Microsoft Teams - What Office 365 Has Been Waiting For

March 16 2017 03:19:50 PM Add/Read Comments [0]

Microsoft first introduced their new collaboration tool Microsoft Teams (they call it a chat-based workspace) back in Nov 2016 as a preview release. Four months and over 100 product enhancements later, this week they made the first official version available to Office 365 business subscribers. Microsoft says there are more than 85 million active users of Office 365, and since the November preview, more than 50,000 organizations (they don’t report how many users) have started using Microsoft Teams, which is available in 181 markets and 19 languages.

You can read the blog post from Kirk Koenigsbauer, Corporate Vice President of the Microsoft Office team for all the details from the launch, and below is a collection of my observations that you can scroll through.


Choices. Choice. Choices.

The Group Messaging market, or as Constellation Research calls it Conversational Business Platforms (CBP) is highly competitive. In the last 3 months alone there have been launches of Cisco Spark, Slack Enterprise Grid, a preview release of IBM’s Watson Workspace and an early adopter program for Google Hangouts Chat. Next week at the Enterprise Connect conference the traditional Unified Communication vendors such as Ring Central/Glip, ALE Rainbow, Unify Circuit, and others will be announcing their latest news. Add to that products including Convo, Flock (which just raised another $25M), HiBox, Intellinote, Ryver and Zinc and, let’s not forget about Workplace by Facebook and you can see that organizations have a wide variety of choices.

Microsoft Teams Starts Off Strong

For an initial release, Microsoft Teams is already very robust. It provides:

  • Threaded conversations with rich text including custom gifs (make your own cartoons)
  • Voice and video calling (I believe up to 80 people in a meeting)
  • Integration with Office 365 apps such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote and Planner
  • Calendar integration and meeting scheduling
  • Highly customizable, add your own tabs along the top of each channel for the applications you want
  • Lots of security and compliance standards: SOC 1, SOC 2, EU Model Clauses, ISO27001 and HIPAA, as well as support for audit log search, eDiscovery and legal holds.
  • Accessibility features including support for screen readers, high contrast and keyboard-only navigation
  • There are already 150+ 3rd party integrations and bots

That’s quite an impressive list for a 1.0 product and shows that Microsoft is taking Teams very seriously. I view Teams as what Office 365 should have been from the start… a single user experience that brings together multiple Microsoft (and partner) products/features allowing people to focus more on the work and less on what product they are in.

Still Need: Deeper Integration and Polish

While Teams is very good for an initial release there are still several areas where it needs more functionality or polish. 

  • The OneNote and Planner integrations are quite rudimentary. You can not convert (or copy) a threaded conversation into a note, nor create a note and broadcast a link into the channel. You can’t create a Planner task from the conversation stream nor are updates to Planner tasks broadcast into the stream. In the current incarnation, these apps are simply tabs in a channel that allow you to access the applications, but there is very little integration and they operate as silos.
  • I don’t see a way to mute or hide conversations, so busy channels can get quite full
  • While you can save favourite conversations, I don’t see a way to get a permalink to one so that you can send a link to someone in email or chat, or add it to a calendar invitation.
  • YouTube videos launch into a separate window instead of playing inline
  • There are no hashtags for grouping similar messages
  • Currently Microsoft Teams is limited to internal use only, meaning you can not invite people outside of your organization into a team. For external communication, Microsoft still recommends using a Yammer community. Microsoft expects to have external guest access available at the end of Q2.

My main issue with Microsoft Teams is that while it is built using Office 365 Groups, conversations across Yammer, Outlook Groups, are Teams are not overlapping. What I mean is, if you have an Office 365 group named Marketing, you can't post in a Microsoft Team named Marketing and have that same conversation appear in Yammer and in Outlook Groups. This will lead to confusion over which application to use and when. I would like to see a more consistent experience across all of Microsoft's communication and collaboration applications.

Becoming An Intelligent Workspace

Microsoft is making good strides in adding Artificial Intelligence (AI) features to Office, but I’ve yet to see anything added to Teams. Compare that to IBM’s Watson Workspace which uses AI to classify posts by type (such as question or task) as well as provide a daily summary of key conversations. I look forward to seeing what Microsoft does with their Cognitive Services and Cortana to automate workflows, filter information, provide intelligent recommendations, classify images and files, etc.

What This Means for Customers

Two years ago Slack gave the enterprise collaboration market a wake up call. Despite the availability of enterprise social networks such as Yammer, Socialcast, Jive, IBM Connections and others, it was clear that small groups of people (teams) wanted an easier way to collaborate. Slack’s popularity led to several “clone products” as well as forced IBM, Google and Microsoft to answer back with products of their own. Integration with the Office 365 portfolio, the huge Microsoft partner ecosystem, and the fact that it’s included in their license makes Microsoft Teams a compelling product for Microsoft customers. However, that’s also its weakness. Being part of Office 365 is not what everyone is looking for. Customers who want a simple chat client without the overhead or complexity of Office 365 may opt to look at one of the other Conversational Business Platforms solutions.


