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Microsoft Quadruples Down on Teaming

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on Unified Communications & Collaboration


Microsoft Quadruples Down on Teaming

By: -
12 Jul 2018

Today Microsoft made a number of announcements, prior to its Inspire conference that is happening next week.  To be comprehensive in our coverage, first we’ll mention that there are a lot of announcements: programs and tools to support channel partners, some new Azure items (Azure Data Box, Azure Virtual WAN and Azure Firewall), database technologies, IoT investments, and some new capabilities coming to Power BI (Business Intelligence product) such as advanced data prep, enterprise-scale modeling, and more.

Now, let’s bring it to WR’s home turf, news regarding four areas: Teaming and Streaming and Workplace Analytics and Whiteboarding.  Alan describes the specifics, then he and Steve break it down.

First up, the company took the wraps off a series of services, with each being made available to end-users as of today. Per descriptions offered in Microsoft press releases, they are as follows:  

  1. Free version of Microsoft Teams for up to 300 users per company, including:
  • Unlimited chat messages and search
  • Built-in audio and video calling for individuals, group, and full team meetups
  • 10GB of team file storage plus additional 2GB per person for personal storage (with notifications if you approach your storage limits)
  • Integrated real-time content creation with Office Online, including built-in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote
  • Unlimited app integrations with 140+ business apps to choose from, including Adobe, Evernote, and Trello
  • Ability to communicate and collaborate with anyone inside or outside your organization, with global availability and 40 languages supported.
  1. New capabilities that allow anyone in an enterprise to create live and on-demand events in Microsoft 365. Events can be viewed in real time or on-demand, with high-definition (HD) video and interactive discussion.  Events can range from simple webcams and PC-based content to studio-quality productions.  AI-powered services also support the on-demand side of the experience with:
  • A speaker timeline that uses facial detection to identify who is talking, so you can easily jump to a particular speaker in the event.
  • Speech-to-text transcription, timecoding, and transcript search, so you can quickly find moments that matter in a recording.
  • Closed captions, to make the event more accessible to all.
  1. New analytics tools meant to improve how we spend our time (the nanny-ness of some of the reminders might get to some of us, but heck, I guess some companies want to nudge their people).  The new tools:  
  • A new Workplace Analytics solution, currently in preview mode only, that uses collaboration insights from the Microsoft Graph to help people run efficient meetings, create time for focused work, and respect work/life boundaries. Organizations can use aggregate data in Workplace Analytics to identify opportunities for improving collaboration.
  • New “nudges” powered by MyAnalytics in Microsoft 365 that deliver habit-changing tips in Outlook, such as flagging when you are emailing co-workers after hours or suggesting you book focused work time for yourself.  While it smacks of patronizing behavior on the part of “the man,” some organizations need to pay attention and this is not as painful as some monitoring behaviors might be.
  1. A new Whiteboard app, which is now generally available for Windows 10 and coming soon in iOS and a web browser version:
  • Previewed / in beta beginning last December, this whiteboard application enables people to draw, note, ideate, and collaborate in person and remotely, across multiple devices, using pen, touch devices, and keyboard input.  The company says that more than 200,000 customers have helped them fine tune the feature set.
  • Users can take notes, create tables and shapes as well as freeform drawings, manipulate images, and search and insert images from the web.
  • Like some similar products, the canvas can expand to create an ever-expanding workspace, and work sessions are stored to the Microsoft cloud for persistent work sessions and archival.
  • Users can log in with their Microsoft accounts (Outlook, Hotmail, Live, Xbox, etc.) or Office 365 (work or school) accounts.

What Alan thinks:

The Microsoft team is having fun, you can tell that.  From Corporate VP, Communications Frank Shaw’s raw enjoyment of today’s pre-briefing (including a side commercial pitching their new Surface Go tablet), to CEO Satya Nadella’s cameo with Raanah Amjadi, a Teams Marketing Manager, pitching the ability to quickly blur out your background in a video call should a cat or child enter a teleworking employee’s camera’s field of view, the Microsoft team across the board acted like executives just told them to “go have some fun.”  And you’ve got to love a senior product marketing manager named Naomi Moneypenny (Moneypenny was the name of James Bonds' superior officer, for those without a clue) demonstrating how to use the intelligent event capabilities.  If we dispense with the idea that these guys are on mood elevators, which I do (dispense with, not take!), maybe there’s another reason they are cheerful: Microsoft reports that in year since it introduced Microsoft 365, seats have grown by more than 100 percent, building on the more than 135 million commercial monthly Office 365 users, 200 million Windows 10 commercial devices in use, and over 65 million seats of Enterprise Mobility + Security.  Confidence may breed giddiness. Today the stock hit an all-time high, fwiw.

Our own Andy Nilssen predicted Microsoft would / should leverage Office 365 way back when Teams was announced in November 2016.  (And we pondered internally the need for a freemium version as well.)   Obviously, the freemium version is a direct strike at just about every persistent collaboration space (PCS) vendor around, especially the noisemakers: Google, which has done so well in SMB markets, Cisco WebEx Teams, Slack, and others. And as I’ve said elsewhere, Teams is the operant metaphor for Microsoft-enabled communications going forward.

