Matthew Finnegan

About the Author Matthew Finnegan


Slack trials private shared channels, adds admin controls

Slack has talked of its high expectations for group chat channels, which it argues will replace email as the primary means of workplace communication by 2025.

While channels are becoming a popular method for internal communication, Slack also wants to push them as way to interact with external companies – and stakeholders, too.

With that in mind, the team messaging company has expanded its shared channel feature – unveiled as a beta trial at its first conference in September last year – to enable private conversations between workers at separate organizations.  A third of its paying users have now signed up for the beta, Slack said.

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Amazon Alexa arrives on Windows 10 PCs as virtual assistants go to work

The growing rivalry between Amazon and Google in the battle for virtual assistant dominance intensified at this year’s CES in Las Vegas.

While both have a strong claim as front runners – with Amazon arguably leading the charge at this stage – it’s clear that Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana are lagging. Case in point: Several major PC makers launched Windows 10 hardware and trumpeted Alexa support as a major selling point. (Cortana will, of course, also be available since it’s built into Windows 10, but it is the arrival of Alexa that was a key selling pitch.

The Windows 10 devices launched this week with Alexa built include HP’s small form-factor Pavilion Wave PC; Acer’s Aspire; Spin, Switch and Swift notebooks; Asus’ 2018 ZenBook and VivoBook laptops; and Lenovo’s Thinkpad X1 Carbon and Yoga devices.

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Samsung takes on Microsoft and Google with its Flip collaborative whiteboard

Samsung unveiled its take on the collaborative digital whiteboard at CES today, launching its Flip display.

Digital whiteboards are getting a lot of attention from a number of large vendors, including Google, Microsoft and Cisco. All aim to replace traditional flip charts and whiteboards with touchscreen-enabled hardware designed to ease collaboration during meetings and brainstorming sessions.

Up to four different participants can interact with a Flip whiteboard at the same time, using either their fingers or a stylus to create or annotate content. Designed for use in meeting rooms, the 55-in. 4K display can switch from portrait to landscape orientation depending on company needs. It includes USB ports to enable connection to PCs and mobile devices, as well as wireless connectivity. 

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Collaboration trends 2018: Expect Microsoft Teams to gain ground, enterprises to embrace group chat

After several years of swift uptake by users, collaboration software has become an increasingly  integral part of how work is both organized and carried out. As more businesses lean on tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams and others, IT leaders are looking to deploy a new breed of collaboration tools company-wide to boost productivity and connect disparate teams.  

During 2017, team collaboration software matured as an enterprise option with the launch of Slack’s enterprise edition for large-scale deployments and Microsoft launched Teams to put group chat in the hands of many Office 365 subscribers. Numerous other vendors moved to capitalize on the opportunity carved out by Slack with their own group chat offerings – such as Atlassian’s Stride – even as Cisco and Facebook continued to build out their existing platforms.  

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Microsoft Planner: A Trello rival benefits from Office 365 integration

Microsoft’s group chat tool, Teams, may have garnered more attention when it launched last year, leaving Planner – aimed at helping teams coordinate projects, share files and work more effectively – largely in the shadows.

Billed as a lightweight, collaborative and highly visual task management tool, Planner is positioned as a rival to the popular Trello (just as Microsoft’s Teams is seen as its answer to Slack). But in a crowded collaboration field, Planner also matches up against tools like as Asana and Smartsheet, which offer alternatives to more complex project management applications.

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Microsoft Whiteboard adds ‘digital canvas’ collaboration to Windows 10

Microsoft is bringing its Whiteboard ‘digital canvas’ app to Windows 10 users, providing a new way for employees to collaborate on creative work and share ideas.

Whiteboard, aimed at Surface owners, makes use of the device’s stylus and touch inputs to share drawings. Users can jot down notes, make precise illustrations or search for images on the web from the app. It can also create tables, diagrams and flowcharts, which are updated in real time and automatically saved to the cloud.

“It’s designed for teams that need to ideate, iterate, and work together both in person and remotely, and across multiple devices,” the Microsoft Whiteboard team wrote in a blog post.

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Alexa for Business paves way for smart A.I. assistants at work

Much as smartphones did in the late 2000s,voice-activated A.I. assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant appear poised to move from homes into the workplace. That’s the the idea behind this month’s launch of Alexa for Business by Amazon’s cloud computing subsidiary, Amazon Web Services.

