IBM i Picks Up The Slack
June 14, 2017 Alex Woodie
Have you heard about this new thing called Slack? While it may sound like something your least productive programmers might do, Slack is actually one of the hottest new productivity apps in the land. And now it’s coming to the IBM i, thanks to BVS Tools.
Brad Stone’s BVS Tools recently rolled out a new application called GreenTools for Slack, or G4SLK. The product is an extension of Stone’s existing communication tools that integrates the IBM i server with Slack.
Slack, if you’re not aware, is a free Web-based service designed to help companies communicate and collaborate more effectively. The company behind Slack (also named Slack, coincidentally) claims that Slack customers use email 48 percent less. It’s all about “picking up the slack,” as it were, which apparently means using way less email.
People work with Slack by organizing things – including teams, projects, or simply conversations – around Slack “channels.” These serve as conduits for allowing teams to post messages, receive notifications, or to have actual conversations (Slack has video chat built into it). Slack runs on Web browsers and iOS and Android devices, making it very portable.
Slack’s built-in file transfer mechanism allows users to share any type of document, like PDFs, Word docs, images, and spreadsheets. Integration with file sync services like Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive and built-in indexing makes all shared documents instantly searchable. Everything posted on Slack, including comments, messages, and the content of files, is searchable.
The service also integrates with about 900 other productivity apps that folks in sales, marketing, or DevOps are using these days, such as Salesforce, SurveyMonkey, ZenDesk, GitHub, DataDog, Zoho Books, Trello, and Statsbot. Any notifications generated by those apps can also be sent to users via Slack. It’s essentially become the central hub uniting Web-based productivity apps — and the ultimate anti-email tool.
As Slack seeps from the edges into the heart of the enterprise, it’s increasingly butting up against the ultimate in corporate automation: the centralized ERP system. That’s where G4SLK comes in.
By connecting the IBM i server to Slack, Stone seeks to include IBM i-generated messages into the Slack scheme of things. If a marketing analysis job ends abnormally on the IBM i server, for example, G4SLK can be the conduit that sends it to Slack, enabling the rest of the marketing team to receive notifications about the job, and possibly for the IT team to take action. It’s a similar concept to email-based collaboration methods, except that it’s using Slack channels as the communication medium.
Stone developed the product at the request of several customers who wanted to use Slack to stay abreast of job-related message on the IBM i server. While email could have been used, the customer’s email inboxes were already so full that they were afraid that critical messages could be missed.
(Another possible option was BVS Tools GreenJab application that lets you communicate with Jabber/XMPP servers. “But ever since Google dropped XMPP as their standard for Google Talk, the XMPP standard has really been all but forgotten,” he says.)
The advantage of Slack is that it flashes the message on the recipient’s smart phone, using the phone’s ringtone and notification features. It also gives the recipient the option to reply to the message. With email, the message could be buried amid hundreds of spam emails, Stone says. It’s likely that many organizations have a similar issue with email.
Stone’s tool includes a set of commands and ILE interfaces that allow a customer to interface with Slack teams and channels directly from their IBM i server. “Right now there are features such as sending a message (as a user or a “bot”), reading message history, sending a file, joining, and creating and leaving channels,” Stone tells IT Jungle.
“If I were to describe Slack to an IBM i professional, I would liken it to the old days of the old chat rooms (IRC),” Stone says. “Except that it has better interfaces (Web, PC, and device versions), better threading, emojis (who doesn’t love those these days) as well as file sharing and what seems like pretty good archival of conversations.”
The software requires another BVS Tool product, GETURI v7.00 or higher, which is included in the GL4SLK download. The current price is $0.78 per day, which makes it a bargain if it addresses real pain points for customers. For more info see Bvstools.com