Sep
24
2018
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Microsoft Teams gets bokeh and meeting recordings with transcripts

If you’ve ever attended a video meeting and wished that the speakers used really expensive cameras and lenses that allowed for that soft classy background blur of a portrait photo, then Microsoft wants to make that wish come true. The company announced a number of updates to Microsoft Teams today, and one of those is a feature that automatically detects faces and blurs the background behind a speaker.

While background blur is nice (or at least we have to assume it will be because we haven’t been able to try it yet), the more useful new feature in Teams is intelligent recordings. Teams can now automatically generate captions and provide time-coded transcripts for the replays. This feature is coming to Office 365 commercial customers now.

Microsoft first demoed these new transcription capabilities at its Build developer conference earlier this year. In that demo, the transcription service was able to distinguish between speakers and create a real-time transcript of the meeting.

If you want to create live streams and on-demand video for a wider audience inside your company, Teams is also getting that capability next month, together with Microsoft Stream and Yammer (which seems to be lingering in the shadow of Teams these days).

more Microsoft Ignite 2018 coverage

Apr
08
2018
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In a Slack world, Microsoft bets on Teams and Yammer

The growth of Windows has slowed as Microsoft’s mobile platform goals have faded and the PC market matured. As a result, Microsoft has had to seek new revenue outside of its operating system.

In 2017, as part of that effort to grow, Microsoft announced a new subscription product called Microsoft 365, bringing together Windows, the company’s cloud-centered productivity suite Office 365 and enterprise tooling into a single package.

The introduction of Microsoft 365 presaged the company’s re-organization which, to quote CNBC, “rebuilt the company around the cloud instead of Windows.” This seems reasonable; if Windows isn’t going to return to growth, other services have to keep adding top line revenue. Microsoft’s evolution to a cloud-powered, services-focused company is therefore set to continue.

In the pursuit of new, non-Windows top line, Microsoft wagered that it could expand its “commercial cloud” revenue to a $20 billion run rate by the end of its fiscal 2018. It beat the goal, reaching the $20 billion mark far ahead of the calendar-equivalent date of mid-Summer of this year.

One of those products, Teams, is a component to Office 365 and part of what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called a “growth opportunity” that is “a lot bigger than anything [his company has] achieved.”

Today we’re going to explore Microsoft’s current actions in one part of the cloud productivity space through the lens of Teams.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft’s Teams product is a communications tool often compared to Slack . TechCrunch, for example, recently called the software service “Microsoft’s Slack competitor.” ComputerWorld, in a news item earlier this year, wrote that “Microsoft turn[ed] up [the] heat on Slack” when it announced new Teams features.

It goes on and on, allowing us to comfortably hold up Microsoft Teams as Redmond’s answer to Slack, a company famous for its quick growth, impressive mind share and its independent status from any major tech company. That last fact remains true despite rumored acquisition interest from Microsoft itself, along with pretty much every big company in the sector you can name.

To see Microsoft invest in its own tool that competes with Slack isn’t surprising. There is a large market for the product, and Redmond is loath to let any rival service cut in on its productivity revenue.

Therefore, if there is a hot productivity tool in the market and Microsoft isn’t going to buy it, it might as well build one of its own. Unsurprisingly, the company has been hard at work doing just that.

Joining a big company when you are a comparatively small company can be arduous.

News that Teams could release a free version made headlines. Teams also picked up guest access in February, its introduction of Cortana integration made it into mainstream tech publications and this week Microsoft announced new “retention policies” for Teams.

All that and Microsoft bought Teams a friend this year in the form of Chalkup, a collaboration company focused on the education world.

In short, Teams is adding new features while building its org chart and expanding access. All good things, certainly. However, it was not too long ago Microsoft spent quite a lot of money to buy a different, distinct collaboration tool. What happened to it?

Yammer

Microsoft bought Yammer in 2012 for $1.2 billion, building out what TechCrunch called, at the time, its “Social Enterprise Strategy.” And while the Yammer-Microsoft deal was “great news” for the company and its investors, it also marked the beginning of the “tough part” for the newly acquired startup.

Joining a big company when you are a comparatively small company can be arduous. And if you do so when the larger company is undergoing a massive change in leadership (Microsoft hired a new CEO two years after the Yammer deal) and a business model change-up (Microsoft bought Nokia in 2014, also two years after the Yammer deal, before closing that strategic idea out years later), it’s probably even harder to integrate.

Externally, that difficulty showed. Following the Microsoft deal, Yammer search volume grew before stagnating and later slipping. The product was eventually switched on for free for Office 365 customers in early 2016, four years after it was purchased. Office 365 itself launched a half-decade before, making the moment a bit long in the works.