A 300-seat freemium offer is a big deal folks! Putting enterprise-grade audio, video, and messaging into the hands of SMBs for free is a frontal salvo attempting to change the way people work.  None of this “15-attendee or 40-minute meeting limit stuff!” The freemium model allows small and mid-sized companies to freely invite guests and gives the platform viral exposure. Startups, start your engines.  And to some extent Microsoft is joining the crowd, setting integrated collaboration via TEAMING as a de facto standard for how we work, while also recruiting a large base of enterprises that currently may not have shifted to Microsoft 365.  Put differently, it’s also a way to keep SMB Office users wedded to Microsoft and its larger Microsoft 365 ecosystem.

As I shift the discussion to one of my coverage areas, the world of ideation, I also note that Microsoft’s Whiteboard announcement just may throw a bit of fear into the hearts of those vendors building software for collaborative interactive flat panels and the manufacturers of whiteboards and flat panels who build their own apps and user experiences. But I share my colleague Steve Vonder Haar’s optimism (see below) that maybe, just maybe Microsoft’s introduction of this degree of collaboration might lift all boats, driving greater awareness of and acceptance of what’s possible in the way of ideation in the workflow. Microsoft’s tools at this point are basic: inking that turns to shapes or tables; sticky notes; importing of images. To get people to use Microsoft Whiteboard, it will need to integrate well with the other elements of Microsoft 365 and feel natural to knowledge workers.  Onscreen avatars let you see with whom you are collaborating, and the FAQ is helpful and descriptive of capabilities thus far.  We live in interesting times.

But I also have to note that that several of our analysts, including one with 1GB Internet service (ME) and another analyst friend who works elsewhere, experienced repeated technical difficulties (the wheel of death) staying connected to the event.  This wasn’t exactly the Victoria’s Secret webcast crash of 1999, and I learned to regularly refresh my Chrome-and-then-Edge browser, but c’mon folks! 

Ms. Moneypenny (right) demonstrating whiteboarding
with Lori Wright, GM, Microsoft 365 Teamwork (to left)

What Steve thinks

I’m going to talk about my turf, enterprise streaming.  Today’s announcement also marks a significant coming out party for Microsoft’s enterprise streaming initiatives with the addition of a long-anticipated Office 365 module for creating live and on-demand presentations that can be broadcast to others on a one-to-many basis.

Out of the gate, content from the intelligent event service can be distributed only to those using Microsoft’s Yammer offering. So, that limits the scope of its market impact for now. Nevertheless, it is a big step in what has been long, steady journey by Microsoft to build an enterprise streaming solution.

Microsoft has been telegraphing its intentions to offer a platform enabling presentation streaming solutions since 2016, when the company rolled out the first iteration of its hosted Microsoft Stream service. That service makes it possible for Office 365 users to upload video content to a central archive, enabling them to share that content with others.

The early iterations of Microsoft Stream proved to be an important product development laboratory for larger initiatives in the enterprise video segment. During the past two years, Microsoft has honed the Stream platform’s speech-to-text capabilities and set the stage for leveraging video capture solutions as platforms that could capture audio and video data that could be effectively fed into AI solutions.

This week’s introduction of platform capabilities that enable the creation and distribution of live events marks a quantum leap forward in Microsoft’s efforts to support streaming in the enterprise. Live streaming capabilities are extremely important for organizations that typically use enterprise streaming platforms to broaden the reach of existing business communications events, such as corporate townhall meetings and employee training sessions.

Likewise, live events are a huge source of content for companies that build video archives as an information resource that their workers can access online. Nearly three quarters of organizations that have deployed only video archives (74%) report that more than half of the video libraries consist of content repurposed from live events, according to a survey of 2,004 end-users surveyed by Wainhouse Research in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Hence, the ability for Microsoft’s platform to now support live event streaming is a big deal with significant repercussions for practically every competitor in the enterprise streaming field. No longer can Microsoft’s solution be dismissed by rivals as a novelty addressing the on-demand sliver of an enterprise’s video needs. It now stands as a full-fledged platform capable of addressing a broader spectrum of one-to-many business video applications. Once it expands the reach of its live streaming capabilities beyond Yammer, the realization of Microsoft’s vision for enterprise streaming will be complete.

Streaming in Yammer

For some, Microsoft’s launch of the live streaming service represents good news. Streaming network solutions providers like Kollective, Hive and Ramp, for instance, have been working behind the scenes to integrate their offerings with the Microsoft platform for several years. The Microsoft launch of live services likely will boost demand for solutions that help distribute data-rich video content behind the corporate firewall.

The impact of Microsoft’s initiative may or may not be beneficial to others in this industry segment. Offered as part of the Office 365 suite, the streaming event platform is likely to be more cost-effective than solutions provided by traditional enterprise streaming platform providers, such as Qumu, VBrick and MediaPlatform.

The countervailing argument is that the new Microsoft offering will raise awareness of streaming capabilities overall, stoking market interest in – and demand for – the premium features and capabilities offered by the specialist streaming platform vendors.

WR is aware of several enterprises that have delayed decisions on implementing streaming platform solutions in anticipation of the Microsoft’s new streaming features in Microsoft 365. Now, the question of the moment is whether Microsoft has shown enough to get end users off the fence to break this logjam.

The ultimate answer to this question is vitally important. Once we see how adoption patterns shake out in the first few months subsequent to the release of the new streaming features, the entire streaming industry will develop a much clearer vision of the course of the enterprise segment for years to come.