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I didn’t go to Enterprise Connect, here’s whyChris Koehncke
I didn’t go to Enterprise Connect in Orlando this past week. I did not hear how Microsoft renamed Lync to Skype for Business and which looks like slack. I did not hear Siemens, now Unify explain Circuit which looks awfully like slack. I wasn’t present for the press reception as Cisco rebranded WebEx aka WebEx Squared to now Spark which, say it all together now, looks awfully a lot like slack.
So where was I? I was sitting in a San Francisco’s SOMA office watching 20-something-year olds use slack.
There has been a lot of noise about slack as the next killer business tool. But as a business owner, my initial reaction is slack is singularly the worse possible productivity killer to be introduced to an employee base. Worse, it’s a parasite, employees can sign up and infect my company with no oversight. Imagine a combination of Twitter, Facebook, Email, IM and likely soon Skype-like functions all rolled into a massive time wasting application. slack, to me, is the food equivalent of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Empty calories.
But I like slack, I do. It’s fun and friendly.
But what I like best about slack is their business strategy, get enough people infected with it and the powerless business owner will have no choice but sign up and pay slack to regain control of their environment. Who says the mobsters only live in New Jersey?
But I digress, let me focus on my point.
Historically, we’ve introduced business tools with the hardened notion of improving productivity. Telephones, calculators, copy machines, fax, the PC were all heavily marketed for their ability to add to business productivity. Many businesses spent thousands of dollars for a PC just for the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet application. Even early email was about faster communications (remember how you used to send memos in expense Fedex envelopes).
In short, nearly every business tool that has had large success has demonstrated they can increase productivity
So now the question. Does slack add to business productivity? Worse, is slack and the 20 firms trying to copy it, reducing productivity. As these “free” tools appear lowering the barrier of acceptance, the communications noise has increased.
Your brain uses something called “sensory gating” to prevent the overload of irrelevant information in the higher cortical centers of the brain. What happens when we can discard information fast enough, we get IFS (Information Fatigue Syndrome). The result is short term memory loss and burnout. I’m waiting for someone to sue their company for this.
Studies have shown that despite however smart we think we are, we can only process about 7 pieces of information concurrently. Sadly, the slack posting of someone’s dog sleeping on the couch is not one of the 7 things I wish to process (there you had to process the image didn’t you!). slack is like watching a stream of conscientious from 100 people racing by at the speed of light. Violates these rules and you get put in the back in the discount rack (remember that song).
We also knows that our brains process on average about 34 gigabytes of information each day and in 2009 we were spending 40% of our day processing emails against this 34gig limit. My fear is while email processing has gone down, we’re wasting even more of our daily time processing all of these other information storms. Because we can’t upgrade our brains, we’re all getting more than 34 gig of data a day o and unfortunately, we’re spending more energy discarding than keeping. That can’t be helpful
One colleague, after apologizing for not replying to me, indicated they were reading only about 20% of the information flowing across their desk. In essence, they were telling me that the majority of the information and tools they were using weren’t all that effective.
I’m not saying the old tools were perfect, the desktop telephone is headed along with the incandescent light bulb into the history books. But the replacement LED light bulbs had real business value. No more changing bulbs and lower power costs. The was always more productive.
slack may well breed more productivity, likely in all of their integrations; the key will be about high value communications rather than a large fire hose of communications noise. slack will have to morph quickly for middle America businesses to accept it’s product.
Make no mistake, slack has unearthed that people are indeed looking for a single business communications tool. They will likely profit greatly from this. However, I believe this presents an opportunity for a company looking to compete with slack but with a focus on business productivity to ride into town. Something with some real business meat on it.
Sadly, simply being a fast follower after slack, may not get these would be competitors the success they desire in today’s single player take all category killer marketplace (quick – whose #2 behind Netflix?). slack appears to be a freight train where you won’t hear the whistle before the impact. Expect slack to rapidly introduce more integrations, audio, video and collaboration with a cadence that will be difficult to keep up with. But slack recognizes it must be a productivity enhancer to survive for the long haul
As a competitor, I’d think hard about what the long haul game is and execute there rather than inhaling from the slack exhaust pipe. slack, as a market leader, will inevitably stub it’s toe as it tries things out and that is where the opportunity to accelerate past them may exist.