Slack and IBM are partnering to bring technology from IBM's Watson artificial intelligence platform into the popular workplace messaging app. For the non-developer set, your first encounter with this development will be in the form of enhancements to Slack's chatbot offerings.

The startup's built-in customer service bot, Slackbot, is being updated with Watson Conversation technology, which includes natural language processing capabilities developed by IBM. "The goal is to help Slackbot understand natural language queries better," explains Julia Blystone, Slack's head of communications and public relations.

The partnership also is producing another Slack chatbot -- this one for IT and network operations -- that runs using Watson technology. The two companies plan to offer new tools to developers seeking to build on Slack's platform, including a new plug-in and an application starter kit.

Steve Abrams, IBM Watson vice president of developer advocacy, says the partnership reflects how IBM and Slack share a common vision for the future of artificial intelligence in enterprise technology. "You're going to be able to get access to any key business process through a cognitive layer," he says.

That "cognitive layer" is IBM-speak for the user interface of an artificial intelligence system. The idea is that such an interface is easy to use, responding to "natural language" or using graphic navigation like maps, according to Abrams. In the case of the latest partnership between IBM and Slack, imagine equivalents of the new Slackbot for IT departments -- intended to keep records of how past problems were solved, quickly retrieve records, and offer expertise on relevant topics -- for a variety of organizational activities.

There's one more component to the partnership's significance: Slack and IBM are making votes of confidence in each others' technologies and offerings. Abrams says IBM's interest in partnering with Slack is in part a reflection of the legacy tech company's recognition of Slack's pervasiveness as a communication tool.

For Slack, the partnership reflects the startup's recognition of IBM's expertise in "cognitive computing," or artificial intelligence. "We have a Search Learning and Intelligence division, which is working on ways to leverage AI and machine learning in Slack," explains Blystone, such as identifying which messages are the most important, or pinpointing a subject matter expert in an organization. "But it's an incredibly complex field, and IBM has spent many years building some incredible technology. So, we're using both."

Published on: Oct 26, 2016