Box introduces Box Shield with increased security controls and threat protection

Box has always had to balance the idea of sharing content broadly while protecting it as it moved through the world, but the more you share, the more likely something can go wrong, such as misconfigured shared links that surfaced earlier this year. In an effort to make the system more secure, the company announced Box Shield today in Beta, a set of tools to help employees sharing Box content better understand who they are sharing with, while helping the security team see when content is being misused.

Link sharing is a natural part of what companies do with Box, and as Chief Product- and Chief Strategy Officer Jeetu Patel says, you don’t want to change the way people use Box. Instead, he says it’s his job to make it easier to make it secure and that is the goal with today’s announcement.

“We’ve introduced Box Shield, which embeds these content controls and protects the content in a way that doesn’t compromise user experience, while ensuring safety for the administrator and the company, so their intellectual property is protected,” Patel explained.

He says this involves two components. The first is about raising user awareness and helping them understand what they’re sharing. In fact, sometimes companies use Box as a content management backend to distribute files like documentation on the internet on purpose. They want them to be indexed in Google. Other times, however, it’s through misuse of the file sharing component, and Box wants to fix that with this release by making it clear who they are sharing with and what that means.

They’ve updated the experience on the web and mobile products to make it much clearer through messaging and interface design what the sharing level they have chosen means. Of course, some users will ignore all these messages, so there is a second component to give administrators more control.

2. Box Shield Smart Access

Box Shield access controls. Photo: Box

This involves helping customers build guardrails into the product to prevent leakage of an entire category of documents that you would never want leaked like internal business plans, salary lists or financial documents, or even to granularly protect particular files or folders. “The second thing we’re trying to do is make sure that Box itself has some built-in security guardrails and boundary conditions that can help people reduce the risk around employee negligence or inadvertent disclosures, and then make sure that you have some very precision-based, granular security controls that can be applied to classifications that you’ve set on content,” he explained.

In addition, the company wants to help customers detect when employees are abusing content, perhaps sharing sensitive data like customers lists with a personal account, and flag these for the security team. This involves flagging anomalous downloads, suspicious sessions or unusual locations inside Box.

The tool can also work with existing security products already in place, so that whatever classification has been applied in Box travels with a file, and anomalies or misuse, can be captured by the company’s security apparatus before the file leaves the company’s boundaries.

While Patel acknowledges, there is no way to prevent user misuse or abuse in all cases, by implementing Box Shield, the company is attempting to provide customers with a set of tools to help them reduce the possibility of it going undetected. Box Shield is in private Beta today and will be released in the Fall.

IBM is moving OpenPower Foundation to The Linux Foundation

IBM makes the Power Series chips, and as part of that has open sourced some of the underlying technologies to encourage wider use of these chips. The open source pieces have been part of the OpenPower Foundation. Today, the company announced it was moving the foundation under The Linux Foundation, and while it was at it, announced it was open sourcing several other important bits.

Ken King, general manager for OpenPower at IBM, says that at this point in his organization’s evolution, they wanted to move it under the auspices of the Linux Foundation . “We are taking the OpenPower Foundation, and we are putting it as an entity or project underneath The Linux Foundation with the mindset that we are now bringing more of an open governance approach and open governance principles to the foundation,” King told TechCrunch.

But IBM didn’t stop there. It also announced that it was open sourcing some of the technical underpinnings of the Power Series chip to make it easier for developers and engineers to build on top of the technology. Perhaps most importantly, the company is open sourcing the Power Instruction Set Architecture (ISA). These are “the definitions developers use for ensuring hardware and software work together on Power,” the company explained.

King sees open sourcing this technology as an important step for a number of reasons around licensing and governance. “The first thing is that we are taking the ability to be able to implement what we’re licensing, the ISA instruction set architecture, for others to be able to implement on top of that instruction set royalty free with patent rights,” he explained.

