The Importance of Efficient Communication in the Age of Coronavirus

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Author: Mark Boltri | Nov 2020

Appian and Slack: Streamlining Business Communication

If you’ve ever worked on a project team, you know that a team’s success often comes down to communication. We have written about this before in this blog post, but it’s worth emphasizing again. With the trend towards remote work amplified by COVID-19, teams that can rapidly share information are reaping the rewards. One of the best ways to do this is by utilizing a robust instant messaging service, and of the various available services, one of the key players is Slack.

Slack has been around since 2013 and has steadily gained popularity for its business-oriented features. Our organization moved to Slack at the end of last year, and we have found it to be very helpful for facilitating communication within and across dynamic teams. Slack has lots of features we like – public and private groups (called “channels”), a robust search feature, the ability to invite external users to a chat, and custom emojis. That last one might not sound like a feature that we’d have much use for, but the 1000+ emojis created by Macedon employees beg to differ!

The Challenge – Using Slack with Appian

Despite the success we’ve had with Slack, it posed a challenge for us as well – how do we incorporate this excellent tool into our existing business processes? As you probably know, if you’re reading this blog, at Macedon, we specialize in process optimization and digital transformation. We run the majority of our business using Appian applications we develop ourselves. Appian can send emails using out-of-the-box functionality, and we’ve traditionally sent notifications using that medium. However, as more and more of our communication moves to Slack, what if we wanted Appian to be able to send a Slack message instead? 

This challenge inspired us to create a Slack integration component for Appian. Not only did we want to be able to use Slack easily in our internal applications, but we also saw an opportunity to contribute our integration-related expertise to the Appian community via the Appian App Market. Our goal with the Slack integration component was to make it so that even someone with only a limited amount of Appian experience, who perhaps had not even built an integration before, could quickly start using Slack functionality.

The Solution – The Appian-Slack Integration Component

We started developing the integration component in April of this year and released it to the App Market in June. The component has two main functionalities: direct messages (“DMs”) to users, and message posts in a public channel. The DM functionality will send a message to a specific user, and the channel posting functionality allows sending a message to a channel specified by name.

Seems simple enough, right? Well, yes and no. One of the areas that introduced a lot of complexity is authorization. You see, integrating Appian with Slack isn’t as simple as just calling a public integration endpoint; for Slack to allow you to post to a workspace, it requires an administrator of that workspace to authorize the integration. And to do that, you need to set up a Slack App, which is Slack’s terminology for a connector application.

One approach to this problem is simply to require anyone who wants to use the integration component to create their own Slack App. However, this would need some development to use and created an additional barrier to adoption. Instead, we made the Slack App ourselves and set up a website to host the required authorization screen. The site acts as a wrapper to handle the OAuth communication with Slack, meaning that the hard part is taken care of.

By setting up this authorization site, we’ve made it simple to set up a Slack integration. After you download and install an Appian application (no plug-in needed), the only thing left to do is authorize the application, which is a breeze thanks to the site.

So, does it work?

Yes! The Slack integration component is easy to set up and start using. Our internal testing has indicated that it only takes a few minutes from the time you download the component to when you can send your first message from Appian to Slack.

This isn’t just in the realm of theory, either – we’ve put the component into practice ourselves! Immediately after the component was ready to be listed, our internal development teams started using the integration. 

For example, we have one application that tracks our sales and business development opportunities. Our sales team wanted a way to let the rest of the company know when we landed a big deal, and the Slack functionality provided them a perfect opportunity to do so. Everyone at the company gets a notification whenever a contract is finalized, which is great for promoting awareness and company unity.

What else can you do with an Appian-Slack integration? 

There are a lot of ideas. One common use case is sending a reminder; email reminders are easy to ignore, but a quick Slack message sent from Appian reminding users to complete a task or check a report can be quite impactful (provided that such notifications aren’t overused).

Another idea is to use Slack messages to enhance Appian’s communication features. For example, if your application includes a comment feature, an easy enhancement is to incorporate Slack notifications into it. You can send comments straight to users via direct messages, and even include an Appian link to promote user engagement.

Beyond these ideas, there’s a lot more you can do with Slack. Many companies are recognizing Slack’s power, especially when used in combination with other tools, so we’re looking forward to seeing the creative uses of our integration component!

If you’re ready to start using the Slack integration component, it is available on the Appian App Market (for free): https://community.appian.com/b/appmarket/posts/slack-integration. If it sounds interesting to you, but you’re struggling to think of an excellent way to use the integration, feel free to reach out to info@macedontechnologies.com. We always enjoy hearing about modern business challenges and coming up with creative solutions!

 

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