The first Monday of 2021 jolted organizations using Slack with an hours-long outage that took down most of the collaboration tool's critical services. Thousands of users reported the outage on DownDetector.com, which was remediated after noon Eastern Time.
For organizations relying on Slack to conduct business, it was a rough start to the work year. "When deployed properly, a collaboration platform is the nervous system of how a company works," said Carrie Marshall, CEO of Talk Social to Me, in an email.
When a critical platform falters, employees scramble to uphold the business of the day, often turning to email or other tools in the company tool kit. Slack's outage is an opportunity for IT to evaluate the response process and protocols they have in place, with an eye toward upholding cybersecurity best practices.
"When something like this is built into your workflow so deeply, there's not much you can do," said Larry Cannell, senior research director at Gartner. As users turn to text messaging, email or individual communication channels in other platforms, organizations are left to "wait it out and try to keep everyone informed."
Slack, which Salesforce plans to acquire for $27.7 billion, is aiming to become a link between conversations and workflows in its next chapter. As the tool interacts with more mission-critical processes, one avenue IT leaders could explore is to deploy a competitor in the interest of redundancy.
But "the value-add for maintaining a backup collaboration tool with similar functionality does not always outweigh the costs of doing so," said Thomas Randall, research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group, in an email. "These costs include end-user confusion, support and maintenance costs, and issues with security."
Workers pressured to sustain business through an outage will look to IT for a solution, or for guidance on how to keep operations running.
"If a plan B isn't put in place in an organization, employees are left to figure it out on their own," said Kara Korte, director of product management at TetraVX. "They're going to email, they're going to text, they're direct messaging."
In the rapid shift to alternative communication platforms, employees can unwittingly expose company data without clear directives from company IT. Korte said the response from IT should include clear directives on:
- What steps to take in the event of an outage
- Which platforms to avoid, or
- Which types of information should be barred from flowing through alternative platforms
The outage organizations dealt with on Monday can also serve as a reminder to back-up critical information. Slack has grappled with uptime issues in the past, which means organizations "should have by now addressed their internal procedures for remote collaboration business continuity," said Randall.