The company is also putting this under an open governance workgroup at the OpenPower Foundation. This matters to open source community members because it provides a layer of transparency that might otherwise be lacking. What that means in practice is that any changes will be subject to a majority vote, so long as the changes meet compatibility requirements, King said.

Jim Zemlin, executive director at the Linux Foundation, says that making all of this part of the Linux Foundation open source community could drive more innovation. “Instead of a very, very long cycle of building an application and working separately with hardware and chip designers, because all of this is open, you’re able to quickly build your application, prototype it with hardware folks, and then work with a service provider or a company like IBM to take it to market. So there’s not tons of layers in between the actual innovation and value captured by industry in that cycle,” Zemlin explained.

In addition, IBM made several other announcements around open sourcing other Power Chip technologies designed to help developers and engineers customize and control their implementations of Power chip technology. “IBM will also contribute multiple other technologies including a softcore implementation of the Power ISA, as well as reference designs for the architecture-agnostic Open Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface (OpenCAPI) and the Open Memory Interface (OMI). The OpenCAPI and OMI technologies help maximize memory bandwidth between processors and attached devices, critical to overcoming performance bottlenecks for emerging workloads like AI,” the company said in a statement.

The softcore implementation of the Power ISA, in particular, should give developers more control and even enable them to build their own instruction sets, Hugh Blemings, executive director of the OpenPower Foundation explained. “They can now actually try crafting their own instruction sets, and try out new ways of the accelerated data processes and so forth at a lower level than previously possible,” he said.

The company is announcing all of this today at the The Linux Foundation Open Source Summit and OpenPower Summit in San Diego.

Reputation.com nabs $30M more to help enterprises manage their profiles online

In these days where endorsements from influential personalities online can make or break a product, a startup that’s built a business to help companies harness all the long-tail firepower they can muster to get their name out there in a good way has raised some funding to expand deeper into feedback and other experience territory. Reputation.com, which works with big enterprises in areas like automotive and healthcare to help improve their visibility online and provide more accurate reports to the businesses about how their brands are perceived by customers and others, has raised $30 million in equity financing, money that CEO Joe Fuca said the company will use to continue to expand its tech platform to source more feedback and to future-proof it for further global expansion.

The funding — led by Ascension Ventures, with participation also from new backers Akkadian Ventures, Industry Ventures and River City Ventures and returning investors Kleiner Perkins, August Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, Heritage Group and Icon Ventures — is the second round Reputation.com has raised since its pivot away from services aimed at individuals. Fuca said the company’s valuation is tripling with this round, and while he wouldn’t go into the details from what I understand from sources (which is supported by data in PitchBook), it had been around $120-130 million in its last round, making it now valued at between $360-390 million now.

Part of the reason that the company’s valuation has tripled is because of its growth. The company doesn’t disclose many customer names (for possibly obvious reasons) but said that three of the top five automotive OEMs and as well as over 10,000 auto dealerships in the U.S. use it, with those numbers now also growing in Europe. Among healthcare providers, it now has 250 customers — including three of the top five — and in the world of property management, more than 100 companies are using Reputation.com. Other verticals that use the company include financial services, hospitality and retail services.

The company competes with other firms that provide services like SEO and other online profile profile management and sees the big challenge as trying to convince businesses that there is more to having a strong profile than just an NPS score (providers of which are also competitors). So, in addition to the metrics that are usually used to compile this figure (based on customer feedback surveys typically), Reputation.com uses unstructured data as well (for example sentiment analysis from social media) and applies algorithms to this to calculate a Reputation Score.

Reputation.com has been around actually since 2006, with its original concept being managing individuals’ online reputations — not exactly in the Klout or PR-management sense, but with a (now very prescient-sounding) intention of providing a way for people to better control their personal information online. Its original name was ReputationDefender and founded by Michael Fertik, it was a pioneer in what came to be called personal information management.

The company proposed an idea of a “vault” for your information, which could still be used and appropriated by so-called data brokers (which help feed the wider ad-tech and marketing tech machines that underpin a large part of the internet economy), but would be done with user consent and compensation.

