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Microsoft Teams and Viva Progress Highlighted at Inspire Event

Microsoft announced improvements to Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Viva apps this week, as part of its Microsoft Inspire event for partners.

Microsoft claims to have "145 million daily active users" of Teams. The Teams collaboration service was depicted as "the new front end for a new world of work," per Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365. The concept is that Teams supports work-from-home scenarios, a pandemic-era trend that's expected to continue.

Microsoft this week announced a few Teams additions. There's a "public preview of Walkie Talkie on iOS" devices, which adds a Teams "push-to-talk experience" across geographic locations via Wi-Fi or cellular connections without cross-talk or static.

Microsoft is previewing Teams integrations with workforce management solutions from Blue Yonder and Zebra-Reflexis. The integration surfaces automated scheduling and rules capabilities into Teams for so-called "frontline workers."

Collaborative Apps
Collaborative apps for use in Teams were mentioned by Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, during the Inspire online event. Essentially, collaborative apps let Teams users exchange information on the fly, permitting ad hoc collaborations.

Nadella suggested that the use of collaborative apps in Teams would ease siloed information woes:

We are breaking down the silos between collaboration, communications and business process to help you create these applications for knowledge and frontline workers. There's an amazing reinforcing circuit between Microsoft Teams, Power Platform, Dynamics 365 and your own applications that no other cloud offers.

New collaborative apps from partners, including "Atlassian Confluence, SAP Sales Cloud, Salesforce, ServiceNow and Workday," were highlighted in the announcement.

Microsoft notably is planning to permit its independent software vendor (ISV) partners to sell their collaboration apps directly within Teams.

"ISVs will also soon be able to sell their apps directly within Teams, offering new economic opportunities and providing a simplified experience for Teams IT admins to purchase apps and subscriptions directly from the Teams admin center on behalf of their organization," the announcement indicated.

Collaborative apps were a big-ticket item during the Microsoft Build developer event back in May. These apps don't just tap the Fluid Framework based on the Microsoft Graph, the SharePoint Framework and Office add-ins. They also use Microsoft services, such as Azure platform-as-a-service solutions, Power Platform tools and Azure Active Directory for identity and access management, plus they can work across various operating system platforms.

Dynamics 365 Integrated into Teams
Nadella's words about collaborative apps were just a preamble to Microsoft's somewhat surprising announcement that it has integrated Dynamics 365 into Teams, which will be accessible to Teams users at no extra cost.

"I'm excited to share that Team's customers will receive access to Dynamics 365 data within Teams at no extra cost, regardless of whether they're Dynamics 365 licensee," Nadella said. "Our ambition is to make it much easier for employees and external parties to share content and information, and to create new opportunity for all of you."

The benefit seems to be that Dynamics 365 licensees can more freely share Dynamics 365 data with others using Teams, without the recipient first being a Dynamics 365 licensee. Information sharing also can start from Teams, the announcement explained.

"Users can also capture notes directly with the Teams call, which is automatically saved in the timeline of the Dynamics 365 record."

The Dynamics 365 and Teams sharing capability is a novel move, according to Alysa Taylor, corporate vice president for industry, apps and data marketing.

"No other technology vendor enables organizations to activate this capability without the need to pay for multiple underlying software licenses," Taylor stated in an announcement.

Microsoft Viva Announcements
Microsoft Viva, unveiled in February, is Microsoft's new "employee experience platform." It currently consists of four applications, which surface within Microsoft Teams.

The four Microsoft Viva applications include Viva Connections (news feed and content sharing), Viva Insights (employee time management), Viva Learning (employee learning libraries) and Viva Topics (organization information surfacing).

Of the bunch, so far only Viva Topics has been commercially released.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has mustered a partner community centered on Microsoft Viva. It showed off a list with the following graphic:

[Click on image for larger view.] Microsoft Viva partner list, which includes 21 that are new (source: July 14 Microsoft Inspire announcement). These partner integrations are expected to be available "later this year."

Viva Connections News
This week, Microsoft explained that Viva Connections is expected to reach the general availability (GA) stage sometime "this fall," per an announcement. Viva Connections is currently at the "private preview" stage for organizations, but it's at the "public preview" stage for developers.

Partners have created so-called "cards" that will be available on the Viva Connections "mobile app and dashboard Web part" in the fall, Microsoft indicated. The announcement listed 13 partner-built solutions that will be available at that time. A few partner-built cards for Viva Connections were highlighted in the announcement, namely:

  • Moveworks for resolving technical issues with IT departments.
  • Qualtrics for conducting employee surveys .
  • ServiceNow for managing tasks.
  • Workday for team calendars.

