By Tim Beamer, Plus Consulting https://www.linkedin.com/in/tbeam/
At Ignite 2017, Microsoft announced that the Skype For Business client was being de-emphasized and that the future of the client for chat, meetings, presence awareness, and telephony would be the new Microsoft Teams application.
As a consultant working with Microsoft technologies for over 20 years and a 25+ year veteran in the IT industry, it’s the one announcement that caused the most feedback from my customers…ever. But take heart – not all is lost! Microsoft Teams represents a new way to look at working in a collaborative environment and takes on other tools in the Industry like Slack, but it does much more than bring in the communications tools that we have relied on through the Skype for Business client.
Several factors are driving this change, most importantly the fact that Outlook is great for email – but not much else (Yes, there are apps that tie into the Outlook client to move mail into another solution, like CRM, but you can’t collaborate on a document in Outlook). Feedback to Microsoft for years has been along the lines of “We spend all day in Outlook and don’t get any real work done!” When you couple that with the underlying reality that most e-mail conversations don’t need to happen in e-mail, what you see is “Outlook Fatigue”. You probably have it, I know I do.
Microsoft Teams leverages the Skype for Business communications framework behind the scenes, and couples it with the notion of a “persistent chat” environment. Think of it this way: you have a multi-party conversation going on with a stenographer recording everything that’s said, so that you can refer back to it, or if a new member is added to the team, they can read through the history and get up to speed more quickly. This enables the conversations that are about collaborative work that really don’t need to be, nor should be in e-mail, to happen in a way that can still be referenced in the future. It’s a quicker, more efficient way to communicate that is more like the way you have an actual face-to-face conversation.
This is just the very surface of Microsoft Teams. When you start to dig in, there are additional capabilities built on the Office 365 framework that give you an environment that allows real work to happen. Teams also leverages SharePoint as a place to store and share documents. Don’t get me wrong, SharePoint has been around for 18 years or so now, but tends to be underutilized. The issue existed with getting people to actually adopt it for use as a collaborative platform. Where Microsoft Teams makes this much simpler for collaboration is in using the Teams App (Desktop, Web, or Mobile) to access the documents that you need to collaboratively work on in a more accessible view. A user can view or edit a document directly in the Teams application. Multiple users can view or edit the same document at the same time! While multiple people are editing that document, they can also have a chat conversation going while they are editing the document! Now we’re talking some real collaboration type activity.
But we’re still just working with the basics. Where Teams really shines is when you tie the environment into other applications. Each Team has the ability to have what are referred to as “tabs.” In the graphic above, these are above the document library view and show “Conversations,” “Files” (the document library), and other things that are important to that specific team of people working on whatever initiative that the team has been created to facilitate. These tabs can be used to surface additional Microsoft applications like a specific Word document that everyone in the team needs to periodically review, or work on.
A tab could also be used to expose a Planner board, which is very similar in function to Trello. Planner is included in Office 365, and when you create a team, you also get a Planner board for that team by default. This board is a Kanban type view for task management and tracking.
Microsoft also has developed relationships with a host of third-party ISVs to allow their applications to be natively run inside the Teams client as well.
While all of this is great, where the power of the platform comes into play is the ability to add access to your Line-of-Business applications through Power Apps and Flow to provide business process automation, all from a single interface. Imagine being a user in your Human Resources department. Then imagine that they open the Teams application and can do everything they need to do for their job without ever having to leave that application. They could see information from the timekeeping application, view an employee’s benefit information, process a job application, and approve a vacation request, all from within the Teams application, while being able to chat with the employee making these requests directly in the app, even though each of those requests use different back-end applications.
There is a lot more to discuss about implementing Microsoft Teams in your organization, including governance and security models, user education, and administration. Is Microsoft Teams the “magic answer” to solving all your collaboration challenges? We all know that there is no “magic answer.” However, I think that with proper planning, a little common sense, and some development in Flow, Power Apps, and maybe a splash of Power BI on top of the out-of-the-box capability, Microsoft Teams can go a long way to helping you on your journey to a much more collaborative workforce.