Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Microsoft Teams: The “Last Jedi” of Collaboration

Rich Wood, Vice President, Microsoft Alliances
Cloud / Platforms / Technology

Star Wars: The Last Jedi rocks. Let’s agree on that first, shall we? For only the second time in their lives, I was able to take my own kids to the opening night of a new Star Wars film and watch the awe-inspiring adventure unfold through their eyes – the way it did mine in the late 70s and early 80s. 

There’s no doubt that I enjoyed their top-ranked moments as much as they did—but as an adult who’s been enjoying the Star Wars saga over the course of its entire filmography, I also caught things they didn’t. Between obvious references and more subtle, discrete touchpoints that harked back to the older films, I got as much joy out of this movie because of what it came from and the foundation it built on as I did from it as a story in its own right.

That’s why this conclusion struck me head-on the next day—not unlike a hapless Imperial TIE Fighter pilot’s head-on collision with an asteroid in The Empire Strikes Back—Microsoft Teams is more than just the most modern workplace collaboration tool on the market. It’s productivity software’s answer to The Last Jedi.

Stepping Back Into My Jedi Robes

This hypothesis isn’t as much of a stretch as it might seem at first glance. You see, by dumb luck or (more likely) the mysterious workings of the Force, I’d actually been at Chicago’s Microsoft Technology Center on that Thursday morning (technically Jedi’s Opening Day) to facilitate a How-To Workshop for Microsoft Teams. 

Chicago’s MTC has been a bit of a second home to me in my work life. Over the years I’ve delivered numerous Roadmap and other speaking engagements there, both as a Microsoft employee and in my later role as a national partner and evangelist. Typically, I would present some aspect of SharePoint, Yammer, or Office 365 to enterprise users, developers, or decision-makers intent on learning about the latest developments in the world’s most popular enterprise collaboration suite. 

Much like the break between Star Wars trilogies, however, I’d gone through my own interregnum of sorts, having spent two years away from the Microsoft world when my previous employer focused its efforts on the customer-facing side of digital experiences. Standing up in front of a room presenting on Teams and employee experiences, then, was a return to form. It was like slipping on a comfortable favorite sweatshirt, embracing the Force again like Luke does in the film—or just plain watching a Star Wars movie.

I boarded the train home with this feeling of warm, porg-like fuzzies from doing Microsoft thought leadership again. I took my kids to the movies. I went to bed and woke up in the middle of the night with a bolt of inspiration.

I may as well have had a glowing blue Force ghost sitting in the room to tell me as much, but it’s true. Teams is basically software’s Last Jedi.

Teams: Built on Success, But Telling Its Own Story

Think about it this way: While it’s a wholly new interface boasting a new engine, much of what Teams does is pull together and aggregate the greatest hits of Microsoft’s collaboration tools in a single, user-friendly interface in-line with the expectations of today’s digital native workforce.

Threaded conversations like Yammer, including email like Groups? Check.

Quick access to SharePoint files—but just the right files your Team needs? Check.

Meeting and calendar info integrated with Outlook? Check.

Audio and video calling, but with better fidelity than Skype For Business (thanks to an assist from Azure Media Services on the back end)? Check.

Funnily enough, parts of Jedi play like a similar greatest hits catalog. I’m trying to stay largely spoiler-free here for those who haven’t seen the film yet, but would it really surprise anyone to know there’s at least one lightsaber duel, a set-piece with starfighter combat and hotshot piloting, irreverent dialogue with a light comic touch, and a moment for the Millenium Falcon to swoop in just like it did in 1977, framed against the flare of starlight as it clears the way right when our beleaguered heroes needed it?

But just like Jedi, Teams takes these greatest hits and blends them into something new and exciting—and not without its own new touches. In Teams, I can create tabs as needed to use just the features I want, suiting my own team’s unique collaboration style because not every group works the same way. I can more easily extend a Team to an external partner or client, affording easier and more secure external collaboration (EMS / Microsoft 365, people—worth the upgrade).

In the workshop, we spent a lot of time on user adoption, and like the film or the tool itself, this conversation was equal parts longstanding best practices and fine-tuned points specific to the new tech. When I talk about the case for change, change champions, communication plans and messaging architectures, or training goals and assessment targets, it could be 2007 and a rollout of the first real enterprise SharePoint platform—but when I demonstrate how a Team can support the sales process with Power BI and data pulled with ease from your CRM, we’re in a whole new galaxy compared to then.

Sure, you could say that what’s past is present, but like Yoda says, always in motion the future is. The Last Jedi builds on the strength of what went before to deliver something that still feels new, fresh, and exciting. Microsoft Teams pulls from across the Office 365 suite and adds its own powerful features to enable team collaboration like no product has yet. It’s a good time to be a Star Wars dad. It’s a better time to be a Star Wars dad who gets to get his work done better and faster with Microsoft Teams.

Rich Wood is the Senior Director of Cloud & Enterprise Apps at Rightpoint. Follow Rich on Twitter and LinkedIn