Microsoft Teams takes on Slack with enterprise bots, Office 365 tie-ins

Microsoft debuts chat-based workspace for Office 365

microsoft teams event pic

Microsoft Teams is now live – and on by default – for Office 365 subscribers with Business Essentials, Business Premium and Enterprise plans.

Teams is Microsoft’s answer to Slack, with an emphasis on Office 365 integration. Teams is automatically tied to tools such as Outlook, SharePoint, OneNote and Skype for Business. With Skype tie-ins, for example, Teams users can move from text-based chatting to a voice or video call, directly within the Teams app.

Teams is built on Office 365 Groups, which create single identities for teams to make it easy for people to move from one collaboration tool to another. Users sign in with their existing Office 365 credentials, and their existing groups are immediately accessible.

Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president for the Office team, unveiled the shipping version of Teams at a launch event on Tuesday (pictured at top). He emphasized the product’s customizable workspaces, which allow employees to pin their most used apps, services and tools for quick access.

“Every group is unique, so we’ve made it easy for teams to customize their workspace with tabs, connectors and bots,” Koenigsbauer said. “Microsoft Teams shares the same connector platform with Exchange and has full support for the Microsoft bot framework. Since [the preview version], there are new bots like Growbot, hipmunk and ModuleQ. And now bots can be used across channels, making it easier to gather information and streamline tasks right from within your workflow.”

Mira Lane, a partner UX architect who helped created Microsoft Teams, led a demo of the software and walked through its customizable workspaces. “We store an enormous amount of information in our heads, and we wanted to provide a way to unload that collective knowledge,” Lane said.

SharePoint's file store is now a tab in Teams, for example. “When a team is created, we automatically provision a SharePoint behind the scenes, with a folder for every channel,” Lane said. “This way I don’t have to worry about whether I have the latest files, or whether I have the right SharePoint URL. Everything is in context with the channel.”

For another example, Lane pinned a Power BI tab at the top of a channel and showed how users can access analytics data without leaving the app. “Tools like these are often in the hands of a few, and it’s important to be able to democratize that knowledge and really share it with everyone,” she said.

A number of new features have been added to the chat-based workspace since the beta version was previewed in November, including: 

  • The ability to send email from Outlook and have it appear in a Teams thread. Users can email a channel, including attachments, and send messages with markdown-based formatting. Users also can opt to receive notifications about all posts in a channel. The ability to follow a channel is for “those high priority channels, where you don’t want to miss a single message,” Lane said.
microsoft teams email Microsoft

Users can move a conversation from email into Microsoft Teams with rich formatting, including attachments.

  •  Audio calling from mobile devices and video on Android (a feature that’s coming soon to iOS and Windows Phone, Microsoft says).
  • Support for open, public teams within an organization. “We’ve added support to make Teams open, public and searchable within your organization,” Koenigsbauer said.
  • Scheduling features: Teams integrates with Outlook, so users can access team members’ calendar availability, see when they’re free or busy, and schedule meetings right from the Teams window.
  • Security enhancements: “We’ve added mobile management with Microsoft Intune and new features for compliance and litigation support, including audit log search, e-discovery, and legal holds across channels, chats and files,” Koenigsbauer said.
  • Accessibility features include support for screen readers, high contrast and keyboard-only navigation.

Looking ahead, Microsoft promises a “regular rhythm of new features and capabilities,” Koenigsbauer said. One of the next big additions, which Microsoft is targeting for June, is to bring Office 365’s external guest access capabilities to Microsoft Teams.

“And in the next few months, we’ll deliver deeper Outlook integration, and then at Build, you’ll hear more about our developer platform, which will include a fully integrated app store,” Koenigsbauer said. “You can expect our pace to be rapid and responsive to customer needs.”

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.