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Slack Workflow Builder enables no-code customization

Slack Workflow Builder gives users templates for creating automated messages and forms in Slack. The product launched in beta this week.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Slack has unveiled in beta a workflow builder that requires no knowledge of computer coding. The visual tool gives users the ability to customize Slack using a series of templates.

Slack leads the market in third-party integrations, with 1,500 apps available in its directory. Many other developers have used Slack’s API to customize their company’s use of Slack, but building those customizations has always required some level of coding knowledge.

Slack Workflow Builder, introduced this week at the vendor's Frontiers user conference, will give businesses a way to create custom uses of Slack without writing code. Slack plans to launch the builder later this year and is inviting customers to apply to be on the waitlist for a pilot program.

The tool drew immediate interest from Slack users.

"The Workflow Builder, and the exact example they gave for onboarding new hires, was very appealing to me," said Amber Hobbs, senior technology manager at the Center for Community Change, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. "I want to take some of that back to our HR team."

Two main uses of the tool are automatic messages and forms. Businesses can use the application to customize messages sent to users when they join a workspace or a channel. For example, an orientation message could be sent to new employees joining a channel for the first time.

Businesses can also create forms that users fill out within Slack. This could be useful for requesting time off, ordering business cards, providing feedback on a company event or ordering a computer monitor from the IT department.

"Workflow Builder allows any Slack user to save time by dragging and dropping elements to automate tasks," said Wayne Kurtzman, analyst at IDC. "While this makes workflow faster, it's designed to help the average worker and not replace workflow applications integrated into Slack."

Screenshot of Slack Workflow Builder
An example of an employee orientation message in Slack created using Workflow Builder.

Slack focuses on end-user simplicity

Workflow Builder is based on technology developed by Missions, a former division of mobile app developer Robot & Pencils. Slack acquired Missions in July 2018.

The release of Slack Workflow Builder furthers the vendor's push to make integrations and customizations more user-friendly. Earlier this year, the vendor released a toolkit to help developers build aesthetically pleasing and interactive integrations.

Slack is attempting to create a new way of collaborative working for teams, said Larry Cannell, analyst at Gartner. Many people customize email inboxes by automatically flagging and sorting email messages. Workflow Builder could bring the same kind of customization to group workflows.

However, end-user development tools can create headaches for IT departments, so Slack will need to provide strong administrative controls for Slack Workflow Builder.

"For IT to trust these user-crafted solutions, they will also have to address governance and risk management," Cannell said. "It's not that IT wants to control development, but it's that IT becomes accountable for something they don't even know exists."

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