But all that is the past, and, notably, Microsoft is putting more emphasis on Yammer today than it has in recent years. That may feel odd, given what we just went over concerning Teams.

To dig into that, Crunchbase News got Microsoft’s Seth Patton on the phone, who explained the company’s thinking. According to the 15-year company veteran who now works on Office 365, Microsoft has two separate views for Teams and Yammer. Teams is built for what Patton calls inner-loop communication: stuff for teams, smaller companies and the like; Yammer, in contrast, is better for outer-loop communication: less tactical decisions and more company-wide communications.

The split between Slack and Teams products and the Yammers and Convos of the world isn’t hokum or mere corporate-speak. I’ve worked in newsrooms that used the mix of tools to allow for simple direct messaging between individuals (Slack) and team-wide threaded communications (Yammer). It takes a little getting used to, but it can flow well if you need that level of inter-party discussion.

Even more interesting than the fact that Yammer is not dead is that Microsoft is actively investing in it. According to Patton, Microsoft’s chiefs “doubled down” on Yammer while Teams was being brought into the market in late 2016. This gave Yammer about a year of redoubled investment and attention.

Taking all that together, Microsoft is investing in two communications products at the same time, both of which are baked into its productivity suite. So why the huge push now?

Slack: Software’s favorite rocket ship

You are no doubt familiar with Slack’s growth arc. It’s been a nearly chronic narrative in tech for the past few years. And I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. (I’m as guilty as anyone else.)

But, in case you have a life, here are some highlights: Slack reached ARR of $50 million in December of 2015. In October of 2016, Slack hit the $100 million ARR mark. Then the company bested $200 million last September. That’s darn quick, and investors took notice, showering the company with cash and ever-rising valuations.

One way to get acquired, after all, is to stick out by worrying the biggest companies in the market through growth.

Fueling Slack’s continued growth is a push into the realm of bigger companies. The firm launched Slack Enterprise Grid last January, bringing enterprise-grade management tools to Slack’s product. With Enterprise Grid, Slack can keep going after bigger accounts. (To that point, IBM has more than 200,000 active users on Slack that use Enterprise Grid.)

That quick growth has made Slack an acquisition target. One way to get acquired, after all, is to stick out by worrying the biggest companies in the market through growth. It’s just hard as heck to do, as incumbent revenue numbers are so large that, well, you have to grow fast to become interesting.

An even bigger scrap

As we know, Slack has rebuffed acquisition offers. As a result, we’re seeing Microsoft, the dominant player in the world of productivity, attempt to slow down Slack in an effort to not lose future users and future dollars. Hell, even Google is in on the race. Its Slack competitor launched for early users in February. Facebook is also tinkering around the edges. It’s fun to watch.

But productivity is Microsoft’s cash cow. For Google, it’s a big side project, but nothing compared to its advertising revenue. That puts Microsoft and Slack more up against one another in the enterprise chat fight.

(In mid-March, Microsoft announced that 200,000 organizations now use Teams, up from 125,000 in September of 2017. That’s 60 percent growth in a half-year or so — a quick growth pace, too.)

What we’ll learn over the next few years is if Microsoft’s enormous enterprise channel can be leveraged enough to slow Slack’s growth, or if Slack’s momentum can actually capture a piece of the productivity market and hold onto it.

It’s a startup against a platform company, a classic enough battle. But with big tech bigger, richer and more powerful than ever, it’s a more relevant business case than we might think at first blush. More when one draws blood or Slack goes public.

Mar
12
2018
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Microsoft Teams will integrate with Cortana, add transcription and translation features

 Microsoft Teams, the company’s team collaboration software and challenger to Slack, announced this morning — on its first anniversary — a suite of new features that will roll out to the software throughout 2018. This includes features that will allow users to record, transcribe and save meetings to the cloud, integrations with voice assistant Cortana, inline message… Read More

Mar
12
2018
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Microsoft Teams will integrate with Cortana, add transcription and translation features

Microsoft Teams, the company’s team collaboration software and challenger to Slack, announced this morning — on its first anniversary — a suite of new features that will roll out to the software throughout 2018. This includes features that will allow users to record, transcribe and save meetings to the cloud, integrations with voice assistant Cortana, inline message translation and several others.

The added integration with Cortana’s voice assistance could give Microsoft an edge in its battle with Slack, given the increasing importance of voice-based computing in the workplace and within business productivity applications.

Microsoft and Amazon announced last year their voice assistants, Cortana and Alexa, would work together, for example. Meanwhile, companies — including Microsoft — have been working to make their applications and services work well with voice assistants given the potential of voice computing in the workplace.

According to Microsoft, Cortana voice integrations for Teams-enabled devices will launch later this year, allowing users to easily make a call, join a meeting or add people to meetings using natural, spoken language. What’s more, these voice capabilities will extend to IP phones and conference room devices, as well.

