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SAP Concur creates Slack bot for booking flights

SAP Concur has created a Slack bot for booking travel and reporting expenses, as Slack doubles down on an approach to team collaboration centered on third-party integrations.

SAP Concur has created a Slack bot that lets users book travel and submit expenses within the team collaboration...

app. It's the type of advanced business integration that Slack has embraced as a way to differentiate its platform from Microsoft Teams and Cisco Spark.

The SAP Concur Slack bot lets workers search and book flights within a Slack messaging channel. The integration makes it possible to share a flight itinerary with other Slack team members, who can then schedule the same travel arrangements with a couple of clicks. After travelers book a flight, they can direct the bot to create an expense report.

The travel bot is SAP Concur's latest partnership with Slack. In March, the two vendors released a Slack bot that lets a user file, approve and manage expense reports. A worker could create an expense report, for example, by messaging the bot, "Expense $15 for lunch."

SAP Concur has not released any bots that are compatible with Slack competitors Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex Teams, although it does have integrations with Microsoft Outlook 365 and the AI voice assistant platform Alexa for Business.

SAP Concur's Slack bot for travel uses technology from the consumer flight search tool Hello Hipmunk, which SAP Concur acquired in 2016. The business-grade application of the software syncs with the travel policies enterprises set within SAP Concur.

"I can see significant potential for this to cut down on email back and forth that typically occurs when a travel department sends a list of options to an employee, and then they respond, and then there's some back and forth before everyone agrees on a travel plan," said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research based in Mokena, Ill.

Slack builds on integration advantage

Slack has a better track record than its rivals for being able to accommodate and take advantage of deep integrations with third-party business software like SAP Concur, said Wayne Kurtzman, analyst at IDC. Slack has more than 1,500 apps in its directory, far exceeding the inventory of other leading team collaboration platforms.

"Microsoft and Cisco have to make pushes -- and they will -- to leverage AI in new and different ways that make work easier, but it really has to be easier," Kurtzman said. "Slack appears ready for the competition, and the team collaboration market will retain double-digit growth rates for most of the next 10 years."

Slack has recently taken steps to make integrations more useful, and easier to create. Last month, the vendor acquired Missions, a division of the startup Robots & Pencils, to incorporate its technology for helping nondevelopers build workflows and integrations within Slack. The company also introduced a new paradigm for using third-party apps, letting users export contextual information from Slack into those business tools.

Businesses are looking for ways to streamline workflows so that employees can get work done faster, and with easier access to the context they need to make decisions. As a result, the integration of business apps with team collaboration platforms like Slack has become one of the hottest new trends in collaboration.

But those integrations need to balance convenience, complexity and confidentiality, said Alan Lepofsky, analyst at Constellation Research. The industry is still in the early stages of determining which tasks are best done in separate apps rather than within a platform like Slack -- as well as which types of apps to trust with confidential data, he said.

"That said, I think the creation of these 'work-related' bots is a step in the right direction, as our future will certainly be filled with digital assistants. The question is when and to what level of granularity," Lepofsky said.

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