Letter from Microsoft Ignite 2018

by Craig Roth, Gartner

In my view the conference this year wasn’t about major releases as much as it was about showing progress while clarifying positioning and vision for the future of work and Microsoft’s place in it. One of the biggest clarifications for me was the importance of Teams. 

Microsoft claims 320,000 orgs using Teams. The importance of Teams goes beyond the chat stream to its function as a hub. As Larry Cannell wrote “Teams is becoming Office 365’s main collaboration client, unifying much of the suite’s products and underlying services.”

There are so many components in Office 365 that a front end hub-and-spoke access mechanism is becoming necessary. Office 365 Enterprise E5 lists 13 components, which is a lot of implementation plans, a lot of training modules, and a lot for users to remember.

If you were to quiz moderate users of the suite to name as many components as they can, how many would they remember? And it’s reasonable to assume a few more components may get added in the next few years.

If that happens some simplification is in order. It may be easier to get users to adopt and utilize a single application with various well-integrated capabilities than it is to deploy and train them on a dozen or more separate applications.

In the case of Skype for Business Online, the component was reinvented inside Teams. For Yammer, OneDrive and SharePoint the approach is integration into Teams.

This makes sense if, as Microsoft showed, 80% of time at work is spent collaborating with others.  (Although I think that quote, which seems to come from data published by Harvard Business Review in 2016, is overblown. The HBR article said “at many companies”, not an average across all, and included doing email as a collaborative activity). While a user can jump to any component they wish, Teams is increasingly a hub that the other components connect to.

This hub and spoke is just a user experience mechanism. Underneath, the Microsoft Graph acts as a common programmatic access point, as does the expanded search functionality that crosses components.

Simplifying the user experience while adding more functionality would be quite a trick to pull off.  But users that want to collaborate and create content – without thinking about which container and modality is best – would welcome any reduction in the mental overhead required by their digital workplace tools.

Craig Roth is Research VP, Tech and Service Providers at Gartner, Inc.