Last week, Microsoft took their chat-style team collaboration product out of preview and unveiled it to the world.  Microsoft Teams has been in preview since November 2016 and has been put through its paces by names like Accenture, Alaska Airlines, Deloitte, Expedia, Sage, Three UK and Trek Bicycle.

Slack killer?

Everybody (except Microsoft) wants to call this product a Slack killer. That’s a bold statement, but the style of this product combined with Microsoft’s strong product integration and Enterprise security features provide a compelling reason for a Microsoft-strong organization to seriously consider this over Slack. There’s just one little thing that might be a show stopper right now – external access. Microsoft Teams does not support users from outside of your organization’s Office 365 tenant, but external access is on the roadmap for June 2017.

Microsoft Teams has a Slack-style interface as far as channels and chat goes. There’s a small gallery of chat bots and connectors to other services, with these expected to grow. You can use it from a web browser or dedicated app for PC, Mac, Android or Windows Phone.

Microsoft Teams chat threaded reply responses

Microsoft Teams supports threaded conversations with replies.

It’s a great alternative to clogging up inboxes with company announcements and team discussions. Like all new technology it’s going to need some structure, and user hand holding (i.e. people change management) to become integrated as the new way of working. Email will still have its place, but the conversational culture of this platform style will foster a connected spirit that email somehow misses. Chatting feels more natural, perhaps because we’re used to a Facebook world outside of work. Slack’s popularity certainly indicates that this is the way that people prefer to collaborate.

Microsoft Teams bot t-bot chatbot

Need help? There’s a bot for that!

Microsoft Integration for Microsoft Teams

Nestled into Office 365, Teams has strong integration with other Microsoft Cloud SaaS products. The underlying architecture relies on Office 365 Groups, SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business. Upload a file to a channel and it’s placed into SharePoint Online, though your users won’t even know. Upload a file in a private chat (with one or more members) and it’s stored in OneDrive for Business, with the appropriate security automatically provisioned. While it’s great to see Microsoft haven’t reinvented the wheel to create a separate file storage system, Teams is more than just a link to a SharePoint document. Replies and discussions around a file are kept in context, so if you search Teams for that file later and open it, you’ll see the associated chat history.

Teams tab product services options

Teams supports the addition of other services as a tab

Within a channel, you can add tabs that directly link to Microsoft Cloud services (from Excel and Word to Planner and SharePoint Online) or third party services like YouTube, Hootsuite and Asana. Email integration allows you to forward an email into a channel, preserving details like importance and file attachments.

microsoft teams email into a channel

Forward an email to a channel and preserve importance and file attachments

Microsoft Security

User accounts for Teams are based on the Azure Active Directory that’s underpinning your Office 365 tenant. It gets relevant new security groups as teams are added and the Teams icon happily appears in the end user’s Office 365 app launcher. As well as being compliant with all the SOC 1, SOC 2, EU Model Clauses, ISO27001 and HIPAA buzzwords, the product also supports audit log search, eDiscovery and legal hold. Unfortunately, being such a new product, the details and documentation on these security features is yet to catch up.

Microsoft Teams power BI Xero integration connection

Microsoft Teams can display reports from Power BI, including Xero financials via a connector pack.

The challenges for Enterprise systems administrators

Let’s step away from the hype for a minute. Microsoft Teams presents a few challenges for Enterprises systems administrators. They’re not insurmountable, but they are worth discussion and planning for.

Product confusion – Are you prepared for that conversation about which Microsoft product we’re using now? With Office 365 Groups and Yammer in the mix too, it’s easy for IT Pros to get confused (and we’re the ones relied upon to lead the business to the best use of the right tools). Microsoft’s story is that they allow you to be flexible. Use the tool that’s right for your team. You don’t have to be locked into one way of working. Maybe it is just a case of exploring and seeing what fits best?

Team structure – Giving the business a blank slate is always a risky idea. Consult with the leaders in corporate communications and HR to identify and develop a relevant structure, at least at a high level, for your teams and channels. Control who can create new teams of you’ll end up with a mess. Your future self will thank you. Oh and by the way, each team has a limit of 999 members, so watch out for that too.

Data recovery – This has been the biggest outcry so far… there’s currently no way to undelete a deleted channel or a deleted team. Again, this is a very good reason why you want to give people the member role, not the Owner role, as only Owners can delete at these top levels. It’s still perplexing for an Enterprise-grade, compliance conscious tool though. Office 365 Groups suffers a similar lack of functionality, but soft delete is on that product’s roadmap. Slack also suffers the same fate as there is no restore ability for a Slack channel or team.

Microsoft MVP Robert Crane has added this request to User Voice. Visit the page here to add your vote of support. https://microsoftteams.uservoice.com/forums/555103-public/suggestions/18643102-provide-ability-to-fully-recover-deleted-teams

Conclusion

It’s great to see Microsoft embracing the way that people want to work. Microsoft Teams has received great feedback from the preview customers and I can’t wait to see how it enables even more organizations. The product is friendly enough for even the smallest business that may have staff on different rostered hours or teleworking from other locations. It’s a natural extension for organizations to explore who have already shifted their email workloads to Office 365.
The downside is that us technical people want all the technical answers and we want them now. That’s just going to take time and patience before we get a deep level of detail. Because of that, you might be a little cautious about dipping your toe in water with Teams just yet. We all know how quickly a Cloud software test can turn into a mission critical system and the last thing you want is for that little recovery issue to bite you.

For more information

Teams general availability announcement blog: https://blogs.office.com/2017/03/14/microsoft-teams-rolls-out-to-office-365-customers-worldwide/?wt.mc_id=AID600843_QSG_PD_SCL_144656

Microsoft Mechanics: Using, enabling & managing the Microsoft Teams experience https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAqAtI6K7NY&feature=youtu.be

Microsoft is hosting an online Ask Microsoft Anything session with the Microsoft Teams product engineers on March 22, 2017 at 09:00 am PT: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/Microsoft-Teams-AMA/Announcing-a-Microsoft-Teams-AMA/m-p/53059#M394

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