search has no related stories, it’s likely a good candidate for new original content production.
  2. Let’s say an editor is curious whether a trending topic will resonate with the publication’s audience. The editor can simply ask Hans to search for Disney on ELLE in the past two years, and it’ll return stats for the corresponding content.
  3. Hans can track e-commerce sales driven through the content network. You can ask Hans for the top-performing stories that featured any products, and syndicate those stories to other verticals. According to Solomon, Hearst has seen a nearly threefold increase in commerce revenue from these cloned articles.
  4. Anyone in the company, from executives to interns, can ask Hans in Slack about the top-performing stories, videos and Instagram posts.

According to Solomon, Hans is used more than 1,000 times a day across the Hearst portfolio. Want to build your own custom data app for Slack? Solomon recommends determining a data wishlist, then leaning on the Slack API documentation to build your first iteration.

Workflow Builder: automate work in Slack without writing any code

If you have a software development team, you can build anything custom that you can dream up. But for most of us, saving a bit of time on routine tasks, like requests, reviews and approvals, shouldn’t require a dedicated lift from your tech team.

Our upcoming Workflow Builder offers a bridge between fully custom apps, which require deep programming knowledge, and off-the-shelf apps designed by others. Workflows can begin when someone joins a channel, clicks on an Actions button in a menu, or runs a slash command. From there, you can gather information in forms and send the results into either channels or DMs, however you see fit.

An image of our new Workflow Builder: A tool in Slack that allows you to easily automate processes, no coding knowledge required. Here we show a simple form that surfaces useful information.

With Workflow Builder, you can do things like create a signup form for visiting other offices that contains your workgroup name (so they know where to put your temporary desk), your dietary preferences and the exact dates you’ll be around. Once a form is submitted, it can send the results into a private office operations channel, where the team can get to work welcoming you. You can build similar workflows for IT equipment requests, editorial pitches for a blog or podcast, or use a form to capture possible questions for an all-hands Q&A meeting with executives.

The best part? You can create these workflows inside of Slack itself with your mouse and keyboard, picking options and writing questions for forms. It’s coming soon, and Slack admins can sign up here to join the waitlist for the pilot program.

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