The News: This week Microsoft is hosting its annual “Ignite” event. With Covid-19 continuing to keep events remote, the company used its own platform to deliver the event, which kicked off the morning of September 22nd with a full stack keynote from Satya Nadella, continuing with this thematic “Tech Intensity.” To watch the event you can register at Microsoft.
Analyst Take: In this research note, I share some thoughts on a handful of Microsoft Teams related announcements from this year’s Ignite event, specifically focused on Meetings updates. I will dig into some insights related to how the Teams environment is being extended with Power BI and Power Platform as well as expanded M365 integration in a coming piece.
Here are some of the biggest highlights and analysis of the enhancements that caught my attention for Microsoft Teams Meetings:
- Enhanced Together Mode — Together mode, which is one of the more catchy recent updates from Microsoft Teams, uses AI segmentation to place meeting participants in a shared virtual background rather than the typical web video meeting experience we are used to. Enhancements to this mode will offer Teams users an expanded selection of scenes beyond the basic auditorium-style that came with the feature’s introduction. A few of the examples presented included different auditoriums, meeting rooms, conference rooms and even coffee shops. These are set to be available later this year. I really dig this feature and to this point, Microsoft Teams is the only collaboration app that has tackled this feature. With research pointing to extensive meeting fatigue, I am encouraged that the investments on improvement are going to help deal with this issue that is only going to get worse as long as in-person meetings and events are limited.
- Breakout Rooms — This new feature that is set to come out next month will enable organizers to break video meeting participants into smaller discussion groups. Presenters can hop between breakout rooms, make announcements to all attendees, and return all participants to the main meeting. I am interested to see how this works. I see a ton of educational applications here as well as broad employee onboarding and this will work well for large events that typically have a general session and then a series of breakouts. If this works well and allows the presenter/moderator figures to fluidly move between spaces, it could wind up being a really nice enhancement.
- Team Templates — This feature is reportedly available immediately. Team templates are a predefined set of channels, tabs, apps, and settings that can be customized based on industry or role. For example, these templates can be used for project management or employee reviews. One of the interesting applications presented was a Front-line Worker template, which can be used for on the ground activities like merchandising a store or collaborating with a warehouse supervisor. I like the idea of anything that enables productivity and scale. I’m seeing more and more routine workflows happening in Teams and I have no doubt that this is being done by design.
- Increased Scale (Volume) — At some point later this year, Microsoft announced individual teams will support up to 25,000 members, though there is no limit to the number of people in a Teams tenant, according to Microsoft. Being the enterprise collaboration platform of choice for many large companies, this is important–but not surprising.
- Custom Meeting Layouts — Another upcoming feature upgrade will allow meeting presenters to customize the layout of their meetings, which will leverage the same AI segmentation tech for background blur and the aforementioned Together mode. Microsoft touted an example that would allow a presenter to customize a meeting is by appearing in the foreground of a PowerPoint presentation. I love these overlays. I also saw some indication of being able to do more broadcast like overlays that can offer some really high level production value. I’m planning to play with this more closely and will report back.
- Meeting Recaps and Files — This one is really important and I’m excited about its availability — Following a Teams meeting, attendees will be sent a recap with the meeting recording, transcript, share files, and chat history. To make the information more accessible, attendees will also be able to access this information via the Outlook calendar and to the meeting recordings in Microsoft SharePoint. This feature is long overdue, but I’m just glad it is here. Note taking be history and trying to remember what was said and important meeting exchanges will no longer be scattered in note pads, hard to find files and or our own scattered memories.
- Streamlined Calling enhancements — Microsoft made several announcements that will come into effect this year that will impact Teams Calling. First, Teams will offer an enhanced Calling experience that will give a single view that shows contacts, voicemail, and calling history. Also, Teams will offer a new Collaborative Calling feature that allows an enterprise to connect a Call Queue to a Teams channel, which can be used for service queuing and ticket management. Other enhancements include meeting features like transcription, live captions, and recording for both group and for 1-on-1 calls. I was also pleased to see some additional announcements around physical calling devices, Microsoft has expanded its portfolio of USB peripherals with dial pads and Teams integration partnering to develop Teams phones with the likes of AudioCodes, Poly, and Yealink. There is a lot to unpack here, but I think Teams migration to offering a more complete call control solution is important. While it feels like everything has moved to asynchronous, there are still a lot of voice calls and handset users that prefer a physical device to a soft phone or chat.
- Workplace Analytics — Starting in the next month or so, Teams managers will have access to Workplace Analytics. This new analytics offering will provide managers with granular details on employees’ after-hour collaborations, meeting effectiveness, and “focus time.” I like this in concept. I’m guessing it will be met with some level of resistance as privacy and micromanagement will be problematic. However, the data can be used in more anonymized fashions or as queues rather than being used to manage every move. I’m interested to see how this one is received, but in theory I see more good than bad.
Overall Impressions of the Microsoft Teams Updates
There were a few other updates that involved front-line workers and Sharepoint integrations, but for me, the above eight enhancements were the ones that really caught my attention.
In short, I see a few bigger themes going on from these enhancements. The first is going to be a greater level of employee engagement on the Teams platform. More and more becoming the center of the employee experience. Second, a significant effort from Microsoft to have its meetings standout from the competition. Breakout rooms and Together Mode are great examples of how this is happening.
A solid set of enhancements and announcements. Tomorrow’s research note will dig into Power Platform and D365. Until then…
Futurum Research provides industry research and analysis. These columns are for educational purposes only and should not be considered in any way investment advice.