Google Next: Analysis of G Suite News

March 13 2017 08:00:00 AM Add/Read Comments [0]

March 8-10 Google held their Google Next conference, where they shared news about Google Cloud, G Suite and more. My primary focus for the conference was G Suite (formerly known as Google Apps) Google's personal productivity and team collaboration platform.

My Quick Take: After several years of working on architecture improvements for Drive and Hangouts, G Suite is doing several things right for their enterprise customers. However, given Google's past reputation for innovation, I'm disappointed that most of the announcements were catch-up to features/applications that other vendors are already doing in this space.

There were several announcements which you can read about here, including:

  • Team Drives - Shared team folders
  • Drive File Stream - files hosted in the cloud appear in Windows File Manager or Mac Finder as if they were local on your harddrive. (Early Adopter Program for G Suite Enterprise, Business and Education customers)
  • Vault for Drive - Audit, compliance, governance, DLP for Drive.
  • Acquisition of AppBridge - for migrating content to G Suite
  • Hangouts Meet - video / webconferecing
  • Hangouts Chat - 1:1 and persistent group chat rooms. Available to G Suite Early Adopter customers.
  • General Availability of Jamboard - white-boarding device and applications
  • Gmail Add-ons - A new integration platform for Gmail that works across web and mobile devices

Below is a video in which I provide my full review and analysis of the G Suite news. I'm using the Acrossio video player, which allows you to jump back and forth to annotated moments of the video, as well as add your own annotations and comments. So if you're just interested in a specific section, find it in the conversation stream on the right side of the player, click and the video will start playing from there.


Is your organization using G Suite? If so, what do you think of these announcements? If not, what are you using and how do you think it compares to G Suite?


Are Robots Coming For Your Job? Adobe Think Tank 2017 - The Future of Work

February 9 2017 02:50:46 PM Add/Read Comments [0]

On Feb 9, 2017 Adobe Document Cloud hosted their 2nd annual Future of Work Think Tank. I was honoured to be the moderator for this hour long discussion, with an amazing group of participants:

  • Mayor Sam Liccardo of San José, CA
  • Dr. Frankie James, Managing Director - GM Advanced Technology Silicon Valley Office
  • Brian David Johnson, Futurist in Residence at Arizona State University - Center for Science and Imagination
  • Kate Kendall, Founder & CEO - CloudPeeps
  • Jeff Vijungco, VP of Global Talent, Technology and Insights - Adobe

Some of the topics we discussed were: What motivates people to work?  Where do they work? Who do they work with? Are robots coming for our jobs?

My friends at Acrossio have kindly annotated the video of the event, making it easy for you to see what was discussed.  

If the embedded video does not work, you can view the standard Youtube playback here.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on what the Future of Work may look like.



Let’s Talk! Adobe Future of Work Think Tank

February 2 2017 10:05:31 PM Add/Read Comments [0]

I'm honoured to be moderating next week's #FutureOfWork Think Tank hosted by Adobe. This event is part of the NewCo Bay Area technology festival

My incredible panelists are:

  • Mayor Sam Riccardo of San José, CA
  • Dr. Frankie James - Managing Director, GM Advanced Technology Silicon Valley Office
  • Brain David Johnson, Futurist in Residence at Arizona State University's Center for Science and Imagination
  • Kate Kendall, Founder & CEO of CloudPeeps
  • Jeff Vijungco, VP of Global Talent at Adobe

WalkMe Boosts Digital Adoption Platform With Acquisition of Abbi

February 2 2017 11:08:46 AM Add/Read Comments [0]

On Jan 12, WalkMe acquired Abbi. WalkMe is one of the leading vendors in the growing Digital Adoption Platform (DAP) market. DAP tools help guide employees though proper use of their business applications, and help assist customers while navigating a brand's website. Think of DAP tools as the modern evolution of the help file. Abbi, whos name flects their work on A:B testing Business Intelligence, uses machine learning to gather insights into what makes mobile applications most successful. 

I sat down with WalkMe's President Rephael Sweary to talk about the recent acquisition and what it means for their customers.


Lighting A Fire: Cisco Spark Is Building A Collaboration Ecosystem

January 26 2017 10:30:00 AM Add/Read Comments [0]

One of the main topics I’ve been discussing ever since I became an analyst is the struggles people face at work caused by the use of too many tools. We use email, calendar, contacts, tasks, files, chat, audio, video, social networks, and several more applications as we connect and communicate with our colleagues. This complex cornucopia of applications results in content and people that are rarely connected, leading to a lack of context which makes it difficult to work effectively.