The idea was hard to scale, however. “I think it was an addressable market issue,” said Fuca, who took over as CEO last year the company was reorienting itself to enterprise services (it sold off the consumer/individual business at the same time to a PE firm), with Fertik taking the role of executive chairman, among other projects. “Individuals seeking reputation defending is only certain market size.”

Not so in the world of enterprise, the area the startup (and I think you can call Reputation.com a startup, given its pivot and restructure and venture backing) has been focusing on exclusively for the better part of a year.

The company today integrates closely with Google — which is not only a major platform for disseminating information in the form of SEO management, but a data source as a repository of user reviews — but despite the fact that Google holds so many cards in the stack, Fuca (who had previously been an exec at DocuSign before coming to Reputation.com) said he doesn’t see it as a potential threat or competitor.

A recent survey from the company about reputation management for the automotive sector underscores just how big of a role Google does play:

Screenshot 2019 08 20 at 11.48.57“We don’t worry about google as competitor,” Fuca said. “It is super attracted to working with partners like us because we drive domain activity, and they love it when people like us explain to customers how to optimise on Google. For Google, it’s almsot like we are an optimization partner and so it helps their entire ecosystem, and so I don’t see them being a competitor or wanting to be.”

Nevertheless, the fact that the bulk of Reputation.com’s data sources are essentially secondary — that is publically available information that is already online and collected by others — will be driving some of the company’s next stage of development. The plan is to start to add in more of its own primary-source data gathering in the form of customer surveys and feedback forms. That will open the door too to more questions of how the company will handle privacy and personal data longer term.

“Ascension Ventures is excited to deepen its partnership with Reputation.com as it enters its next critical stage of growth,” said John Kuelper, Managing Director at Ascension Ventures, in a statement. “We’ve watched Reputation.com’s industry leading reputation management offering grow into an even more expansive CX platform. We’re seeing some of the world’s largest brands and service providers achieve terrific results by partnering with Reputation.com to analyze and take action on customer feedback — wherever it originates — at scale and in real-time. We’re excited to make this additional investment in Reputation.com as it continues to grow and expand its market leadership.”

The five technical challenges Cerebras overcame in building the first trillion transistor chip

Superlatives abound at Cerebras, the until-today stealthy next-generation silicon chip company looking to make training a deep learning model as quick as buying toothpaste from Amazon. Launching after almost three years of quiet development, Cerebras introduced its new chip today — and it is a doozy. The “Wafer Scale Engine” is 1.2 trillion transistors (the most ever), 46,225 square millimeters (the largest ever), and includes 18 gigabytes of on-chip memory (the most of any chip on the market today) and 400,000 processing cores (guess the superlative).

CS Wafer Keyboard Comparison

Cerebras’ Wafer Scale Engine is larger than a typical Mac keyboard (via Cerebras Systems)

It’s made a big splash here at Stanford University at the Hot Chips conference, one of the silicon industry’s big confabs for product introductions and roadmaps, with various levels of oohs and aahs among attendees. You can read more about the chip from Tiernan Ray at Fortune and read the white paper from Cerebras itself.

Superlatives aside though, the technical challenges that Cerebras had to overcome to reach this milestone I think is the more interesting story here. I sat down with founder and CEO Andrew Feldman this afternoon to discuss what his 173 engineers have been building quietly just down the street here these past few years with $112 million in venture capital funding from Benchmark and others.

Going big means nothing but challenges

First, a quick background on how the chips that power your phones and computers get made. Fabs like TSMC take standard-sized silicon wafers and divide them into individual chips by using light to etch the transistors into the chip. Wafers are circles and chips are squares, and so there is some basic geometry involved in subdividing that circle into a clear array of individual chips.

One big challenge in this lithography process is that errors can creep into the manufacturing process, requiring extensive testing to verify quality and forcing fabs to throw away poorly performing chips. The smaller and more compact the chip, the less likely any individual chip will be inoperative, and the higher the yield for the fab. Higher yield equals higher profits.

