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Slack-Zoom partnership takes on Cisco, Microsoft

The new Slack-Zoom partnership will focus on advancing Zoom calling and meetings in Slack, potentially making the collaboration app a stronger rival to Cisco and Microsoft.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Slack and Zoom unveiled a formal partnership Thursday that will bring more advanced Zoom calling and meeting features to Slack -- a significant move by the two startups in their rivalry against Microsoft and Cisco.

At the Slack Frontiers user conference, Slack and Zoom announced plans to align sales and marketing strategies and build closer integrations between the former's team collaboration app and the latter's web conferencing service. The partners expect the combined services to appeal to customers like Jay Vlavianos, IT operations manager at Twitch, a streaming video software maker that uses Slack and Google Hangouts Meet.

"We've been looking at new conferencing solutions for a while now," he said. "The fact that Slack and Zoom now have that integration seems very, very interesting."

Slack will use Zoom Phone, a basic cloud PBX launched earlier this year, to give users the ability to call other users within Slack over cellular and Wi-Fi connections. The integration should be available this year. 

Businesses can already configure Slack so that clicking on the phone icon next to a user's name generates a Zoom call. However, the setup is clunky, because a Zoom call launches a Zoom meeting in a Slack channel that both parties have to join.

Nevertheless, Slack customers are using Zoom. More than 10,000 teams are using the Zoom app, a 200% increase over the last 12 months, according to Slack.

The new Slack-Zoom integration will make Zoom calling seamless. However, it will be available only to Zoom customers and -- at least for now -- will only support calls among Slack users. (Slack will continue providing a basic calling service to Slack-only customers.)

"It's not going to become the default if you're not a Zoom customer, but we encourage more customers to become Zoom customers," said Brad Armstrong, Slack's vice president of business and corporate development.

Photo of Stewart Butterfield and Eric Yuan
Slack CEO and co-founder Stewart Butterfield, left, with Zoom CEO and founder Eric Yuan at Slack Frontiers 2019.

Other improvements in the pipeline will bring more details about Zoom meetings into Slack. Before the call, users will be able to see invitees; during a call, users will be able to see who has joined; and after the call, users will be able to see who attended and how long it lasted.

Screenshot of Zoom in Slack
Users will soon be able to view detailed Zoom meeting information in Slack, including a list of participants in an ongoing meeting.

"We'll always make product experiences available to a broad range of partners," Armstrong said. "This is a case where we are going deeper, and we're mapping out what's on [Zoom's] roadmap and what's on ours, to plan for some experiences that will be unique."

Slack and Zoom compete with Microsoft Teams but face off against Cisco Webex Teams and Cisco Webex, respectively. Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams both support native web conferencing. Microsoft also supports advanced calling in Teams, while Cisco recently launched an integration with its BroadSoft cloud calling.

The benefits of Slack, Zoom partnership

The Slack-Zoom partnership will help Slack plug the calling and conferencing gaps in its portfolio, while addressing Zoom's need for a team collaboration service. As a result, the alliance "makes perfect sense" for the two companies, said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

This is a contractual partnership. We have a committed joint roadmap and committed activities.
Brad ArmstrongVice president of business and corporate development, Slack

"As they complement each other extremely well and have similar customer bases, the joint strategy should help them move into the larger enterprise market against folks like Microsoft and Cisco," Lazar said.

The announcement comes one week after Zoom's initial public offering, and as Slack prepares to go public later this year. The two companies have worked together informally for some time, but "this is a contractual partnership," Armstrong said.

"We have a committed joint roadmap and committed activities," he said.

Despite the partnership, Slack will continue providing integration with Zoom competitors Cisco Webex and Microsoft Skype for Business. This month, Slack updated its Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook apps to let users join meetings on those platforms with one click.

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