Three years ago Cisco started out on a project to combat some of these challenges, and that work came to life a year ago in the Cisco Spark platform. This week in San Francisco, Cisco held an event for the launch of the latest version of Cisco Spark and introduced a new conference room solution called Cisco Spark Boards. I've documented the major announcements in this Twitter Moment:

The first version of Cisco Spark was primarily a group messaging application that people can access on the web or mobile devices like phones and tablets, but Cisco has been rapidly expanding functionality. Cisco Spark now includes voice calls and video calls, and with the latest enhancements not only have they improved the user interface, they have also added white boarding capability, which enables people to easily collaborate on ideas.

It’s important to note they have designed the white boarding capability of the Cisco Spark app to be very secure. When people draw, the system is not actually storing pictures of the content, but instead sending instructions representing the actions, similar to the way multiplayer video games work. So when someone draws a circle or arrow, th instructions for that action are encrypted and sent from their device to the server, then everyone else receives and decrypted those commands, resulting in the them seeing the picture.

In addition to the latest Cisco Spark enhancements, the big news of the day was the expansion of the Cisco Spark ecosystem into the physical world, with Cisco Spark Boards. These are 55 or 70 inch 4k resolution monitors that are mounted in offices or meeting rooms. They have 4k fixed lens cameras and a 12 microphone array which delivery very high resolution video and audio which they claim makes everyone in the room, no matter how close or far from the screen sound like they are sitting right next to you. The Cisco Spark Board can be used for presentations, white boarding, or video conferencing. The boards work in conjunction with the Cisco Spark app to make things easy, for example proximity detection finds all the people near the board who are using the app and can automaticly identify them.


There are several vendors that are doing parts of what Cisco Spark does; there are other group messaging apps, web conferencing apps, file sharing apps, whiteboards, etc. But it’s the way that Cisco is bringing this all together in a simple, secure and affordable ecosystem that makes this pretty unique.

A few of the areas that point to success for Cisco are:
1. Customers are very interested, and adoption is happening quickly. Cisco has millions of people already using WebEx and Jabber, so the potential pipeline for Cisco Spark is already there compared to vendors that have to start working with customers from scratch.
2. They are taking partner ecosystem for building integrations and bots very seriously. Last year Cisco announced $150M developer fund, followed later in the year with  Cisco Spark Depot, the catalog of applications and bots that can be added into Cisco Spark spaces. I would like to see more integration with core business applications such as CRM, office document suites, file sharing services, marketing tools, HR systems, etc. Without breaking any non-disclosure agreements, I can tell you many of these things are already in the works.
3. Vision. I often say shipping software is more important than slideware, meaning vendors need to deliver products not just tell me what their plans are. However, vision is still important and I have to say I really like what I’m hearing from Rowan Trollope (leader of Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group), Jonathan Rosenberg (CTO) and several other Cisco Spark leaders. I can’t share many details with you now, but their vision and roadmap has Cisco Spark going far beyond what is currently available. For example, think about areas like Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, wearable computing and more. Cisco Spark is the essentially the cornerstone of almost everything happening at Cisco, including their call centre business, WebEx, the work they are doing in IOT and more. Cisco's CEO Chuck Robbins has made it clear that Cisco Spark is a linchpin for the company. Hearing this from the top of the company down, and seeing what they are building gives me confidence they will deliver on their vision.

As with any product, of course there are things missing. I’d like to see more progress in areas like project management, integration with mission critical business applications, as well as automation and workflow via AI. Cisco’s recent acquisition of Worklife (one of the top vendors list in Constellation ShortList™ Meeting Management Tools) points to them being committed to filling some of these gaps.


When I work with Constellation’s customers and the major collaboration software vendors, I always focus on what’s needed to really change the way people work. The biggest challenge to the adoption of any new tool is not cost, security, or user interface… it’s status quo. People are used to working the way they do, and unless they can be shown significant benefits to changing, they won’t budge. I really like what I’m seeing in the Cisco Spark platform, and I think their focus on simplicity, integration and security is creating a solution that every customer should have on their shortlist to evaluate.  

Have a few minutes to spare? Take Constellation's 2017 Digital Transformation SurveyConstellation will send you a summary of the results. 

Zoom Video Conferencing Raises $100M

January 22 2017 09:20:02 PM Add/Read Comments [0]

On Jan 17, web-conferencing vendor Zoom raised $100M  (series D) from Sequoia capital. I spoke to Zoom's CEO Eric Yuan about this new funding, about the integration of AI into conferencing and more.