Yesterday Microsoft announced Microsoft Teams, which is a new service in Office 365. It is an integral part of Office 365 Groups, which again is an integral part of the future of collaboration in the cloud.
You can access Teams on your own Office 365 subscription at https://teams.microsoft.com.
I am a huge believer in trying, and possibly failing fast. A bit after last night’s announcement I activated Teams on my own company’s production Office 365 subscription. We are a relatively small company of just a little under 30 people – techies, sales and backoffice ninjas, so activating a new service like this is more or less a typical approach for us to try out things.
I was able to quickly onboard my colleagues, since everybody is already using Office 365, and we have Groups enabled and in active use. Since it’s one of the busiest times of the year for us, it will take some time to have everyone ‘in’, so we’re not enforcing anything. Just making it available.
Setting up teams is a breeze – just like it should be. I was amazed last night when configuring a few teams within the service how polished the service, guidance and help resources already are. It was day 1 for the service in public preview, and it just works!
I mimicked our structure from existing collaboration environments, and decided to start out with a company-wide team for all critical aspects of our day-to-day operations needs: from internal IT support to developers sharing code snippets to people asking for a quick help with something.
We’ve been using a mix of different collaboration tools for a couple of years. Majority of our internal communications happens through Yammer, which is also part of Office 365. Our developers and some techies seem to prefer Slack, and it has provided certain additional value for running our business. For Friday night free-flow discussions and meetups at the local bar we use WhatsApp, which is nowadays owned by Facebook. Then we of course have Skype for Business on each desktop and mobile device – it has replaced a lot of phone calls with instant messages and voice-over-ip calls.
Here’s a typical non-informal exchange of messages within WhatsApp for us:
With Teams, we foresee a more unified future for our internal and customer-facing communications. Why? There seems to be several reasons for this, even if it is the very early days of Microsoft Teams at the time of writing this.
SSO is something we’ve greatly enjoyed with Yammer, and Office 365 altogether. For Slack, especially the free tier model we’ve used, SSO is not available. SAML-based SSO in Slack would have cost us $12.5 per active user, per month. That simply is too much for a service we mostly use for chatting and very simple integrations. Teams promises enterprise-grade security, since it conforms to the same security designs Office 365 Trust Center lays out. We already trust hugely on Office 365, so it makes sense to trust Teams as a service.
We’ve been using Office 365 as our collaborative and business backend since 2011, when the very first initial release of the service was made available. Before that, we were mostly on-premises and spread out through different hosting and public cloud services of the time. We’ve grown to use almost all services Office 365 provides, but we’ve also decided not to use certain services because they simply haven’t provided what we needed. Teams, for now, seems like a perfect fit to integrate our people, culture and business together.
Another reason why Teams just feel right from a user experience perspective is how fluid and clean it feels. We get built-in support for SharePoint content, Planner tasks, Office docs and Power BI. A lot of our internal intelligence and knowledge is spread out on Power BI dashboards, Groups-based OneNote files, Excel sheets and PowerPoints. Relatively little content or value is left for email, and we’ve mostly moved away from using email for internal communications.
A feature I’ve missed deeply in Yammer is real-time voice and video. It makes so much sense to tie collaboration tools that provide voice and video (SfB) and everything else (Yammer, or in this context, Teams) together.
Yammer was left out in the cold, and almost forgotten by Microsoft since the purchase of Yammer in 2012 and initial integration to Office 365 in ~2013/2014 timeframe. It was like having this amazing tool with all sorts of capabilities, and it was downscaled to provide a copycat Facebook news feed that did not really work at all.
Along with Skype for Business integration, integration to other services is well represented within Teams, for which I am not surprised at all: Office 365 Groups Connectors have made striking leaps in this space, and Flow together with PowerApps (thus also Azure Logic Apps) have integration and APIs baked in.
This is something Slack was able to tackle, as both the mobile app and desktop app were nice to use and always worked without a hitch. For Yammer, I cannot say the same as the mobile app on different platforms was simply frustrating to use. You would get a random network selected when launching the app and navigating back to your home network was slow and tedious. With Teams, the mobile apps are readily available for Windows, mobile and macOS.
In Teams I don’t have to build custom integrations which was mostly a requirement for Yammer. One of our earliest integrations to Yammer was a simple bot that posts upcoming classroom and virtual training courses that take place during the day. If it’s Friday then it posts what’s happening next week.
It’s a scheduled task through Azure WebJobs that retrieves content our ERP and posts infromation for people to see what is the pulse and vibe at our offices and customer-related trainings. I am not sure how many hours it took to get it running properly with the poorly documented Yammer APIs years ago, but it’s been running great ever since. With Teams, I feel we can achieve something better with a little bit of Azure Functions.
I think this rings true for Slack similarly, but the value proposition for Slack always seems to be chat. For Yammer, it wasn’t about chat but “the culture”, which I’m not sure is actually enforced through a tool but actions and people. With Slack I am seeing the same problem I had with IRC back in 1990’s: if I’m /away for any period of hours or days, there’s a wall of text waiting to be read. I simply cannot find the time to skim through every chat within the company, but simultaneously I’m afraid I need to read it all – there often is something I should know or understand to run my business better. This could become a problem for us in Teams as well, but for now even the smallest of tweaks seems to fix this. I am talking about threaded discussions, which is built-in with Teams.
After sleeping over the announcement of Teams, I’ve come to an early conclusion what I want to achieve with the service. It will actually be three things.
Yammer is a mess, and I think enough has been said, blogged and tweeted about that. If Teams delivers – and for us it means stability, security and rapid evolution – there’s no reason to look back, at all. This applies to our internal Yammer networks. For external networks, I am already seeing a mass migration to Slack or Lithium. For Slack, it was never a big thing for us – cute, but a hassle to work with, and too expensive for us to make it work as a third party service outside Azure AD-based authentication.
We are now moving on to Teams, starting today, and giving it a few weeks. We are not killing Yammer or Slack but simply abandoning them. There’s always the opportunity to go back but I am not sure anyone would be willing to do that, after seeing what Teams can do for us.
For WhatsApp, we want to keep that. It’s so efficient, and well integrated to existing mobile platforms – and it’s mobile only. It already replaced text messages, and the joy of sharing moments as they happen is its biggest strength. Teams is not – at least today – suitable for that yet.
For email, nothing is needed. Just leave it where it is now – it won’t die, but it won’t grow either, which is a good thing.
Ideally we’ll be able to figure out an efficient way to surface important information to Teams without distracting people, or making it harder to do your work. We will start out with the easy integrations: Twitter, travel expense approval flows, and internal ERP notifications. From there it’s open game, and I hope everyone who has an idea will be able to throw it out and see how it sticks. We can also fail fast within the service, I hope.
As such, we therefore need to integrate Teams to everything else. This was the dream that Yammer was sold to many companies, but it now seems like something Microsoft will possibly do for us. By simply elevating Teams to become a first class social and collaboration fabric, we can provide seamless knowledge management everywhere – including our customers.
This is something in the horizon for us, but as we’ve just started our journey with Teams it will take some time and effort to get there. Essentially I foresee that by providing a realtime pulse on all things related to us, our customers and our business, we can grow and become better. By growing I don’t mean to say that our revenue will triple every fiscal year, but that our people (and customers) will be more productive, less frustrated and most importantly – happier.