The virtual assistant, unveiled at the company’s Re:Invent conference, is aimed at automating and simplifying a variety of tedious office tasks. It allows users to check calendars, reorder supplies, set up meetings and kick off video conference calls using voice commands directed at its Echo devices.

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Symphony targets collaboration users outside financial services

Symphony has been called a ‘Bloomberg-killer’ since its launch in 2014 because it offers a cheaper alternative to the chat function in the popular data terminals long considered a mainstay for traders.

The secure messaging and collaboration platform started out as an in-house chat tool at Goldman Sachs, providing secure communications between employees and allowing them to easily share sensitive documents. Symphony is now valued at over $1 billion, according to reports, and has 235,000 subscribers, with users that range from traders and portfolio managers to salespeople and risk managers.

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Facebook’s Workplace takes off with 7,000 users at Virgin Atlantic

The nature of Virgin Atlantic’s business means many of its workers are continuously on the move around the globe. Ensuring effective communications channels – a challenge for any company – isn’t easy: nearly half of the airline’s 10,000 employees are cabin or cockpit crew members.

Two months ago, the airline rolled out Facebook’s Workplace, the business version of the social network tool, in a bid to improve information-sharing between staff and senior execs. It currently functions primarily as an intranet for internal communications, though the company plans to integrate the software with other apps and processes, such as ServiceNow, eventually.

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With new apps and services, IT connects deskless workers to biz

Office-based employees have a wealth of software tools available to keep them connected with colleagues and the wider business. Even those working remotely can easily stay in touch with their team through email, enterprise social networks and group messaging tools such as Slack.

That’s not always the case for deskless workers – the vast, yet underserved chunk of the workforce that tends to fall outside the scope of IT, according to Stephanie Epstein, CEO of enterprise messaging app vendor Zinc.

Zinc specifically targets employees in non-office-based roles. They could be anything from emergency workers to construction laborers, nurses, retail workers or service technicians – employees who usually own a smartphone but don’t routinely require access to core business applications.

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Salesforce boosts Quip’s team collaboration cred with LiveApps integration

Quip is evolving from a standalone product into a full-fledged team collaboration hub.

Founded in 2012 and bought by Salesforce last year in a deal valued at $750 million, Quip’s software was designed to make team collaboration easier by offering capabilities such as chat-enabled documents and spreadsheets.

At its Dreamforce event today, Salesforce unveiled new integration capabilities for Quip that allow users to embed a range of applications directly into documents. LiveApps, as Salesforce calls them, can be updated in real-time, meaning that Quip users can carry out work on shared documents without switching between various apps related to a specific project. Relevant information can be accessed within the Quip app itself, bolstering collaborate and eliminating the need for long email chains.

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With Spark Assistant, Cisco adds voice-activated A.I. to videoconferencing

Virtual assistants are gaining popularity as Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant get better at quickly retrieving information and helping to organize things. Joining them in the office are smart assistant chatbots, which are being integrated into a variety of enterprise applications.

Now, Cisco wants to bring the power of voice-activated A.I. smarts to conference rooms with its Spark Assistant.   

The idea is for Spark Assistant to take some of the pain out of setting up meetings by allowing voice commands to be used to call colleagues or start, join and leave meetings without interacting with physical devices. The A.I. assistant is activated with a simple, “Hey, Spark.”

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What is Asana? Task management tracking made easy

Managing projects across teams both large and small isn’t easy. It can sometimes get complex and is often inefficient. That’s where collaborative task management firm Asana hopes to help out. It aims to make tracking work activities simpler, reducing the need for email and unnecessary meetings, or – as Asana calls it – all that “work about work.”

Asana was created in 2008 by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and software engineer Justin Rosenstein after they saw a need to coordinate teams more effectively inside the social network’s operations. They soon realized that tech giants weren’t the only companies that could benefit from greater efficiency.

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Facebook, Slack and Google all roll out new collaboration features

The already competitive collaboration market got a little more competitive this week, with several leading vendors – Facebook, Slack and Google – trying to one-up each other with updates to their respective products.

Here’s a rundown of the features unveiled in recent days:

Facebook Workplace gets a desktop chat app 

Facebook today officially launched a standalone desktop app for its enterprise messaging app, Workplace Chat. The app forms part of the wider Workplace enterprise social network platform, which launched last year.

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