Chat apps like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Cisco Spark promise to revolutionize the way employees work. In fact, Gartner predicts that by the end of 2022, 70% of teams will rely on chat apps as their primary means of communication, coordination, and information sharing. Their versatility as a work hub has even lead to a new term to describe these platforms: workstream collaboration.

But in order to realize this goal, there’s a lot of work to be done on the backend. To be truly useful, for example, your chat app needs to connect to a wide range of enterprise apps so that employees can access information and perform tasks in those apps. Then there are the non-technical challenges, like getting employees to adopt this new interface en masse.

Business systems professionals are uniquely situated to address both the technical challenges of adopting chat apps and the social hurdles. They are also one of the only groups that have the ability to drive company-wide productivity improvements. Here are a few ways that we’ve seen systems experts utilize chat platforms like Slack—without increasing overall complexity.

Choose truly versatile tools to augment your workstream collaboration platform

Chat apps like Slack are mainly useful because of their ability to do more than just foster communication. Their potential lies in their ability to become the new employee UI: a central place from which workers can interact with other systems.

In fact, augmenting its chat feature is a key part of Slack’s overall strategy in the workstream collaboration space, according to Brian Elliott, VP and General Manager of Slack Platform. “If you talk to people who are heavy Slack users and see what they do, you get that it’s actually a primary way in which people get their work done,” he says.

At the same time, analyst and workstream collaboration expert Alan Lepofsky notes that “For products to win in the market, they need an ecosystem, not just native features.”

In other words, workstream collaboration tools need to be able to execute holistic workflows in a unified UI. These workflows span three broad categories:

  • Basic app integrations (like notifications)
  • Native workflows (executed from inside the chat console)
  • Enterprise workflows (which require integrating with big apps like NetSuite)

There are a wealth of third-party tools that claim to help turn workstream collaboration platforms into true work hubs. In fact, the Slack App Directory alone has over 1,500 listings. Some of these are native app connectors for common tools like Google Drive and Jira. But there’s also a wide range of bots and plug-ins for almost every function and process imaginable, from taking workplace polls to sending GIFs.

With so many options, however, and shadow IT still on the rise, business systems leaders have a crucial role to play. They need to help their organizations sort through the available options and choose tools that will appropriately augment their workstream collaboration platform. They also need to figure out where their workstream collaboration platform of choice fits within the organization’s broader integration and automation ecosystem.

Check out this infographic for more ideas on making the most of your chat app.

At Tenable, for example, product manager Bill Olson notes that: “We took [adopting Slack] as the opportunity to double down and utilize some of the cool stuff that Slack has, like bots and the native or easy-to-build integrations.”

But it was also immediately clear that adopting Slack would change what the company looked for in an integration platform. Whichever integration tool they chose, it would have to be Slack-friendly.

Businesses across every industry are in a similar situation, and business systems leaders can help guide them towards creating an ecosystem that plays well with chat apps—across all teams.

Help identify processes that need a new interface

Business systems leaders are often the first line of response for lines-of-business workers who are encountering a specific pain point—so they’re perfectly positioned to reimagine processes to include a chat component.

“When people feel comfortable coming to us and saying ‘Hey, I can’t do my job because I don’t have the data I need,’ we can build out a roadmap,” explains Brian Flood, Director of Business Systems at Fastly.

This was exactly the case for the systems pros at Asia’s hottest startup, Grab, who wanted to use chat tools to help employees work smarter, not harder.

“We wanted a tool that could make our ideas happen quickly and save us time,” says Shawn Song, Senior IT Systems Manager. “We also wanted to establish a true ChatOps culture among our employees, where they can do work from Slack.”

At Grab, much of the focus was on pulling IT processes like provisioning and asset management into Slack. But many organizations start with simpler chat-based workflows.

For example, many teams struggle to keep up with data entry. 71% of sales reps can’t stand the amount of data entry that’s required of them, according to a Hubspot survey. The same is true across teams like marketing, HR, and finance; regardless of function, manual data entry is a huge burden on teams, especially as an organization grows.

Learn more: Giving sales more time to sell with a chat-based Deal Desk >

Workstream collaboration can easily bring value by making it easier to log key data without app switching. But identifying similar opportunities to add value to processes requires two things:

  • A close relationship with the lines-of-business team using that process
  • A deep understanding of which systems are in play and how information must flow between them

Because they sit between IT and lines-of-business teams, systems professionals meet both of these requirements. If your organization is looking to scale its use of workstream collaboration, keep your eyes and ears open as you manage systems day-to-day—you just might stumble upon an opportunity to include chat in an existing process.

That’s exactly what happened at Tenable, a leading cybersecurity firm. A review of employees’ requests for help showed that 90% of questions already had a documented answer. Employees just didn’t know how to find it. This realization led to the design of an intelligent, Slack-based employee helpdesk that provides relevant answers instantaneously—without burdening subject matter experts.

Similarly, the systems team at Grab has been pleased with employee feedback about how Slack automations have made work easier.

“[The chatbot] responds immediately to an employee’s request versus waiting for the IT team to get back to you,” says Song. “Employees are much more satisfied with the response time! We also anticipate that pre-emptive workflows, like prompting the user to install a printer driver for a new office before they even ask, will create an even better employee experience.”

Drive user adoption through proactive support

As your organization implements and scales its workstream collaboration platform, a key consideration is: how do you, you know, actually get employees to use it? More importantly, how do you get employees to truly see it as the new UI for getting their work done?

It might sound simple; after all, who wouldn’t want to adopt a cool new chat app? But the truth is that employees are often stuck in their ways, whether those ways are efficient or not.

“People are resourceful and creative,” Flood says. “They’ll find ways to do their job—but those workarounds often don’t make any sense when you need to scale. That’s why you need business systems as a trusted, strategic partner.”

Similarly, Slack Customer Success Manager Dave Macnee advises that:

“Anytime a company adopts a new tool, it’s worth having a feedback loop to check its effectiveness after launching. There are a variety of ways to do that, either formally through things like regular NPS reports or informally through surveys and requests for comments. Identify red flags that can be addressed, but also pay attention to any internal teams that are slow to adopt Slack. Sometimes specific groups have needs that aren’t being met and could use some guidance, while other times it’s the nature of their work to do it elsewhere.”

Business systems pros are often the most attuned to these issues in the organization, because so much of their job involves understanding business teams’ unique needs. So make a point of checking in on how Slack adoption is going across the company. What concerns does a particular team have? Is there anything that’s just not working for them? Are there points of confusion or features that they don’t understand?

Overall, the business systems role and workstream collaboration go hand-in-hand. As the SaaS explosion continues, organizations will increasingly rely on chat apps as a central UI for getting work done across those apps. Business systems leaders have a key role to play in making sure that workstream collaboration actually becomes the work hub that companies hope it will be.

Want to learn more about how systems professionals can help implement chat apps? Download the infographic >

Hannah Herman
About Hannah Herman

Hannah is a longtime content marketer, specializing in productivity and best practices in app automation and business systems.