Stack of newspapers in a bundle on the ground.
Catching up on the latest news. PHOTO: Bob Doran

With the current global health crisis and the increasing focus on remote working, apps to enable workers to complete their daily tasks individually and as members of teams are the most requested in the digital workplace. As a result, technology vendors have been tripping over each other to announce new integrations to ensure that they don’t become irrelevant by failing to provide what workers need. Take the example of Teams and Slack. Hardly a week goes by without tit-for-tat exchange between the two companies, be it over the number of users, the number of active users, or functionality.

However, this week everything has changed. According to a widely reported call between Slack CEO Steve Butterfield and RBC analyst Alex Zukin, Slack is currently working on technology that will enable workers who use Slack to communicate with other workers that are using Microsoft Teams.

The penny, it seems, has finally dropped. Users that are offered a functionality in the same digital workplace by two different platforms have no real loyalty. In the case of Slack, this means accepting that even though they offer voice communications not all users are going to access it. The same also applies for Teams, of course. “We’re working on Teams integrations for calling features,” Butterfield said on the call, according to reports in CNBC.

This is not a first though. Slack which has more than 1500 apps and integrations in its Apps directory, among which, are other Microsoft integrations like of Outlook, SharePoint or OneDrive, for example.

However, voice communications are a big one and enabling Slack and Teams to communicate like this is a big step towards unifying the digital workplace. There are few other details about the integration and what shape it will take. It is also still only a work-in-progress, so no dates for the launch of the integration.

Slack’ Progress Underlies Progress Of Remote Working

There is a footnote to the Teams — Slack integration. During the week, in a series of tweets, Steve Butterfield gave us some idea of how Slack is doing in the current global situation. With more people remote working than was ever imaginable even a month ago, the figures are good.

In fact, the figures were so good, San Francisco-based Slack republished the entire thread on blog. While we wouldn’t normally favor the tweets from any individual, this one shows how quickly workers were going home and collaborating through Slack. There is no doubt that this reflects what is happening globally and with other technologies, so it is worth a look. Some of the highlights include:

  • A new record of simultaneously connected users of 12.5 million on March 25 — up from 10.5 million just over a week earlier.
  • A substantial increase in new work teams between March 12 and March 25.
  • 9,000 new paid customers added already in fiscal Q1.

The addition of 9,000 new paid customers so far in fiscal Q1 is particularly noteworthy, especially considering the company still has more than a month left in the quarter. These net new paid customer additions compare to adding about 5,000 paid customers every quarter recently. In the blog post Butterfield wrote, “In some senses, we were made for this. Slack’s not specifically a “work from home” tool; it’s more of a “create organizational agility” tool. But an all-at-once transition to remote work creates a lot of demand for organizational agility.” It may be that in the current crisis Slack has really found its feet."

Box Eases Microsoft 365 Experience

But these are not the only integration moves from big collaboration vendors. Recently, San Francisco-based Box also announced deeper integrations with Microsoft 365.

Microsoft 365 you will recall was launched in 2017 and bundled Office 365 with a number of other Microsoft offerings to ensure tighter digital environments for workers. It consists of an integrated bundle of Windows 10, Office 365 and Enterprise Mobility + Security (aka EMS, which includes Intune device management, analytics and some Azure Active Directory capabilities), sold on a subscription basis.

A blog post by Scott Porter from Box said that the purpose of the new integrations is to make the Box experience in Microsoft 365 as seamless as possible. Built on Box’s interoperability within Microsoft environments the new integrations include the integration of Box within Microsoft Teams (generally available on March 31), an updated Box add-in for Microsoft Outlook on mobile, and new security and identity integrations.

The all-new Box and Microsoft Teams integration will enable users to access and share Box content directly in Teams channels or chats. All channel content will be available with the new Box Files Tab. In addition, team level deployment will be available with automated folder creation and permission mapping between Box and Teams.  

The mobile Box Add-In for Microsoft Outlook, which has just been released, will support saving email attachments to Box for both iOS and Android, which also builds on the existing support for the Outlook app on Windows, Mac or web with Box for Outlook.

It follows on the heels of the February general availability of Microsoft’s new unified mobile Office app, which supports Box. This integration enables users to open, edit and save Box files directly within the new Office app.

Ultimately all this means that users within Box can already easily and securely open and edit files using Microsoft’s Office 365 editors, while users in Outlook can readily share Box content within email. Additionally, Box works seamlessly with Azure Active Directory for identity and access management, Intune for mobile device management, and Microsoft Cloud App Security for cloud security. Box is also a member of Microsoft’s Intelligent Security Association.

COVID-19 Global Hackathon

Of course, remote working and apps are only possible if the software is available to enable it. While we have seen several integrations announced by big vendors — and there are others from smaller vendors that we will look at soon — there is also a number initiatives aimed at building new software solutions or improving solutions that already exist.

Such is the case with the COVID-19 Global Hackathon, described by its organizers  as “an opportunity for developers to build software solutions that drive social impact, with the aim of tackling some of the challenges related to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.” They add that developers, using technologies of their choice across a range of suggested themes and challenge areas — some of which have been sourced through health partners including the World Health Organization and scientists at the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub — should  build for a number of specified “need” areas.

It is also being supported from technology companies and platforms including AWS, Facebook, Giphy, Microsoft, Pinterest, Slack, TikTok, Twitter and WeChat, who will be sharing resources to support participants throughout the submission period.

The principle themes that developers should focus on include the following.

  • Businesses: The set of problems that businesses are facing to stay afloat, collaborate effectively, and move parts of their business online.
  • Community: Promoting connection to friends, family, and neighbors to combat social isolation and the digitizing of public services for local governments.
  • Education: Alternative learning environments and tools for students, teachers, and entire school systems.
  • Entertainment: Alternatives to traditional forms of entertainment that can keep the talent and audiences safe and healthy.

There is still time to enter but the closing date is fast approaching.

Microsoft Buys 5G Affirmed Networks

Finally, this week, remote working aside and looking to the future, Microsoft has announced that it is buying Acton, Mass.-based Affirmed Networks to build its presence in the 5G market.

According to a statement from Microsoft, the next (fifth) generation of wireless networks, or 5G, will enable a bunch of new opportunities for businesses and society, including autonomous vehicles, smart cities, virtual reality and a range of other smart industry use cases and services.These next-generation networks will create new capabilities, new markets and help advance local economies, it adds. You see Microsoft’s interest in it.

Affirmed Networks’ fully virtualized, cloud-native mobile network solutions enable operators to simplify network operations, reduce costs and rapidly create and launch new revenue-generating services. Affirmed Networks was founded in 2010 and has raised $155 million to date.