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Slack CEO Embraces AI Transformation in the Workplace

Originally designed to facilitate teamwork and internal communication, Slack, along with counterparts like Microsoft Teams, has rapidly released AI-powered versions that function as virtual assistants.

By Rekha Joshi 
Updated Date

San Francisco: Lidiane Jones, the CEO of Slack, a widely used workplace messaging platform, revealed that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is reshaping the platform just nine months into her high-profile role in Silicon Valley. Jones assumed leadership at Slack following the departure of co-founder and former CEO Stewart Butterfield, who left two years after Salesforce, the San Francisco-based enterprise software giant, acquired the company for $27.7 billion.

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Transitioning Slack after the monumental acquisition was not without its challenges, and Jones, a former executive at Microsoft who rapidly ascended the ranks at Salesforce, was appointed CEO to bring stability.

Jones took the helm in January, shortly after the introduction of ChatGPT, which raised awareness of AI’s capabilities. Since then, Slack has moved swiftly to stay competitive, especially against its rival, Microsoft.

“It’s remarkable how the world has changed,” Jones remarked about the current AI landscape that has captivated Silicon Valley and the global tech industry. She added, “We’ve introduced more features in the past nine months than we did in several years before.”

Originally designed to facilitate teamwork and internal communication, Slack, along with counterparts like Microsoft Teams, has rapidly released AI-powered versions that function as virtual assistants.

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Reflecting on her experience, Jones said, “When I returned from my two-week vacation this summer, I had a mountain of messages from customers and colleagues to catch up on. I asked ‘Slack AI’ to summarize everything, and within two hours, I was up to date, as opposed to spending an entire day or even a week.”

She explained that these new AI tools are beneficial for summarizing various types of content and automating complex administrative tasks, such as expense approvals or connecting users to in-house experts.

Unlike Microsoft, Slack users can also directly converse with generative AI chatbots from various providers, including Claude from startup Anthropic and soon ChatGPT from OpenAI.

Jones highlighted Slack’s strength as its extensive availability of third-party apps and tools, stating, “We’re distinct from Teams in that we are fundamentally an open platform.”

Comparing Slack to Teams is a sensitive matter. In 2020, when Slack was still a startup, it filed a complaint with the European Union against Microsoft for including Teams in its widely used Office Suite.

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While Microsoft’s conversation and videoconferencing app, with around 300 million monthly users, surpasses Slack’s 12 million daily active users (according to 2019 data), the last public statistics, Microsoft made several concessions to Slack’s demands in Europe. However, the EU investigation continues, and Microsoft could face further consequences from European regulators.

Nevertheless, thanks to substantial investments in OpenAI, Microsoft gained a head start in generative AI. Still, Jones argued that Slack is equally well-positioned in AI due to the quality of its data, a crucial element in AI’s effectiveness.

“We have access to an entire company’s knowledge on our platform, with staff collaborating across various departments, resulting in a wealth of unstructured data,” Jones explained. “This abundance of context makes our AI capabilities incredibly potent.”

For now, Slack has no immediate plans to develop its own language model, the core component of generative AI that has made OpenAI renowned.

“We don’t believe there’s a need to reinvent the wheel,” Jones quipped, while leaving the door open to the possibility of designing a more specialized model in the future.

Looking further ahead, Slack envisions creating highly personalized AI agents—digital assistants that intimately understand users, including their personal details.

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“It’s certainly a plausible future. I have a family, I work—it’s a busy life. Isn’t it remarkable to think that a system can manage it all in one place?” Jones mused. However, she acknowledged that building trust in such a system would require time.

“I believe there’s potential and desire for it, but crossing the trust boundary will take some time for us to achieve,” she concluded.

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