Salesforce recently held its showcase event named ‘Dreamforce’, which offered an early opportunity for business unit Slack to shine.

During the keynote, Slack CEO Lidiane Jones provided an update regarding new and upcoming capabilities on the Slack platform. While the update was no doubt intended to tantalize, event logistics conspired with an insipid array of features and a hazy roadmap to underwhelm the audience.

Limited to only a handful of minutes and relegated to the tail end of a 90-minute kick-off, the announcements felt very much like an afterthought. This was surprising treatment for the business unit, which Salesforce spent nearly $28 billion to acquire in July 2021 and has so far seemed central to the company’s mission.

Salesforce talking up the Slack

Puzzling event logistics aside, the capabilities unveiled were a scattershot, disjointed array. Piloting this winter, Slack AI will feature recaps/summaries of channel and thread activities and discussions; a workflow builder, generally available now for paid users, enables creation of no-code, automated workflows (such as approving travel expenses) along with coded, custom apps. The workflows and apps will be accessible from a dedicated hub launching later in September 2023.

Slack Lists will enable users to manage, track, and triage work in a single place (it is piloting in late-2023 with general availability in 2024). Slack Sales Elevate launched in August 2023 and helps reps more proactively manage their deal pipeline; Slack Canvas is being improved with sales-specific templates containing curated information formulated with GenAI (the timeline for these improvements was not made apparent); wrapping up all of the capabilities is a reconfigured user experience, which was unveiled in August 2023.

GeanAI conundrum

The presentation left a sense that Slack is feeling pressure to introduce generative AI (GenAI) features. While Slack has kept pace with rivals in terms of speed to market, it suffers from a narrower platform with a focus limited to productivity. Another concern the presentation drummed up was the complete lack of reference to ‘SlackGPT,’ Slack’s vision for GenAI that was introduced in May 2023. Attendees were left to wonder how (and if) ‘Slack AI’ and ‘SlackGPT’ will work together.

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Productivity is the key

Despite the doubts and unanswered questions, there are bright spots for Slack. From an AI perspective, capabilities already launched under the ‘SlackGPT’ umbrella and those revealed at Dreamforce mark definitive progress.

More generally, although Slack lacks the broad platform that rivals enjoy, its focus on productivity is wise. Improving productivity has always enjoyed enduring appeal among businesses of all stripes, and given the high degree of uncertainty in the current economic climate, the need to do the same (if not more) with less is especially acute. If Slack can craft an AI message as compelling as its productivity message, it will land on more solid footing.