In my mind, two collaboration products lead the field. Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams.
Cisco Webex has begun to embrace holographic collaboration and employee instrumentation (critical to our new hybrid work world). And just as Cisco pushed the envelope at its Webex focused event last week, Microsoft is pushing the envelope at Microsoft Ignite this week.
With Microsoft, however, the focus is on integrating collaboration across Microsoft’s entire toolset both for developers and for productivity (Office). And Microsoft, like Cisco, is integrating holographic capability so users can work on physical projects in Augmented Reality. Microsoft has gone one step further and included the avatars of attendees as an extra function.
Let’s talk about how Microsoft Teams is evolving into a critical tool for internal coordination and collaboration inside Microsoft, and with Microsoft’s customers and partners.
The Problem with Collaborative Apps
Until recently, the big issue I had with supposedly “collaborative” apps was that they were just renamed video conferencing systems.
We’ve been trying to get video conferencing to work since the 1960s. We’ve gone through a repetitive cycle where many companies get excited, build products, and sell those products with grand promises of limiting travel. Then the products aren’t used and die out, only to repeat the cycle with another vendor set around every decade.
What company after company didn’t seem to get is that most collaboration is pulled together around a project and happens when a problem needs to be solved, not when a set meeting has been scheduled. The only way to do this properly is to integrate employees’ collaboration into the tool they use on the related project. Still, the firms offering the video conferencing products didn’t build those tools, and the toolmakers appeared uninterested in building collaboration capabilities into their offerings.
Well, Microsoft just fixed that.
Microsoft’s Collaboration Advantage
At its core, Microsoft is a platform and tool vendor. Over the last decade, Microsoft has become an interoperability and integration champion. Having both Teams and the tools that most customers use to develop their internal software offerings, they had an ideal opportunity to integrate Teams into their development and productivity tools and loop in some cutting-edge hardware platforms like HoloLens and Surface.
And that’s just what they did.
Microsoft Teams Grows Up
At Microsoft Ignite this week, Microsoft demonstrated the deep integration of Microsoft Teams across its development and productivity toolset. Users of Microsoft’s tools can, on demand, enter a Teams session and begin collaboration on demand, which is precisely how collaborations commonly occur.
We don’t hit a problem, schedule a meeting, and then work on that problem when everyone shows up. We did that before there was an internet, but that made even solving simple problems a week- to months-long process. I recall one such event years ago when I worked for a large tech firm where we met semi-weekly for nine months to discuss who would fix the problem. Two of the managers just got fed up and worked over a weekend and just fixed it.
I also remember we had a Severity One problem back when I was at that tech firm, which means the customer is hard down, and every minute of downtime costs them thousands of dollars. After over a year, I was called in because the bank customer was so outraged they were about to switch vendors, which would have been incredibly painful.
Today we jump on problems like this immediately, form teams dynamically around the problem, and solve it in minutes. Microsoft Teams allows you to quickly find the people you need to address the issue, loop them in, and form an ad hoc team that rapidly resolves critical problems within the development tool ecosystem. Benefits include lower overhead (those meetings were a huge time suck), higher customer satisfaction and loyalty, and higher product quality over time because these efforts filter into future products.
Also read: How Facebook Screwed Up Horizon Workrooms
Teams Moves Into the 21st Century
Video conferencing isn’t a collaboration platform without dynamic ad-hoc teams to focus on common issues. Until now, products weren’t set up to do this.
Last week, Cisco introduced enhancements that could use holography and Microsoft’s HoloLens and telephone integration to turn the tool into an actual collaboration product.
And this week, Microsoft announced that the company has integrated its Teams offering into its productivity and developer tools and demonstrated similar holographic capabilities using HoloLens. In addition, Microsoft took an extra step and introduced an avatar function that adds expressions and synchronized lip movements, but falls short of the need for realistic avatars (with Ray Tracing, we have that capability, but Ray Tracing isn’t common enough to depend on yet). But I’m sure we’ll see that in a few short years.
Given that Cisco spoke at the Microsoft event and the two have collaborated in the past, what if the two companies collaborated on collaboration? Collectively they could advance the platform even further. And since they both use their respective products to improve performance, which should have a more significant impact than selling the tool ever will, maybe, at some future point, Microsoft and Cisco will collaborate on collaboration, and we’ll get an even more significant breakthrough.