Cerebras throws out the idea of etching a bunch of individual chips onto a single wafer in lieu of just using the whole wafer itself as one gigantic chip. That allows all of those individual cores to connect with one another directly — vastly speeding up the critical feedback loops used in deep learning algorithms — but comes at the cost of huge manufacturing and design challenges to create and manage these chips.

CS Wafer Sean

Cerebras’ technical architecture and design was led by co-founder Sean Lie. Feldman and Lie worked together on a previous startup called SeaMicro, which sold to AMD in 2012 for $334 million. (Via Cerebras Systems)

The first challenge the team ran into according to Feldman was handling communication across the “scribe lines.” While Cerebras chip encompasses a full wafer, today’s lithography equipment still has to act like there are individual chips being etched into the silicon wafer. So the company had to invent new techniques to allow each of those individual chips to communicate with each other across the whole wafer. Working with TSMC, they not only invented new channels for communication, but also had to write new software to handle chips with trillion plus transistors.

The second challenge was yield. With a chip covering an entire silicon wafer, a single imperfection in the etching of that wafer could render the entire chip inoperative. This has been the block for decades on whole wafer technology: due to the laws of physics, it is essentially impossible to etch a trillion transistors with perfect accuracy repeatedly.

Cerebras approached the problem using redundancy by adding extra cores throughout the chip that would be used as backup in the event that an error appeared in that core’s neighborhood on the wafer. “You have to hold only 1%, 1.5% of these guys aside,” Feldman explained to me. Leaving extra cores allows the chip to essentially self-heal, routing around the lithography error and making a whole wafer silicon chip viable.

Entering uncharted territory in chip design

Those first two challenges — communicating across the scribe lines between chips and handling yield — have flummoxed chip designers studying whole wafer chips for decades. But they were known problems, and Feldman said that they were actually easier to solve that expected by re-approaching them using modern tools.

He likens the challenge though to climbing Mount Everest. “It’s like the first set of guys failed to climb Mount Everest, they said, ‘Shit, that first part is really hard.’ And then the next set came along and said ‘That shit was nothing. That last hundred yards, that’s a problem.’”

And indeed, the toughest challenges according to Feldman for Cerebras were the next three, since no other chip designer had gotten past the scribe line communication and yield challenges to actually find what happened next.

The third challenge Cerebras confronted was handling thermal expansion. Chips get extremely hot in operation, but different materials expand at different rates. That means the connectors tethering a chip to its motherboard also need to thermally expand at precisely the same rate lest cracks develop between the two.

Feldman said that “How do you get a connector that can withstand [that]? Nobody had ever done that before, [and so] we had to invent a material. So we have PhDs in material science, [and] we had to invent a material that could absorb some of that difference.”

Once a chip is manufactured, it needs to be tested and packaged for shipment to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who add the chips into the products used by end customers (whether data centers or consumer laptops). There is a challenge though: absolutely nothing on the market is designed to handle a whole-wafer chip.

CS Wafer Inspection

Cerebras designed its own testing and packaging system to handle its chip (Via Cerebras Systems)

“How on earth do you package it? Well, the answer is you invent a lot of shit. That is the truth. Nobody had a printed circuit board this size. Nobody had connectors. Nobody had a cold plate. Nobody had tools. Nobody had tools to align them. Nobody had tools to handle them. Nobody had any software to test,” Feldman explained. “And so we have designed this whole manufacturing flow, because nobody has ever done it.” Cerebras’ technology is much more than just the chip it sells — it also includes all of the associated machinery required to actually manufacture and package those chips.

Finally, all that processing power in one chip requires immense power and cooling. Cerebras’ chip uses 15 kilowatts of power to operate — a prodigious amount of power for an individual chip, although relatively comparable to a modern-sized AI cluster. All that power also needs to be cooled, and Cerebras had to design a new way to deliver both for such a large chip.

