Nand Kishor Contributor

Nand Kishor is the Product Manager of House of Bots. After finishing his studies in computer science, he ideated & re-launched Real Estate Business Intelligence Tool, where he created one of the leading Business Intelligence Tool for property price analysis in 2012. He also writes, research and sharing knowledge about Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Data Science, Big Data, Python Language etc... ...

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Nand Kishor is the Product Manager of House of Bots. After finishing his studies in computer science, he ideated & re-launched Real Estate Business Intelligence Tool, where he created one of the leading Business Intelligence Tool for property price analysis in 2012. He also writes, research and sharing knowledge about Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Data Science, Big Data, Python Language etc...

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Slack eyes artificial intelligence as it takes on Microsoft and Asian expansion

By Nand Kishor |Email | Jun 5, 2017 | 4884 Views

When former Google and Foursquare product specialist Noah Weiss joined workplace communication specialist Slack at the start of 2016, it was already vaunted as the world's hottest start-up, and enjoyed the kind of cool set aside for only the hottest of hot new things.

Described in some quarters as an email killer, the collaboration tool had evolved beyond being a co-worker chat tool to one that was attempting to redefine the way whole organisations and teams worked, shared information and applied their knowledge.

But the man who had helped Google define its "knowledge graph" of individuals' searches, was brought in to ensure it stayed at the forefront in an era where artificial intelligence has slipped off the pages of science fiction and into the marketing brochures of almost every tech company on the planet.

Making his first visit to Australia over a year later, Weiss, Slack's head of search, learning and intelligence tells The Australian Financial Review that the company has applied analytics and intelligence in such a way that it believes it can keep an edge over an eye-wateringly competitive field.

"A lot of people just love using Slack, because it felt like the tools that they used when they weren't at work, and we have now taken that further to the intelligent services, so that work systems feel as smart, convenient and proactive as the things you get to use on your phone away from the office," he says.

"It's kind of ironic that people are now able to do leisure more effectively than they can do work because their phone predicts what you want to do because it has all the data on you ... we have turned the unprecedented level of engagement that our users have to learn about what they do and who they do it with, so we can do interesting things to recycle it back to them and make them more effective at their jobs."

When he speaks of unprecedented levels of engagement he refers to stats that show more than 5 million daily active users using Slack for more than two hours a day, and sending more than 70 messages per person per day.

Watching users

In the same way that Google uses extensive user data to rank search results, Slack is now applying AI-like smarts when users look for information within it. Effectively Slack is watching its users, learning how they do their job and knows what users want to know before they even think to ask.

This will feasibly progress to the automation of some of the purely process driven tasks, or suggestions about how workers should be doing things better.

Weiss says there needs to be a balance between AI-driven communication and human interaction - joking about a recent conversation in Gmail with a friend, where both came to realise that the other was using pre-predicted suggested answers - but says once companies such as Slack perfect it, productivity should go through the roof.

"A lot of research into AI is is being published really openly both from the academic labs and and industry players, which is great for companies like us, which can use the public infrastructure to build these types of services as prices are dropping tremendously," he says.

"In a sense it has created a golden era for companies to create smart systems ... [which] means less people working on things that feel menial and rote, and hopefully more people getting to work on things that feel meaningful and creative and new."

Industry battle

Despite still being spoken of as a start-up, Slack is no small-time play. It has already raised just shy of $US540 million ($726 million) in external funding and is facing down some of the biggest companies in the world. While it is known in Australia as a competitor to Atlassian's HipChat product, it is also up against the likes of Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

Weiss says that Slack tends to view Atlassian more as a partner, through the integration of Atlassian's Jira software with Slack, and rarely comes across HipChat in a competitive conversation outside of Australia. He says Slack's main game is a head-to-head against US giant Microsoft for the future of corporate teamwork.

Late last year Microsoft seemingly went straight after Slack with the launch of Microsoft Teams, but Weiss says he is confident it is a fight Slack will win.

"Frankly I think Microsoft is by far the most credible competitor, in part because we present the biggest existential risk to Microsoft more so than even Google ... but the juxtaposition between us and Microsoft couldn't be bigger," he says.

"We are building an open platform and ecosystem, where we want everybody else to be able to build great experiences into Slack, whereas Microsoft is trying to sell a bundle of its products and keep competitors out ... We are happy to be on this side of technology where we're trying to help you have this connective tissue that pulls all of the best services together."

A practical example he uses to highlight this is a partnership with US software firm Salesforce, which enables sales executives to work with the specialist software from inside of Slack. He says Microsoft's wish to force customers to use its own Salesforce competitor Dynamics, means it will never allow integration with one of the most popularly used systems in the world.

In the near term, Weiss says Slack will continue its growth in the Asia Pacific region, which accounts for 15 per cent of its global usage, with plans to open an office in Japan this year.

While the product has not yet evolved to operate in Japanese, he said the country is one of the fastest adopters of Slack globally.

"Most of the history about technology companies in Japan is being befuddled by them wondering how to get these very wealthy intelligent folks to use their services," Weiss says.

"Our experience has been the opposite as we never even tried to build it for them and they seem to love using it. So we intend to see how great it can be if we actually try to help them use it better."

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Source: Financial Review