man sitting on a bench reading a newspaper
PHOTO: Mike Ackerman

Microsoft continues to push its Teams collaboration workspace application deeper into the enterprise. At the InfoComm conference in Las Vegas earlier this month, the Redmond, Wash.-based company announced it will be adding Teams to a number of Microsoft-certified conference room devices, including Surface Hub.

Surface Hub is a brand of interactive whiteboard developed and marketed by Microsoft as part of its Surface family. According to a blog post from Tiffany Wissner, senior director of Unified Communications at Microsoft, the move was driven by a desire to create a range of devices that are “purpose-built for the way people work today, and the variety of spaces in which they work.” In practical terms this means that by the end of June, Skype Room Systems will be able to support Teams meetings across all of its partners, including Logitech, Crestron, Polycom, Lenovo and HP.

The Teams integrations aren't limited to big screens. By the end of the year, Teams will also be available on phones and mobile devices from Microsoft hardware partners.

Further evidence suggests a free version of Teams is also on the way. Earlier this year, reports circulated that suggested Microsoft was considering a freemium version of the application. Earlier this week, Twitter user WalkingCat shared documents that suggest further evidence that a freemium version is on the way. As reported in the tech blog Neowin, the End User Notice reads as follows:

Microsoft Teams (free) is intended for use by organizations, such as small businesses or groups of coworkers. If you were invited to join a group in Microsoft Teams (free), the group you are joining in the Microsoft Teams (free) instance will be considered your organization for the purposes of this notice, and the person administering the group will be considered the administrator of your account in Microsoft Teams (free).

Surface Hub customers will be able to download the preview for the Teams app from the Microsoft Store later this month. Looking ahead, the next generation of Surface Hub, Surface Hub 2, will be even more deeply integrated with Microsoft 365 and Teams to bring robust collaboration scenarios to life. Surface Hub 2 is scheduled for release in 2019.

Office Apps Get a Makeover

Microsoft also announced this week that Office apps in Office 365 are getting a makeover that aim to make them easier to work with. The main difference will be that the ribbon — the control bar at the top of the screen — is being slimmed down for PowerPoint, Excel and possibly other apps in the future.

The company issued a statement that the updates will only apply to Office.com and Office 365, yet another push from the company to make users move online. 

The update includes other improvements, but one of the most useful promises to be improved search. Search, the statement said, will become a much more important element of the user experience, providing access to commands, content and people. With “zero query search,” the company stated placing your cursor in the search box will bring up recommendations powered by AI and the Microsoft Graph. Further details were not available, but given the multiple search experiences currently available, any push to streamline is welcome.

Microsoft also shared some interesting stats in the blog post. It stated Office 365 now has 31 million consumer customers and 135 million commercial clients, with 800 million more using the standard Microsoft Office.

OpenText Releases New SAP-Driven Digital Workplace Solutions

A number of interesting announcements came out of SAP’s Sapphire Now conference earlier this month, many of them with a digital workplace focus. Among those announcements were two new releases from Waterloo, Ontario-based OpenText, which debuted two new cloud solutions that will enable companies integrate digital content into the OpenText cloud.

The solutions — OpenText Extended ECM for SAP Solutions, Cloud Edition and OpenText Archive Center for SAP Solutions, Cloud Edition — will simplify the digital transformation process for companies. The company stated OpenText Extended ECM for SAP Solutions Cloud improves business processes by extending content services to SAP solutions, while the OpenText Archive Center for SAP Solutions, Cloud Edition is a new public cloud platform which will address the exponential growth of content and data related to core processes running in SAP software.

The release of both applications responds to the increasing difficulty enterprises face managing data and information management, collaboration and regulatory compliance according to CEO Mark J. Barrenechea. The new releases will also enable enterprises re-platform their SAP solutions in the cloud, which offers a scalable foundation to manage the data explosion in the enterprise.

This is just the latest in a long line of joint SAP and OpenText cloud releases with previous releases including SAP Hybris Digital Asset Management Cloud by OpenText and SAP SuccessFactors Extended Enterprise Content Management by OpenText among others. Both of the new solutions are available immediately and integrate seamlessly with other enterprise SAP solutions.

Google Tasks Flies On Its Own

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google is also upgrading its G Suite productivity suite by turning its Tasks app into a core service. Tasks is a to-do list app hidden behind a button in Gmail and Google Calendar.

Google introduced Tasks earlier this year as part of the G Suite to help users track daily tasks, organize multiple lists, and track important deadlines with mobile and web applications. As of June 28, Tasks will launch as a standalone G Suite core service.

Since Tasks was previously available as a feature of Gmail and Calendar to all domains, Tasks will be "on" by default upon launch, but it can be turned off at any time in the Admin console under Apps G Suite. This means there will also be a dedicated Tasks mobile app. But more than that, Tasks integration with G Suite means you can create a to-do list item by dragging an email over from Gmail, with event due dates automatically added to Calendar, for example.

“As a G Suite core service, Tasks will be covered under your existing G Suite agreement and will offer the same technical support and service level commitments as any other core service,” the company stated in a blog post.

It's Official: Workers Like Digital Workplaces

Finally, this week, a new report from mobile enterprise network provider Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, is full of stats including one that shows people are starting to embrace artificial intelligence in the digital workplace. The report found that 71 percent of employees said they would welcome a fully-automated workplace, as it would allow organizations to build smarter, more effective working environments.

It also showed 93 percent of employees stated that increased use of digital technology would improve the digital workplace, while over half said the future workplace will be more efficient (56 percent), more collaborative (52 percent), and a more appealing work environment in general (47 percent).

The report, "The Right Technologies Unlock the Potential of the Digital Workplace" noted that digitization of the workplace is being driven in large part by advances in consumer technology: “[Because] of advances in consumer technology and smarter spaces powered by IoT, the physical workplace is becoming more interactive and personalized, thereby unlocking significant efficiency, collaboration and productivity gains for employees,” the report read. You can read the full report here (pdf).