It essentially approached the problem by turning the chip on its side, in what Feldman called “using the Z-dimension.” The idea was that rather than trying to move power and cooling horizontally across the chip as is traditional, power and cooling are delivered vertically at all points across the chip, ensuring even and consistent access to both.

And so, those were the next three challenges — thermal expansion, packaging, and power/cooling — that the company has worked around-the-clock to deliver these past few years.

From theory to reality

Cerebras has a demo chip (I saw one, and yes, it is roughly the size of my head), and it has started to deliver prototypes to customers according to reports. The big challenge though as with all new chips is scaling production to meet customer demand.

For Cerebras, the situation is a bit unusual. Since it places so much computing power on one wafer, customers don’t necessarily need to buy dozens or hundreds of chips and stitch them together to create a compute cluster. Instead, they may only need a handful of Cerebras chips for their deep-learning needs. The company’s next major phase is to reach scale and ensure a steady delivery of its chips, which it packages as a whole system “appliance” that also includes its proprietary cooling technology.

Expect to hear more details of Cerebras technology in the coming months, particularly as the fight over the future of deep learning processing workflows continues to heat up.

Ally raises $8M Series A for its OKR solution

OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, are a popular planning method in Silicon Valley. Like most of those methods that make you fill in some form once every quarter, I’m pretty sure employees find them rather annoying and a waste of their time. Ally wants to change that and make the process more useful. The company today announced that it has raised an $8 million Series A round led by Accel Partners, with participation from Vulcan Capital, Founders Co-op and Lee Fixel. The company, which launched in 2018, previously raised a $3 million seed round.

Ally founder and CEO Vetri Vellore tells me that he learned his management lessons and the value of OKR at his last startup, Chronus. After years of managing large teams at enterprises like Microsoft, he found himself challenged to manage a small team at a startup. “I went and looked for new models of running a business execution. And OKRs were one of those things I stumbled upon. And it worked phenomenally well for us,” Vellore said. That’s where the idea of Ally was born, which Vellore pursued after selling his last startup.

Most companies that adopt this methodology, though, tend to work with spreadsheets and Google Docs. Over time, that simply doesn’t work, especially as companies get larger. Ally, then, is meant to replace these other tools. The service is currently in use at “hundreds” of companies in more than 70 countries, Vellore tells me.

One of its early adopters was Remitly . “We began by using shared documents to align around OKRs at Remitly. When it came time to roll out OKRs to everyone in the company, Ally was by far the best tool we evaluated. OKRs deployed using Ally have helped our teams align around the right goals and have ultimately driven growth,” said Josh Hug, COO of Remitly.

Desktop Team OKRs Screenshot

Vellore tells me that he has seen teams go from annual or bi-annual OKRs to more frequently updated goals, too, which is something that’s easier to do when you have a more accessible tool for it. Nobody wants to use yet another tool, though, so Ally features deep integrations into Slack, with other integrations in the works (something Ally will use this new funding for).

Since adopting OKRs isn’t always easy for companies that previously used other methodologies (or nothing at all), Ally also offers training and consulting services with online and on-site coaching.

Pricing for Ally starts at $7 per month per user for a basic plan, but the company also offers a flat $29 per month plan for teams with up to 10 users, as well as an enterprise plan, which includes some more advanced features and single sign-on integrations.

Simon Data hauls in $30M Series C to continue building customer data platform

As businesses use an increasing variety of marketing software solutions, the goal around collecting all of that data is to improve customer experience. Simon Data announced a $30 million Series C round today to help.

The round was led by Polaris Partners . Previous investors .406 Ventures and F-Prime Capital also participated. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $59 million, according to the company.

Jason Davis, co-founder and CEO, says his company is trying to pull together a lot of complex data from a variety of sources, while driving actions to improve customer experience. “It’s about taking the data, and then building complex triggers that target the right customer at the right time,” Davis told TechCrunch. He added, “This can be in the context of any sort of customer transaction, or any sort of interaction with the business.”

