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Office 365's New Chat-Based Digital Workspace: Microsoft Teams

After mulling an acquisition of popular enterprise chat platform Slack for $8.5 billion earlier this year, Microsoft decided to build its own. The company today revealed Microsoft Teams, hoping it will emerge as the hub for user experience across Office 365 and third-party apps and services.

Microsoft Teams, introduced  at an event in New York, will bring a new chat-based workspace that will bring together all the components of Office 365 and Skype for Business into an integrated workspace tied to the Microsoft Graph.

Microsoft Teams brings together Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, OneNote, Planner and Power BI into a common workspace. Microsoft Graph is used to share intelligence and context among the apps, and Active Directory and Office 365 Groups are used to associate people with information. Microsoft also released an SDK that allows enterprise and commercial developers to build connectors, based on the same model as Exchange Server Connectors, that can allow chats to be integrated among each other. For example, Microsoft Teams can integrate Twitter or GitHub notifications into the workspace.

Among other things, Microsoft Teams will appeal largely to the millennial workforce that have become accustomed to using online chat as communication, while reducing reliance on e-mail. Slack is among a number of popular tools many workers have started using in recent years, and Microsoft believes it has a solution that provides security, governance and context enabled by the underlying Microsoft Graph, Office 365 and much of its machine learning efforts including its new Bot Framework and Azure Machine Learning service.

"Microsoft Teams is a chat-based workspace where people can come together in a digital forum to have casual conversations, work on content, create work plans -- integrated all within one unified experience," CEO Satya Nadella said at the New York launch event. "It's designed to facilitate real-time conversations and collaboration while maintaining and building up that institutional knowledge of a team."

Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate VP overseeing Microsoft's Office client team, gave an overview of the new chat platform, saying it will be added to Office 365 Business and Enterprise subscriptions in the first quarter of next year. "It will be automatically provisioned in Office 365 and managed as any other Office 365 service," he said.

A preview is now available along with an SDK that will allow developers to tie their own apps to Microsoft Teams. Currently 70 Office 365 connectors are available in the toolkit, Koenigsbauer said. Support for Microsoft and third-party services will come via planned enhancements to the company's Bot Framework.

The toolkit lets developers build Tabs that present users individual Web experiences within Teams, providing instant access to a specific service, allowing for collaboration around that application's content. Using the Bot Framework, developers can create Bots that allow individuals and teams to chat with the service by making queries, while also allowing users to enable Connector notifications. Microsoft officials also previewed T-Bots, which include help features for Microsoft Teams and Who-Bots, a feature under development that will help individuals perform intelligent discovery of those with specific knowledge based on their identities and the context of their own communications.

The APIs will also allow for customizable workspaces and the company said it expects to have 150 integration partners at launch next year. Among them are Hootsuite, Intercom, ZenDesk and Asana. The company emphasized that Microsoft Teams will share the security and compliance support offered in its other services including EU Model Clauses, ISO 27001, SOC 2 and HIPAA, among others.

Time will tell if it's a Slack-killer but the richly-valued startup certainly showed it was paying attention. In addition to running a full-page ad in The New York Times, Slack noted the arrival of Microsoft Teams prominently on its own site.

"Congratulations on today's announcements," the company said in a company blog post. "We're genuinely excited to have some competition. It's validating to see you've come around to the same way of thinking.  It's not the features that matter. You're not going to create something people really love by making a big list of Slack's features and simply checking those boxes."

"We're here to stay," the company said. "We are where work happens for millions of people around the world. And we are just getting started."

Slack claims it has one million paid subscribers (2.5 million overall) with $100 million in annual recurring revenue and six million apps now installed among its members' teams.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/02/2016 at 9:53 AM


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