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

With all the talk in recent months about Microsoft Teams and Slack and which platform might be better for what collaborative work, the obvious solution for many enterprises – especially those that have alreadty made a substantial investment in Microsoft tools – is to pull the two of them together.

For Slack, integration with enterprise tools like Zoom or Dropbox or Box and literally hundreds of other tools, has been a way of life since the company was founded in 2009 in San Francisco.  Microsoft has been doing something similar with Teams since it was first unveiled in 2017. In both cases, the objective has been to bring all the communication and collaboration tools in the enterprise and pull them into a central single place.

Over the past week, to enable this, Microsoft Teams and Slack have come together to connect Office 365 tools with Slack in a single place. Make no mistake – this is not the first time that the two have come together. Azure Active Directory and the file sharing and storage app OneDrive have been available for some time.

This announcement builds on this, makes the connection deeper and adds a bunch of other apps including the Office apps, a new mail and calendaring app as well as a preview option for all Office files.

In a post about the integration, Slack explains: “By using apps to connect Outlook and OneDrive with Slack, repetitive tasks such as checking your calendar or sharing email attachments with a group can be done right from your workspace. Each little improvement to these workflows adds up to a whole lot more time for you and your team to do your best work.”

For any enterprise using the two this will really make things easier. While the connection itself is interesting, what is even more striking is that the integration was built using publically available APIs. It also comes not long after Microsoft release a freemium version of Teams that was designed to counter one of Slack’s real advantages, notably price. There will undoubtedly be more on this later.

WordPress’ Automattic Starts Releasing Productivity Suite

Sometimes when talking about productivity suites we overlook that there are other players in the game apart from Microsoft, Google with G Suite and Slack. There is, for example, the economic and versatile Zoho, or the open source LibreOffice. Surprisingly, there has been little said about productivity from San Francisco-based Automattic, the parent company of WordPress, despite the fact that it is the mainstay of many enterprise workplaces.

That is until this week. In a statement from the San Francisco company, it said that it is releasing a new suite called Happy Tools, which it describes as a “suite of products for the future of work.” While Automattic is only releasing a scheduling app for the moment, it has also said that it will be releasing other productivity tools that are already being used by the company internally.;

There is no timing for the releases, but there is no reason to doubt that it will be soon. Automattic, along with its flagship WordPress product, has been a prime example of what a company that is based on a remote-working business model can achieve with 850 people in 68 countries across the world and no real central office powering 33 percent of all the websites on the Internet. A statement from the company explained:

"Along the way, we’ve found that many business products are still locked into old assumptions about how a company runs, so we had to build our own internal tools to work the way we want. Now, we’re making these tools available to like-minded companies who need a better way to work.”

The new Happy Schedule is, according to the company, a new take on workforce management. Designed to handle the complexities that come up when business goals are planned around real-world schedules, with Happy Schedule, Automattic, which uses the tool internally, is able to plan 24/7 customer support while offering flexible working hours to our 300+ Happiness Engineers spanning many timezones.

The new release will cost $5 per user per month, though there is a minimum monthly spend of $60. This means teams of about 12 although there can be less. It is also easy to use in keeping with WordPress product. More on the way.

Google Confirms Remote Working Effectiveness

Speaking of remote working, Google used its recent Cloud conference to unveil the findings of an internal study it did on remote working in the company and who effective – or not – it has been.

In a post about the study, Veronica Gilrane, people analytics manager, at the Mountain View, Calif.-based company explained: “In order to better understand the impact of distributed work, my team sent out a survey to 5000+ Googlers and held focus groups with about a hundred employees across the globe. We measured well-being, performance, and connectedness (among other things) and came up with recommendations on how to ensure that those things remain consistent, even if your team is spread out across the world. The findings are hardly surprising and conform with what we have already seen in other studies. But this is Google so it’s worth a look. The survey found that:

  • 48 percent of meetings involve employees working in two or more buildings
  • 39 percent of meetings are across two or more cities
  • 30 percent of meetings involve two or more time zones

“We were happy to find no difference in the effectiveness, performance ratings, or promotions for individuals and teams whose work requires collaboration with colleagues around the world versus Googlers who spend most of their day to day working with colleagues in the same office,” she wrote in a blog post.

There is a bunch of other conclusions that are available as playbooks, but the ‘what you can do’ section is particularly interesting. The solution to problems of disassociation between remote workers and teams are not technology-based solutions, but human. Gilrane advises teams to:

Get to know each other as people: Instead of jumping right into an agenda, allow some time at the top of the meeting for an open-ended question

Set boundaries:  Instead of making assumptions about preferred working hours, take the time to ask your co-workers when they like to take meetings

Forge in-person and virtual connections: Sometimes it’s just easier to be face to face. Managers should provide clear guidelines and opportunities for team members to travel for in person meetings. There is a lot more here, but well worth taking a look at the playbooks

Google’s AI Platform

Sticking with Google, the company used its annual Cloud Next conference to unveil a number of upgrades and releases. As expected, artificial intelligence was the key focus, the objective of which is toe “democratize AI and machine learning”.

This is not a new concept for Google, which has been working on AI since the beginning, but this time it has taken a step further with the release of AI Platform. The new platform will give developers and end-to-end platform that can be used for building, testing and deploying AI models that can be used across the entire platform.

In order to do this, the platform brings together tools that already exist along with some new tools that can enables users to build a data pipeline and pull in data, label it and use existing tools like AutoML or the Cloud Machine Learning = to train and deploy custom models.

AI Platform supports Kubeflow, Google’s open-source platform, which lets you build portable ML pipelines that you can run on-premises or on Google Cloud without significant code changes.

“The AI Platform is this place where, if you are taking this terrifying journey from a journeyman idea of how you can use AI in your enterprise, all the way through launch and a safe, reliable deployment, the AI Platform help you move between each of these stages in a safe way so that you can start with exploratory data analysis, start to build models using your data scientists, ” a Google spokesperson said during a press conference reported in TechCrunch. There is a lot more on the new platform here and a lot more on the way. 

Accenture Buys  Cirruseo

Finally, this week, Ireland-based Accenture has entered into exclusive negotiations to acquire Cirruseo, a pure-play Google Cloud services provider in France.  The acquisition will strengthen Accenture’s expertise in Google Cloud in the French market and more broadly across Europe by enhancing its ability to help clients apply Google Cloud technologies in industry-specific contexts.

Cirruseo’s expertise will also strengthen Accenture’s ability to help clients accelerate innovation by using the cloud to analyze increasing volumes of data and create hyper-personalized client experiences.

Cirruseo has nearly 100 highly skilled Google Cloud professionals with deep experience in  Google Cloud’s artificial intelligence solutions, including data analytics and machine learning tools. Financial details of the deal have not been released.