Salesforce takeover of Slack is a defining second for cloud software program

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Meet the brand new boss. Similar because the previous boss. These lyrics from The Who practically 50 years in the past sum up the sinking sense of inevitability that comes with every new spherical of consolidation in tech.

Intervals outlined by their progressive start-ups and stressed reinvention give strategy to phases when trade leaders purchase up probably the most promising newcomers and both snuff out their concepts or bend them to their very own ends.

The cloud software program enterprise — often known as software program as a service, or SaaS — could have reached its second of reckoning. This week’s $27.7bn acquisition of office messaging firm Slack by Salesforce seems to be like a turning level — and never simply because Slack has been emblematic of a wave of start-ups looking for new and extra inventive methods of working.

Within the parlance of enterprise software program, the deal highlights the perennial rigidity between “better of breed” merchandise — standalone providers that do one factor very effectively — and full suites of software program which combine a variety of providers. New generations of know-how are often characterised by the rise of the previous, adopted by rounds of consolidation that depart a handful of the latter.

For the previous couple of years, it has nearly been attainable to consider that SaaS might be completely different. In a world of open APIs, or software program interfaces, corporations can simply faucet into specialised providers with out shopping for a single bundle of software program. The attain of the web has turned what have been beforehand small software program niches into sizeable markets. This has given start-ups the prospect to scale up. Want a safe strategy to signal a contract just about? DocuSign is value $42bn, greater than Ford. Okta, a means to ensure folks on-line are who they are saying they’re, is valued at practically $32bn, about the identical as Hilton Inns. Coupa, used only for monitoring enterprise spending, is value $22bn.

The “consumerisation” of IT has additionally shifted the facility away from suites. Small teams of employees have typically taken up free instruments like Slack for themselves, main their employers in a while to pay for extra full-featured variations of the service for all their staff.

On this new period of office software program, Slack has performed a singular position. In addition to being an easy messaging instrument, it acts as a digital spine that connects a variety of purposes, giving employees a window into the completely different software program merchandise they depend on. For different SaaS corporations, it has been an vital open interface by way of which employees can attain their very own providers.

That makes the Salesforce acquisition — the most important ever of a cloud firm — such a defining second within the SaaS enterprise. Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s chief government, is out to tackle Microsoft’s built-in suite of software program instruments, and which means utilizing Slack because the glue to tie collectively his personal firm’s spreading vary of software program. Salesforce has not been recognized for integrating its acquisitions deeply into its different providers. However with Slack, Mr Benioff has lots to show: Wall Road has wiped $36bn off his firm’s market worth since information of the deal broke, reflecting considerations over the fee.

In fact, every interval of consolidation in tech seems to be completely different. Partaking staff extra deeply and elevating their productiveness is a problem for all corporations — notably in a post-pandemic world the place these staff could be working remotely. Firms like Slack have proven new methods to attract folks extra deeply into their jobs.

As extra work processes are automated, there’s additionally a necessity for a special set of instruments, becoming software program extra exactly to every particular person’s job processes, or workflow. The specialised nature of many industries provides to the necessity for extra customised software program. No firm will have the ability to personal all these workflows from finish to finish. Tying collectively specialised providers might be an inescapable a part of the job for corporations like Salesforce and Microsoft.

There are indicators that Salesforce could also be adapting, giving product innovation extra weight. In a telling change of personnel, Keith Block, a former high Oracle gross sales government, stop as Mr Benioff’s co-CEO earlier this yr. The corporate’s new quantity two government is a former Google product supervisor, Bret Taylor, whose credit embody creating Google Maps. Slack’s well-regarded CEO, Stewart Butterfield, has additionally mentioned he plans to remain on.

Mr Benioff is below stress to make use of Slack to hawk extra Salesforce software program. However in the long term, there’s a lot about the way forward for work that also must be invented.

Richard.Waters@FT.com

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