Companies tend to use a variety of marketing tools, and Simon Data takes on the job of understanding the data and activities going on in each one. Then based on certain actions — such as, say, an abandoned shopping cart — it delivers a consistent message to the customer, regardless of the source of the data that triggered the action.

They see this ability to pull together data as a customer data platform (CDP). In fact, part of its job is to aggregate data and use it as the basis of other activities. In this case, it involves activating actions you define based on what you know about the customer at any given moment in the process.

As the company collects this data, it also sees an opportunity to use machine learning to create more automated and complex types of interactions. “There are a tremendous number of super complex problems we have to solve. Those include core platform or infrastructure, and we also have a tremendous opportunity in front of us on the predictive and data science side as well,” Davis said. He said that is one of the areas where they will put today’s money to work.

The company, which launched in 2014, is based in NYC. The company currently has 87 employees in total, and that number is expected to grow with today’s announcement. Customers include Equinox, Venmo and WeWork. The company’s most recent funding round was a $20 million in July 2018.

VMware says it’s looking to acquire Pivotal

VMware today confirmed that it is in talks to acquire software development platform Pivotal Software, the service best known for commercializing the open-source Cloud Foundry platform. The proposed transaction would see VMware acquire all outstanding Pivotal Class A stock for $15 per share, a significant markup over Pivotal’s current share price (which unsurprisingly shot up right after the announcement).

Pivotal’s shares have struggled since the company’s IPO in April 2018. The company was originally spun out of EMC Corporation (now DellEMC) and VMware in 2012 to focus on Cloud Foundry, an open-source software development platform that is currently in use by the majority of Fortune 500 companies. A lot of these enterprises are working with Pivotal to support their Cloud Foundry efforts. Dell itself continues to own the majority of VMware and Pivotal, and VMware also owns an interest in Pivotal already and sells Pivotal’s services to its customers as well. It’s a bit of an ouroboros of a transaction.

Pivotal Cloud Foundry was always the company’s main product, but it also offered additional consulting services on top of that. Despite improving its execution since going public, Pivotal still lost $31.7 million in its last financial quarter as its stock price traded at just over half of the IPO price. Indeed, the $15 per share VMware is offering is identical to Pivotal’s IPO price.

An acquisition by VMware would bring Pivotal’s journey full circle, though this is surely not the journey the Pivotal team expected. VMware is a Cloud Foundry Foundation platinum member, together with Pivotal, DellEMC, IBM, SAP and Suse, so I wouldn’t expect any major changes in VMware’s support of the overall open-source ecosystem behind Pivotal’s core platform.

It remains to be seen whether the acquisition will indeed happen, though. In a press release, VMware acknowledged the discussion between the two companies but noted that “there can be no assurance that any such agreement regarding the potential transaction will occur, and VMware does not intend to communicate further on this matter unless and until a definitive agreement is reached.” That’s the kind of sentence lawyers like to write. I would be quite surprised if this deal didn’t happen, though.

Buying Pivotal would also make sense in the grand scheme of VMware’s recent acquisitions. Earlier this year, the company acquired Bitnami and last year, it acquired Heptio, the startup founded by two of the three co-founders of the Kubernetes project, which now forms the basis of many new enterprise cloud deployments and, most recently, Pivotal Cloud Foundry.

Every TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 ticket includes a free pass to Disrupt SF

Shout out to all the savvy enterprise software startuppers. Here’s a quick, two-part money-saving reminder. Part one: TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 is right around the corner on September 5, and you have only two days left to buy an early-bird ticket and save yourself $100. Part two: for every Session ticket you buy, you get one free Expo-only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019.

Save money and increase your ROI by completing one simple task: buy your early-bird ticket today.

About 1,000 members of enterprise software’s powerhouse community will join us for a full day dedicated to exploring the current and future state of enterprise software. It’s certainly tech’s 800-pound gorilla — a $500 billion industry. Some of the biggest names and brightest minds will be on hand to discuss critical issues all players face — from early-stage startups to multinational conglomerates.

