Microsoft Launches Teams to Foil Office 365 Poachers

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Microsoft earlier this week launched Teams, a new collaboration offering designed to fend off competitors to its Office 365 platform.

The new chat-based workspace product brings together people, conversations and content, along with some familiar productivity tools, to facilitate collaboration on projects.

"Teams are now more agile and organizational structures more flat to keep communications and information flowing," noted Kirk Koenigsbauer, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Office.

"With Microsoft Teams, we aspire to create a more open, digital environment that makes work visible, integrated and accessible -- across the team -- so everyone can stay in the know," he added.

While there's been a movement in the workplace toward organized teams, Microsoft's Office products for the most part have focused on the productivity of the individual, explained Jeff Orr, senior practice director for mobile devices at ABI Research.

"What Teams does is pull together all the bits of information and knowledge from the people and the projects they're engaged on and their communication -- status, queries, file updates, code drops -- and coordinates them through a common interface," Orr told the E-Commerce Times.

"The Office 365 Group is trying to right the ship that is Microsoft. It's trying to take that behemoth that's Microsoft and make it more responsive to the marketplace. ... A one-size-fits all productivity suite of software is not going to be good enough any more," he said.

"Microsoft can no longer say, 'This is the solution that everyone has to work with,'" Orr pointed out. "That's a dynamic that Microsoft has never faced before, and arguably wasn't prepared to face until the present leadership was put into place."

At the center of Microsoft Teams is chat. The application supports both persistent and threaded chats, as well as private discussions. What's more, integration with Skype allows teams to communicate via voice and video, too.

The full gamut of Office tools is integrated into Teams, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, OneNote, Planner, Power BI and Delve. Intelligent services backed by Microsoft Graph are sprinkled throughout the workspace to help teams with information relevancy, discovery and sharing.

With the addition of Teams, Microsoft Office 365 customers can accommodate multiple work styles, observed Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.

"Now Office 365 supports a persistent chat workflow in addition to the local or Web-based PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android tablet and Android phone platforms with a more traditional experience," he pointed out. "IT and small businesses will love that they don't need to bring in and support multiple platforms."

Microsoft has promised that Teams will support rich extensibility and APIs, so that teams can customize their workspaces in the app. Teams has the same connector model as Exchange, so third-party notifications can be received by team members. It supports the Microsoft Bot Framework, so intelligent first- and third party services can be brought into the team environment.

Teams is expected to be available generally in the first quarter of 2017. However, a preview of the application is available immediately in 181 countries and 18 languages for commercial customers with Office 365 Enterprise or Business plans.

Rich extensibility and broad API support will be more important to Teams than its Office 365 integration, maintained Mike Gotta, a research vice president with Gartner.

"If it's just an isolated silo of a team chat space, it'll get some traction, because it's part of Office 365, but it's not going to be disruptive to Slack or some of the other vendors unless you have that application-specific content," he told the E-Commerce Times.

The quality of the connectors to those apps also will be important.

"Will it be a simple handshake without much integration, or will it be a rich integration?" Gotta asked. "Simple integration won't cut it, given the competition."

While Microsoft claims Teams' APIs and connectors will be open, no one will know for sure until the general release is available.

"I think they will be really open," said Jack E. Gold, founder and principal analyst at J.Gold Associates.

"I think Microsoft has learned its lesson in trying to be closed down, but you never know," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Teams supports security features like encryption of data in transit and at rest. Among the compliance standards it supports are EUMC, HIPAA, ISO 27001, ISO27018, SSAE16 SOC1 Type I and II, SOC2 Type I and II, FERPA and GLBA.

"What that means is there won't be any security and compliance conversations, as other vendors like Slack have," Moorhead noted.

Compliance is especially important for teams working in regulated industries.

"If you're using Teams in the financial sector, for example, everything can be archived and retrieved just like any data in Office 365," said Joshua Trupin, the Office 365 analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

"That's important to regulators," he told the E-Commerce Times. "There wasn't anything in Office 365 that worked like that in the past."

It appears that with the introduction of Teams, Microsoft is defending its turf from new collaboration players like Slack, as well as meeting customers' needs.

"Moving from the desktop model to the hosted services model you have to defend your position more often," Trupin said. "A lot of companies are starting to use Slack, so by including Teams in Office 365, Microsoft is defending its position."

Microsoft has done a good job positioning Teams competitively, according to Moorhead.

"Unlike previous Office threats, Microsoft is getting ahead of the curve and not waiting for services like Slack to siphon off meaningful customers like Google for Work did in the early days," he observed.

"Teams will be compelling to Microsoft 365 customers," Salto Partners Managing Partner Andreas Scherer told the E-Commerce Times. "Fortune 500 companies who turned to Slack recently will have now good reasons to go back to Microsoft."

John Mello is a freelance technology writer and contributor to Chief Security Officer magazine. You can connect with him on Google+.

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