Microsoft today launched Teams, its competitor to popular chat service Slack.
Designed primarily for the workplace, the new chat based software breaks discussions down into teams and channels, and adds Microsoft bots that also take part in chats.
Microsoft launched a preview of teams in November last year with local organisations such as Amicus, Blackmores, Objective Corporation, Readify and RSL Queensland taking part.
As a result the company says it has made 100 additional changes to Teams which is launching in 181 countries and 19 languages.
The big difference between Teams and its competitors is the strong integration with Office 365. Teams becomes another menu choice in Office 365 available to Microsoft’s commercial customers. It is available to them by default.
Teams comes as an app for iOS, Android and Windows Phone, and in the browser.
It is designed particularly for organisations structured with working groups operating in different physical locations and seeks to provide a single screen environment for teamwork. I saw a demonstration of Teams yesterday.
There’s a series of configurable tabs across the top of the page and teams and channels are listed down the left-hand side.
Conversations are threaded, there is rich editing of text, and emojis.
Finding references to yourself is easy. There is a red marker next to any message where you are named.
You can use SharePoint to maintain files available to a team and the channel you are operating in is notified when files are added.
Teams retains the entire history of each channel, which represents a separate discussion. So new members to a team can go back and familiarise themselves with previous interactions.
There has been long discussion on whether chat services can potentially replace huge reams of emails that people experience in the workplace.
Teams is a new way of communicating within an organisation but it doesn’t attempt to replace external email. However it interacts with it. Each team has a distinct email address, so when you receive email that you want to share, you can forward it to that address.
You can set up private conversations with individuals in the team, a group of people in the team, and people outside the team on an ad hoc basis.
There is also OneNote integration so you can share internal documents, spreadsheets, graphs and general information with the team.
Administrators get to assign members to teams.
Microsoft says teams is designed for IT security and compliance needs with encryption, two-factor authentication and a secure back end. It’s easy for teams to customise their workspace with tabs, connectors and bots from third party partners.
The company says it is integrating 150 features with Teams. They include DocuSign for managing the electronic exchanges of documents and digital signing, Trello boards, and SAP business. Others include Hipmunk, Growbot and ModuleQ.
The potential use of bots with Microsoft Bot Framework is one of the most interesting features of Teams.
Bots are not something end users can easily build themselves. You will need your programming department, or an external developer to help.
But there is potential for bots that offer help with using company software, offer employees a conversational way of booking leave, or interacting with a Pay Office bot.
Sharon Schoenborn, Office Business Group lead for Microsoft Australia, says that today 80 per cent of work is collaborative in nature. “We commissioned a survey of employees in this region which reveals that people want more flexible workspaces, and the tools to support that.”
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