The day’s agenda features panel discussions, main-stage talks, break-out sessions and speaker Q&As on hot topics including intelligent marketing automation, the cloud, data security, AI and quantum computing, just to name a few. You’ll hear from people like SAP CEO Bill McDermott; Aaron Levie, Box co-founder; Jim Clarke, director of Quantum Hardware at Intel and many, many more.

Customer experience is always a hot topic, so be sure to catch this main-stage panel discussion with Amit Ahuja (Adobe), Julie Larson-Green (Qualtrics) and Peter Reinhardt (Segment):

The Trials and Tribulations of Experience Management: As companies gather more data about their customers and employees, it should theoretically improve their experience, but myriad challenges face companies as they try to pull together information from a variety of vendors across disparate systems, both in the cloud and on prem. How do you pull together a coherent picture of your customers, while respecting their privacy and overcoming the technical challenges?

TC Sessions: Enterprise 2019 takes place in San Francisco on September 5. Take advantage of this two-part money-saving opportunity. Buy your early-bird ticket by August 16 at 11:59 p.m. (PT) to save $100. And score a free Expo-only pass to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019 for every ticket you buy. We can’t wait to see you in September!

Interested in sponsoring TC Sessions: Enterprise? Fill out this form and a member of our sales team will contact you.

Why chipmaker Broadcom is spending big bucks for aging enterprise software companies

Last year Broadcom, a chipmaker, raised eyebrows when it acquired CA Technologies, an enterprise software company with a broad portfolio of products, including a sizable mainframe software tools business. It paid close to $19 billion for the privilege.

Then last week, the company opened up its wallet again and forked over $10.7 billion for Symantec’s enterprise security business. That’s almost $30 billion for two aging enterprise software companies. There has to be some sound strategy behind these purchases, right? Maybe.

Here’s the thing about older software companies. They may not out-innovate the competition anymore, but what they have going for them is a backlog of licensing revenue that appears to have value.

Slack announces new admin features for larger organizations

Slack has been working to beef up the product recently for its larger customers. A couple of weeks ago that involved more sophisticated security tools. Today, it was the admins’ turn to get a couple of new tools that help make it easier to manage Slack in larger settings.

For starters, Slack has created an Announcements channel as a way to send a message to the entire organization. It would typically be used to communicate about administrative matters like changes in HR policy or software updates. The Announcements channel allows admins to limit who can send messages, and who can respond, so the channels stay clean and limit chatter.

Illan Frank, director of product for enterprise at Slack, says that companies have been demanding this ability because they need a clean channel with reliable information from a trusted source.

“With this feature, [admins] can set this channel up as an announcement-only channel with the right folks in [IT or HR] who can who make announcements, and now this is a clean, controlled environment for important announcements and updates,” Frank explained.

The other piece Slack is announcing today is new APIs for creating templated workspaces. This is especially useful in environments where users have to create a bevy of new spaces frequently. Picture a university with professors setting up spaces for each of their classes with a set of tools for students, who all have to join the space.

Doing this manually, especially when everybody is setting them up at the same time at the beginning of a semester, could be tedious and chaotic, but by providing programmatic templated workflows, it brings a level of automation to the process.

Frank says while workspaces in and of themselves are not new, the automation layer is. “What is new about this is the API and the ability to automate the creation and management of these connectors [programmatically with code],” he said.

For starters, it will allow automated workspace creation based on information in Web forms. Later, the company will be adding scripting capabilities to build even more sophisticated workflows with automated configuration, apps and content.

Finally, Slack is automating the approval process for tools used inside Slack channels or workspaces. Pre-approved applications can be added to Slack automatically, while those not on the approved list would have to go through a separate process to get approved.

The Announcements tool is available starting today for customers with Plus and Enterprise Grid plans. The API and approval tools will be available soon for Enterprise Grid customers.