group video and text chat in Skype for Business
With the announcement that Skype for Business would be folded under Teams, did Microsoft just provide the answer to a 10-year-old debate? PHOTO: Microsoft

On day one of Microsoft Ignite, the company announced its Teams collaboration product would become the “hero client” for all communications functionality in Office 365 going forward. 

Teams will subsume the functionality of Skype for Business for Office 365 users, bringing voice, video calling and even plain old telephone services under the Teams umbrella. If your company isn't all-in on Office 365, Microsoft promised a new version of the Skype for Business server. At this point I am assuming the current Skype for Business client software will remain available to enterprises not on Office 365, but that wasn't spelled out in the announcement. 

Once More Unto the Anti-Email Breach

Making Teams a central point of access makes sense. Employees have one location where they can access threaded discussion ‘channels’ for asynchronous communications, text, voice and video options for synchronous communications, plus Planner, SharePoint libraries and anything else you have put on a Teams tab. 

The move reminds me of a debate we were having 10 years ago: whether portal software suites would be the one interface to rule them all, and whether for some classes of workers, Outlook would provide a better "portal." Yes, 10 years ago, pre-Yammer, we were discussing how crappy email was and how we might finally do away with it.  

Fast forward to today, and people are still trying to do away with email. Yet it remains all too annoyingly front and center of many people’s work day. Despite my love of modern multichannel social collaboration tools, and my dislike of the hundreds of emails I receive per day, I recognize the continued business utility of the “lowest common denominator” type of technology that email is.

For all those who see email as the very embodiment of evil, that it destroys productivity and gets in the way more than it helps, I sympathize, but I don't necessarily agree. I work with lawyers, who would suggest it is the right platform for formal communication with external parties.

Which brings us back to those arguments of 10 years ago: for those whose business process is email-heavy for a very good reason, and with Outlook being an RSS reader, providing access to SharePoint lists, forums and calendars etc., isn't Outlook the true “portal” for many users?

Requirements of Collaboration and Communication

Before we return to the Ignite announcement, lets recap the terminology:

  • Collaboration is the act of working together to achieve a common goal
  • Communication in its electronic forms are ways of conveying a message from one or more entities to one or more other entities.

So to collaborate with others you need the ability to effectively communicate with them, however communication in and of itself does not mean you are collaborating. In other words, you can use email as part of your collaboration tool kit — it may not be the best tool for many reasons, but depending on the context and business process it may be good enough. 

Some of the reasons you may default to using email are technology challenges — is there another tool, such as a social collaboration platform, available to use instead? Does your organization have the licenses and infrastructure to make this alternative platform available to all of the internal and external stakeholders you need to collaborate with? Internal licensing can be complex enough, but the external extranet scenario poses even more difficulties to organize and manage — but everyone has email.

Microsoft Teams: The 'Portal' We've Been Looking For?

So where does the latest vision and news from Microsoft fit in this discussion? 

Well one of the other things Microsoft engineers have been working on is giving external users access to your Office 365 domain — which became a reality earlier this month with the introduction of "guest access" for Teams. Now businesses can share everything from basic communications to full-on complex collaboration scenarios with their external stakeholders from the same multi-channel communication and collaboration option client they use with their internal colleagues. 

With the addition of all of the Skype for Business capabilities, this makes Teams the new ‘portal’ for those using Office 365. If you can get your external stakeholders on board and added to your Groups, then you don’t have to default to email anymore.

Secure asynchronous and synchronous communications, project planning and task management, file sharing — all the good stuff you use internally can now be used externally too. And don’t forget: Exchange and Outlook are part of Office 365 too. So email is still there, ready for use when it truly fits the bill. 

Microsoft may have just finally put our 10-year-old debate to rest.