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.