Microsoft Corp. made numerous announcements at its Inspire 2022 partner conference detailing the future of key products in its portfolio. In addition to new capabilities in its Viva employee experience platform, the company unveiled several updates in Teams, the central communications and teamwork hub in Microsoft 365. These include embedded communications in Excel and Dynamics 365, new Teams Rooms devices, enhancements to its webinar experience and shared channels in Teams Connect, advanced capabilities in its collaborative applications, and new features aimed at streamlining workflows for frontline workers. These updates highlight how Microsoft is positioning Teams as a central component of the hybrid workplace.
Key updates in Teams announced at Inspire 2022 are listed below:
- Excel Live – available for public preview in August – allows Teams Meetings participants to edit a workbook in real time within a meeting. Excel Live also supports Sheet Views, which allow users co-editing a workbook to sort or filter as needed without disrupting other users.
- Collaborative Annotations – now generally available – enables meeting participants to draw, type or react on top of shared content in a meeting using a toolset powered by Microsoft Whiteboard.
Teams Rooms devices
- Intelligent Cameras. Microsoft unveiled a new category of AI-enabled intelligent cameras in partnership with certified OEM partners such as Jabra, Huddly AS, Logitech International SA, Neat, Poly and Yealink Network Technology Co. Ltd. They include AI-enabled capabilities that run directly on the camera to deliver enhanced views that are optimized for remote participants, allowing every person in a meeting room to be seen more clearly. Upcoming capabilities include producing multiple video streams, enabling in-room attendees to show up in individual feeds for remote attendees so every person can be viewed clearly.
- Teams displays. Microsoft launched new additions to its portfolio of Teams displays for home offices and flexible office workspaces. They include the Yealink DeskVision A24, a 24-inch display that can be used as a stand-alone device for Teams collaboration or as a second screen, and the Neat Frame, which provides a personalized calling and meetings experience in portrait mode. Both displays are slated to be generally available this fall.
- Enhanced webinar experience. The vendor is revamping its webinar experience with a new structure and expanded options to customize registration details and settings specific to each event. The latest capabilities – available for public preview in August – include presenter bios displaying their headshot, company name, job title and LinkedIn profile; theming, which allows event managers to add their event banner, logo, and relevant color scheme to the registration page and webinar communications; attendee capacity limits; and preset custom questions. Other new features include the ability to assign multiple co-organizers and a structured Q&A – both generally available this month.
- Teams Connect shared channels, which enable users to collaborate with those inside and outside their organization – including scheduling meetings, sharing and co-authoring files, and collaborating on apps without the need to switch tenants – are expected be generally available in July.
Enhancements to chat
- Video clip enables users to record and send a short video message in chat, allowing asynchronous collaboration. It will be in public preview in August and generally available in September, and is currently available in Teams (Free) and Essential purchased directly through Microsoft.
- Chat with self, now generally available, enables users to draft and store messages or notes, pinning them to the top of their chat history for quick access.
Enhancements for frontline workers
- Updates in Teams, now generally available, is an out-of-the-box application that enables users to create, submit, and review check-ins, reports and updates in the flow of work – including recurring processes like a weekly update, store opening or facility inspection, and ad hoc updates such as shift handoff, maintenance requests or incident reports.
- Approvals Graph APIs, which will be in public preview in August, allow partners to connect the Approvals app in Teams directly into a customer’s line-of-business (LoB) applications, giving users access without needing to go to the app.
- Live Share allows developers to make any app collaborative within the Teams meeting stage, providing a space for users to share information and ideas or complete complex tasks and projects. Backed by the Fluid Framework – which supports sophisticated synchronization of state, media and control actions with only front-end development – it is currently in public preview.
- Collaboration controls in Power Apps enable partners to build LoB offerings with drag-and-drop Microsoft 365 collaboration features such as chats, approvals, meetings, tasks and files right inside custom apps. Collaboration Controls is slated to be available in preview in August.
Challenges of the Hybrid Workplace
According to the 451 Alliance’s Workforce Productivity & Collaboration, Technology Ecosystems 2021 survey, a substantial number of organizations use or plan to deploy Microsoft Teams Operator Connect (41%), which enables businesses to directly provide public switched telephone network calling from their existing carriers in Teams, or Microsoft Teams Direct Routing (41%), which provides a carrier-grade PSTN service with more flexibility for larger businesses with more complex requirements.
The latest updates in Teams, including the advanced capabilities in collaborative apps and the features aimed at streamlining workflows for frontline workers, align with key emerging trends identified in the 451 Alliance survey – namely, the growing awareness of developer workflow orchestration tools (25%) and real-time communications for frontline workers (27%). These should give Microsoft Teams added momentum and further reaffirm its position as a key UCaaS contender.
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