Microsoft Puts ‘Teams’ Chat-Based Workspace Inside Office 365 – Forbes
Collaboration is becoming more complex, more connected and (some might argue) more convoluted. What collaboration is definitely also becoming is more custom-tuned and composable.
Where we used to use meetings or perhaps even phone calls (remember phone calls?) and emails to organise group events and work, we now use software-based tools to coordinate tasks by department, by employee and by project.
This new way of workflow-driven working is reflected in what Microsoft is doing with Office 365. As we know, Office used to be a CD-ROM, a piece of software, a suite of applications (Word, Excel, etc.) even. But a couple of years ago Microsoft started describing Office as a complete platform in its own right i.e. substantial enough to build other smaller applications to function on top.
Collaboration inside Office 365
Take the above two realities together (collaboration trends & Office as a platform) and it’s easy to guess what happens next — collaboration inside Office 365.
Microsoft is currently in preview with Microsoft Teams. This is a chat-based workspace designed to operate inside Office 365. The company has also made available the Microsoft Teams Developer Preview, which gives developers the ability to start building and testing ‘integrations’ (other software ideas of their own) with Microsoft Teams.
The concept here reflects much of what we can see happening with other dedicated collaboration platforms i.e. conversations, content and tools all in one place.
The cloud-based Teams platform (yes, it’s a platform that sits on a platform, if you can cope with that) is designed to allow software developers to build custom chat applications for an enterprise’s own needs. Microsoft is fighting a battle here against other (arguably more established and more popular) collaboration tools, but, obviously, claims that its “reach into the enterprise” could give it an edge.
By talking about reach into the enterprise, the firm is eluding to the fact that it has 85 million monthly active Office 365 commercial users. Microsoft’s assertion last month that 30,000 organizations have actively started using Microsoft Teams, across 145 markets and 19 languages, may help its cause.
Firms including Growbot, Polly, Zendesk, Asana, Intercom, Hootsuite and Workato are all said to be currently building apps for Microsoft Teams. In simple terms, Teams offers a way for information from other software to be presented inside Microsoft Office.
So how does that information appear?
Tabs, Bots & Connectors
Developers can create so-called Tabs that bring to surface other information or micro-app services directly within Teams. Users can then access that Tab in the right context and collaborate around its content. Did we say “micro-app” there? Well yes, meaning a smaller application that sits on top of other apps and platforms to perform additional functions (and integration) that may not previously have been present in the original base software in use.
According to Microsoft, examples of Tabs include dashboards and data visualization, documents and notes, group task management and shared design canvases.
Tabs allow team members to access a service on a dedicated canvas within a channel. This lets teams work directly with the tools and data provided – in the channel’s context – and to have conversations about them. Recently, deep linking to items within a Tab became possible in the preview – which means users can create and share links to specific items or ‘entities’ within a tab, for example, an individual task in a list. Teams offering a place to share and discuss content that matters and facilitate collaboration in context is emblematic of the software, says Microsoft.
- Developers can also create Bots that can surface in chat channels so workers can engage with a service via queries and quick actions. Earlier this month, Microsoft even made it possible to include bots in a conversation within a Teams channel. Once a user adds a bot to the team, it can be summoned to respond to an existing thread or create a new one.
- Developers can also create options to send Connector notifications in channels so teams can get updates from a newly created service.
Hip enough to out-chat Slack?
Why all these developments then? Well, Microsoft is known to be taking on platforms that provide similar power to these functionalities with Slack and Atlassian’s HipChat being the prime targets.
Microsoft is betting on its aforementioned integration with Office 365 and the ability to customize tabs is being lauded as a
“difference-maker” for those thinking about for Teams.
According to Larry Jin, senior program manager on the Teams engineering team, “The ability to use Microsoft’s intelligent Bot framework alongside the Tab feature of Teams makes the opportunity and canvas richer for developers. Whether discussing a polling bot like Polly or a team morale bot like Growbot, we’re hearing a lot of excitement from developers.”
Will Microsoft win the chat battle here? Well, not everyone is convinced that Teams will provide the correct level of cross-platform support (and private chat channel functionality is also on the wish list) when its full-blown version is delivered, but Redmond still has some time to finesse the final product.
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