The big Viva Connections news, though, is the availability of the Viva Connections desktop app, which now can be downloaded, according to this announcement. In the summer, Microsoft is planning an update to the "dashboard" and "feed" Web parts in the Viva Connections desktop app that will create a user experience that will be similar to the current mobile experience.

Mobile Viva Connections clients are expected to be "available in Teams in the summer of 2021," the announcement noted. At that time also, Microsoft is planning to add perks for IT pros with a summer Viva Connections update:

In conjunction with the release of the mobile experience, we will also release an update to the desktop experience that will focus on improvements for IT administrators and deployment enhancements. This summer update will combine both the mobile and desktop configuration and deployment into the Teams admin console.

The fine details of these IT configuration and deployment perks weren't described.

Viva Insights News
Viva Insights apparently is still at the preview stage, but it got some enhancements this month. A new "Manager Effectiveness" template for HR departments can be used to "uncover opportunities to improve the way managers coach, empower, connect and model behavior."

Microsoft also updated a "Ways of working assessment" template, adding performance improvements. The template uses Power BI queries, but "the new version significantly lessens the time to render report pages," which happens in "only a few seconds."

Viva Learning News
Microsoft expects Viva Learning to "be generally available in fall of this year," according to an announcement. Microsoft is building out public APIs for Viva Learning that will "enable connection from any learning partner into Viva Learning." The public APIs with that capability are expected to be available "in the coming months."

Microsoft has gained new partners since Viva Learning's debut in February. New learning content partners include "EdCast, Harvard Business Publishing, Go1, Josh Bersin Academy, Infosec, OpenSesame, Udacity and Udemy."

The announcement also hinted that Viva Learning is becoming an "extensible platform," although the specifics weren't mentioned.

"In order to enable that rich learning library, we're building Viva Learning as an extensible platform -- enabling connections throughout the learning ecosystem so users can easily discover, share, recommend, and learn from content libraries across the organization."

Viva Topics News
Back in February with the Microsoft Viva launch, only Viva Topics was described as having reached the GA commercial-release stage. In an announcement this week, Microsoft described a partner implementation, plus Viva Topics improvements that are coming this month.

Viva Topics is used to surface organizational information, such as people resources and company project information. It does so via a "topic cards" interface and "topic pages," plus "topic highlights" links within text. This month, Microsoft is planning to add the option for end users in an organization to "opt-in to be added to topic pages and cards."

Many of the Viva Topics improvements Microsoft described this week were said to be enhanced using SharePoint Syntex. It's not clear from the announcement when SharePoint Syntex might be considered to be a requirement, though. Microsoft commercially released SharePoint Syntex last year. It provides trainable artificial intelligence for finding important metadata within organizations. Sometime this month, Microsoft plans to add the ability to use SharePoint Syntex's taxonomy capability to create Viva topics.

"This summer, you'll be able to select terms and term sets from the [SharePoint Syntex] taxonomy service to initiate creation of Viva topics, using the term definitions and tagged files," the announcement explained.

Microsoft announced this week that SharePoint Syntex now has a new "Browse Partners" option within Synapse Studio. The Browser Partners option lets SharePoint Syntex users try solutions built for SharePoint Syntex by partners, although it just shows a "small subset" of the partner offerings. Browse Partner options highlighted by Microsoft included Incorta Data Warehouse Automation, Informatica Intelligent Data Management Cloud and Qlik Data Integration.

Users of the Microsoft Information Protection service to label the sensitivity of information in an organization will be able to exclude sensitive content from Viva Topics, which will happen automatically. "This feature will begin roll out in July 2021, and is being tracked on the Microsoft 365 public roadmap under ID 82047 and 82048," the announcement noted.

Viva Topics is getting the ability to support "data sovereignty standards," where data is required to be sited in nation states, a European Union stipulation. "This feature will start to roll out in late July, and is being tracked on the Microsoft 365 public roadmap under ID 82044," the announcement indicated.

Microsoft explained that Microsoft Search can use Viva Topics information via "Microsoft Graph content connectors, with over 130 sources published by Microsoft and our partners, and an API to let you build your own." In addition to using company information, Viva Topics will get the ability to add "remote sources" of data. In that regard, the MediaWiki and ServiceNow external data sources will be added "by year end."

Microsoft also explained that Viva Topics can be added to SharePoint, Teams or Viva Connections via a "topics web part." Microsoft is planning future Viva Topics integrations with "Outlook, Yammer and more," as well.

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