three darts
Microsoft Team takes aim at a crowded field of collaboration vendors. PHOTO: Steve Buissinne

Microsoft launched Microsoft Teams today — an addition to its Office 365 suite that opens the door to private chats — sort of like the ones so many people now have in Slack.

The official release ended one of the most poorly kept tech secrets of all times. How anticipated was the news? Well, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield had time to take out an advance full page ad in the New York Times. In a sarcastic "Dear Microsoft" letter, Butterfield noted he was "genuinely glad to have some competition," but also offered some "friendly advice."

"All this is harder than it looks."

Teamwork is an "Art"

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella seemed to take it in stride. Standing before reporters and guests, he spoke eloquently about the "art" of teamwork and collaboration. He further discussed how work itself has changed in the digital era, where compute power is plentiful and both human attention and time are scarce.

If Nadella has his way, Microsoft Teams will be the de facto collaboration tool in the workplace — used not only for its novelty but because it is part of the already entrenched Office productivity suite. As he put it:

"Just like Outlook brought together email, contacts and calendar into one magical user experience scaffolding that changed how we worked, Teams will bring together chat, meetings, notes, Office, Planner, Power BI, SharePoint... and other extensions and applications to help users get work done."

What Differentiates Microsoft Teams

Teams admittedly looks an awful lot like Slack, with many of the same features like nifty emojis and GIFs. However, it differentiates itself in ways that many may find useful. For one, it allows for threaded chats to make following conversations easier. Video and voice chat is available through Skype, and there are useful bots that leverage Office Graph so you can ask it questions it may be able to answer based on conversations and content in Office 365.

And that last part might be what makes life going forward a wee bit more difficult for the early innovators in this space. Nadella said Microsoft Teams can "maintain and build the institutional knowledge," something that historically gets lost to time, attrition and poor information management. 

Constellation Research analyst Alan Lepofsky said the key now, with so many vendors offering similar services, comes down to "who can provide the most business context and the most seamless experience." Slack, for example, owns no business apps, relying completely on integration. "Microsoft is going to have to provide seamless integration with the rest of Office 365 and ideally Dynamics," he told CMSWire.

Microsoft Teams Enters a Competitive Space

Teams is not a slam-dunk for Microsoft. 

"There are far too many vendors creating 'group messaging' apps," said Lepofsky. "Obviously Slack, but also Glip, HipChat, Cisco Spark, Domo Buzz, HiBox, MindLink, Unify Circuit, ALE Rainbow and IBM Watson Workspace, to name just a few!" 

So what matters here, in the world where the end user is king, is the subjective approval of the people who use the tools — and which ones they like based on everything from ease of use to impact on productivity.

So pretty demos and beta tester user testimonials aside, it will take time to see what kind of an impact Microsoft Teams will make on enterprise collaboration. 

On a final note, to the Yammer enthusiasts among our readers. Yammer — which Nadella likened it to a company bulletin board during the event — won't be going away. Not yet, anyway.