Microsoft Polishes Teams Story

When Microsoft takes the Enterprise Connect 2018 keynote stage on Wednesday, it will be one year to the date of introducing general availability for its team collaboration app, Teams. The company has been steadily growing the capabilities offered with the app, and this week it's introducing another series of enhancements aimed at fortifying its message that Teams will ultimately be the end-all, be-all intelligent enterprise communications and collaboration hub.

Enterprises seem to be taking heed, based on unsubstantiated Microsoft-reported numbers. ConocoPhillips, General Motors, Macys, NASCAR, and Technicolor are among the 200,000 organizations using Teams today, said Lori Wright, Microsoft's GM of Teams and Skype for Business, in a No Jitter briefing. Additionally, she said, nearly 70% of Skype for Business enterprise customers have begun using Teams. The numbers sound good, of course, but Wright declined specifying the number of users or discussing how widespread usage might be within those organizations.

She did, however, call out one additional statistic, that being that Microsoft has more than 120 million users on Office 365 today -- and since Teams is built on the backbone of Office 365, "the data we get through the Microsoft Graph lets us do things we want to do around AI, cognitive services, and machine learning to power the future of intelligent communications."

The latest enhancements break down along the lines of features and functionality, calling, and device support, Wright said.

Features & Functionality

The five new features are:

  • One-click meeting recording, with automatic transcription and timecoding for ease of search (facial recognition matching speaker to remarks to follow)
  • In-line message translation for approximately 80 languages
  • Voice commands for Teams-connected devices, using Microsoft's virtual assistant Cortana
  • Click to background blur on video calls
  • Proximity detection that lets users find and add Skype Room Systems to meetings
  • Content sharing from mobile devices during meetings

The cloud meeting recordings capability will be available this summer, with the other features and functionalities to follow later this year, Wright said.

Enterprise Calling

While Microsoft continues bolstering the enterprise-grade calling features available in Teams, the emphasis today is a capability it calls Direct Routing. With Direct Routing, enterprises can connect SIP trunks into Teams, turning it into a full-fledged voice service, Wright said.

Whether a customer chooses to use the Microsoft Calling Plan or Direct Routing will come down to pricing considerations and existing relationships, she added. "Of course we'll continue to push for the most competitive pricing, but we recognize that existing telco relationships are there, and we want to support them."

The new calling capabilities, which include consultative transfer (for getting an OK before transferring a call to somebody), call delegation, and federation, will be available in the second quarter, Wright said.

Device Support

While roughly 60% of the coming enhancements relate to software, hardware isn't to be ignored, Wright said -- because, after all, delivering on the intelligent communications experience Microsoft envisions requires compatibility between Teams and a wide variety of calling and meeting room devices. This includes Surface Hub, the large-screen video collaboration device for huddle spaces and other small-to-medium meeting rooms. Acknowledging how "wonky" it is that Teams hasn't been able to run on Surface Hub thus far, Microsoft has now added native support, she said.

Beyond the Surface Hub and internal devices, the Teams hardware ecosystem now also includes meeting room systems from HP and Lenovo; new desk phones from AudioCodes and Yealink; new conference room phones from Creston, Polycom, and Yealink; and new mobile phone stations from Plantronics. In addition, Microsoft is certifying interoperability between Teams and existing BlueJeans Network, Pexip, and Polycom hardware solutions.

For readers attending Enterprise Connect this week, head to Osceola C at 10:15 a.m. today to hear more from Wright on the Teams mission. She'll be participating in the opening general session, "Is Team Collaboration the Future of Enterprise Communications?"

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