This feature alone could be a big selling point for Microsoft Teams, but it’s one of several the company announced are in the works.

Also coming in 2018 is cloud recording — another that takes advantages of advances in voice technology in recent years. Microsoft Teams will be able to record meetings with a click, then create an automatic transcription of what was said. Meeting attendees can choose to play back the meeting in full, or just a key part, using the transcription as reference.

This feature will also be advanced in the future to include facial recognition, so meeting remarks can be properly attributed.

Meeting transcription is an area other startups are working in, as well. For example, recently launched Otter is offering an automatic transcription tool for meetings, as is Voicera, which just landed $20 million for its automated note-taking assistant. (It wouldn’t be surprising to see Slack snatch up a company like this in the future, to help it compete by way of native voice and transcription features.)

Microsoft is also promising inline messaging translations between languages in channels and chat; a background blur option for video calls (great for meetings from home offices); proximity detection for adding available Skype Room Systems to meetings; and mobile sharing in meetings.

This last item will allow attendees to share a live video stream, photo or screen share from their mobile device.

In addition to the planned features, Microsoft announced new enterprise-grade calling features arriving today, including consultative transfer and call delegation and federation. It’s also now rolling out Direct Routing, which allows customers to integrate existing telephony infrastructure with Teams for calling.

Related to this, Teams is also now enabled across meeting room devices, including Microsoft Surface Hub; devices from new partners Lenovo and HP (which join Logitech, Crestron and Polycom); Skype Room Systems; new solutions from BlueJeans, Pexip and Polycom that will connect with Teams; new desk phones from AudioCodes and Yealink and new conference room phones from Crestron, Polycom and Yealink, all of which will run a native Teams app; and new mobile phone stations from Plantronics.

Microsoft today gave an update on Teams’ traction, given it’s now been a year since its worldwide debut. There are today 200,000 organizations in 181 markets and 39 languages on Teams, including A.P. Moller-Maersk, ConocoPhillips, Macy’s, NASCAR, Navistar, RLH Corporation and Technicolor and, as of another announcement today, General Motors.

By comparison, Slack reports 9 million weekly active users across 50,000+ paying companies in over 100 countries, according to stats on its website. It said in September it had grown to more than 6 million daily users, as well.

Sep
25
2017
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Microsoft is going all in on Teams and plans to phase out Skype for Business

 Microsoft Teams, the company’s Slack competitor with deep integrations into the Office 365 apps, has seen a lot of pickup over the last few months, with over 125,000 organizations now using it in one form or another. Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that the company today announced it is going all in on Teams as its core communications platform for the enterprise. Read More

Apr
05
2017
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Talla service bot lets IT ease into AI

Cartoon of robot sitting at help desk. Talla, a Cambridge, Mass. startup, wants to help companies ease into artificial intelligence, and they have come up with a new service assistant bot that gives companies whatever degree of intelligence-fueled power they are looking for. The tool, called ServiceAssistant, works as an IT or HR help desk inside of Slack or Microsoft Teams and gives customers a few options on how to use it. First… Read More

Mar
14
2017
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Teams, Microsoft’s Slack rival, opens to all Office 365 users

 After unveiling a limited preview of Teams in November last year, Microsoft is now rolling out its collaboration and communication platform, positioned as a rival to Slack, more widely: Teams is now available, and free, for all 85 million monthly active users of Office 365, Microsoft’s suite of cloud services and apps as a web app and native apps for Windows, iOS and Android. Read More

Dec
21
2016
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Enterprise social comes roaring back

Employees in connected in social network web You’ll be forgiven if you missed it, but lost in the avalanche of this year’s tech news, enterprise social software made an impressive comeback. Led by products like Slack, Workplace by Facebook and Microsoft Teams, a software category that had been languishing for the last several years, suddenly came alive. A decade ago, as social software emerged, it was coined Enterprise 2.0… Read More

Dec
10
2016
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Software is due for a bundling event

Overhead shot of a small group of people, wearing monochromatic colors, pulling at ropes from opposing directions We are approaching a new phase of enterprise software, where every niche of Software-as-a-Service has been filled and cloud companies are being consolidated into larger companies. Markets have a tendency to cycle from bundling to unbundling, and software is due for a bundling event. Read More

Nov
02
2016
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Microsoft Teams feels like déjà vu all over again

screenshot-2016-11-02-16-02-08 Microsoft introduced Microsoft Teams today to much fanfare and hoopla — as only Microsoft can seem to do these days. But when you take a close look at today’s announcement, what have you really got here — a 10-year-old idea on how to communicate and collaborate in the enterprise with a distinctly Microsoft twist. As I wrote previously about Slack and more recently Workplace… Read More

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