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Microsoft goes hip with groupware

Published: 
Monday, March 20, 2017
Bit DepthXX
Nobody was ever this happy to see me anywhere I worked. Video conferencing in Microsoft Teams. Image courtesy Microsoft.

On this day last week, Microsoft introduced its new collaborative work tool, Teams. From the promotional material alone, it was clear that the company intends to put the product on a new marketing footing.

The videos emphasise young people doing hip creative things in environments that are far removed from anything that might be mistaken for a cubicle.

The market positioning is clear.

Microsoft is putting its considerable marketing muscle and developer clout behind creating a competitor for popular web based groupware products like Slack.

Groupware isn’t new. Microsoft’s Exchange mail server product has enjoyed a massive presence in corporations for decades by marrying email messages to scheduling meetings, creating appointments and work flow creation.

In some offices, the rest of the company’s productivity suite is just along for the ride in a sweetheart enterprise licensing deal.

So it’s not surprising to find Microsoft pulling the business leaders of distinctly-millennial companies like workspace builder WeWork and the poster child for Teams adoption, Trek bicycles for their small, distinctly 2017 launch of the product at their Redmond office.

The small audience and low-budget presentation aesthetic was uncharacteristic of Microsoft (http://ow.ly/oILQ30a3iuU), but seemed designed to appeal to a market with no appetite for frou frou and a strong emphasis on big results at low cost.

For the Redmond company as recently as four years ago, this might well have gone over flat, but Microsoft under the direction of Satya Nadella is a rejuvenated company, one might even go so far as to describe it as reborn and much of that has been because of what the company has actually been doing to reach users where they actually work rather than anything it’s been saying.

So what, exactly is Teams, then?

For one thing, it’s part of Office 365, a point underlined by the Microsoft Lead tasked with making the online presentation, Kirk Keonigsbauer, Corporate VicePresident for Office.

“Teams,” said Keonigsbauer, “provides a modern conversation experience.”

That’s as good a place to start as any.

The new product makes it easy to start group chats around tasks or projects, harnessing the full power of Office 365 tools and Microsoft’s Skype-based voice and video conferencing technology in a single workspace.

Everything in the Office suite, from Outlook to PowerBi, the company’s business intelligence analysis software, is available directly in the product, which also supports existing Exchange connectors.

It also introduces a practical implementation of the new Bot framework, automation tools for monitoring and gathering data for review and action.

It bundles all this into the spare interface that Microsoft introduced when it took Office to a subscription model and organises all these tools into a neat tabbed interface which supports, according to Keonigsbauer, “a growing number” of third party tools.

Once that might have been just talk, but the company can already point to meaningful partnerships with SAP, Trello and GitHub, among others, which aligns with CEO Nadella’s emphasis on Microsoft as a cross-platform services and enabling company instead of a producer of operating systems and productivity software.

After a preview version of the product was launched in November 2016, Microsoft made the product widely available last Tuesday to Office 365 business customers in 181 markets and 19 languages.

Laurie Koch, vice-president of global customer service at Trek Bicycle, an early adopter of the product, described Microsoft Teams as the “project hub of Office 365 where everybody knows where to find the latest documents, notes and tasks, all in line with team conversations for complete context.”

The release version adds mobile calling within the software environment, with video calling available on Android and coming soon to iOS and Windows Phone.

If you work with a team and already use Office 365, particularly in a corporate environment, upgrading to Teams is an absolute nobrainer of a decision.

Microsoft has so far not offered a specific pitch to users who are happy with alternative groupware products and don’t need to work with Office 365, but the hipster tone of current advertising suggests that isn’t going to be long in coming.