The Microsoft Inspire 2020 debrief: What are the big updates to Microsoft Teams that will drive productivity and performance?

Last week (21 – 22 July) Microsoft held its annual partner conference Inspire entirely online for the first time, embracing the new remote world.

From updates on their hybrid cloud portfolio – including the launch of Azure Stack HCI, a fully integrated native Azure service designed to simplify datacentre migration to the cloud – to significant upgrades to Microsoft 365, Microsoft once again proved they are adapting fast to meet market demand.

The focus, as you might expect, was very much on the transition to remote working and how Microsoft is shaping its products and services to meet the needs of an increasingly agile user base and the associated challenges with security, productivity and data protection.

With the use of Microsoft Teams exploding exponentially, reaching up to 77 million daily users according to stats revealed at Inspire, we take a closer look some of the big upgrades and launches relevant to Teams.

The need-to-know updates to Microsoft Teams

Trustmarque’s Principal Consultant for Office 365 and five-time awarded Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional), Paul Hunt shares his thoughts on the key updates to Microsoft Teams.

 #1 Advancing the Power Apps story in Teams

According to Paul, by far the biggest change to Microsoft 365 is embedding the Power Apps experience directly into Teams – an enhancement due to launch in August. This will provide users the ability to create and embed PowerApps directly in the Teams client with further enhancements brought about by the renaming and enhancing of the Common Data Service (CDS).

Renamed as Microsoft DataFlex Pro, the service is a highly scalable and extensible data backbone built on Microsoft 365 security and embedded into the Power Platform experience.  This has now been further enhanced with the inclusion of Microsoft Dataflex, a smaller scale version of the environment that is built directly into the Teams Power App editing experience. This will bring the power of a scalable data backend at no extra cost, making it a hotly anticipated and valuable developer tool.

Paul comments: “This is new functionality for the citizen developer, i.e. someone who wants to resolve business problems within the tools they have available. It is really aimed at those who have more limited developer experience and want a drag and drop design view. It was previously only possible in the Power Apps platform, so you had to publish the app and then come back to Teams to embed it.

“Microsoft is now bringing that whole experience into Teams. Users will be able to design and build an application, build a datastore and publish the app in Teams without leaving the Teams environment.”

The integration addresses many previous barriers to data storage particularly around licenses as it means everything is centralised and available through your Microsoft 365 license. Paul believes that not requiring the premium connector licenses will be the biggest driver to adoption with the option to step up to more powerful functionality as required.

#2 Organise your information with Microsoft Lists

Building on the success of SharePoint Lists, Microsoft Lists is a Microsoft 365 app that helps organise and track information at both a personal and group level.

“Microsoft Lists will rejuvenate SharePoint Lists,” says Paul. “For the first time, users can create fully customisable Lists in Teams and do not need to think about creating new Lists in SharePoint and then surfacing these as tabs. In my view, this makes it a highly accessible and far more user-friendly solution.

“Users can create fully customisable views or a range of information: tasks, contacts, assets, which can then be accessed via a single point of entry – putting a wealth of information in one place.”

Those new to Lists will benefit from the pre-set templates for scenarios like issue tracking, inventory management, event itinerary and more. Or you can tailor Lists to include content most relevant to specific audiences.

Microsoft Lists will begin rolling out to Microsoft 365 in late July 2020 with integration with Microsoft Teams in August 2020 and a Lists mobile app for iOS expected later this year.

#3 Intelligent meeting spaces with new apps integration

“The next big thing that makes Teams really powerful is the further integration of apps into the meeting space,” explains Paul. “You will be able to set up a meeting that surfaces information straight from different sources, like for example your CRM system. You can really tailor the meeting experience depending on who you are talking to.”

Paul said this goes beyond the existing screen-sharing capability, because the data becomes “part of the meeting experience” and something that can be actively engaged with by all participants.

For example, developers can hook in different information by building apps that can be integrated as a tab within the meeting, on the controls bar or via a side panel. The integration also enables real-time notifications.

Microsoft will make these apps integration updates available for public preview in late July.

#4 The fun and functional Together Mode 

While not technically launched at Inspire, Together Mode is still a very recent feature and worth mentioning. Leveraging AI capability, Together Mode changes the layout of Microsoft Teams gallery view to create a simulated auditorium with up to 49 participants.

Together Mode Auditorium – image courtesy of news.microsoft.com

Paul reveals how his early skepticism has changed after using the new feature. He commented: “Microsoft expanded the canvass for Team meetings to allows 49 cameras all to be switched on.  However, the grid view can be very tiring as a presenter. By using AI, Together Mode extracts the head and shoulders from every person and places them into a virtual auditorium view. When I first looked at it, I must admit I thought it was a gimmick. But having used Together Mode, it is a very different experience and is actually really effective.”

While at first glance Together Mode appears to be a tool that might be most appropriate to the education market, it is clear it could add value to any larger meeting or mid-size town hall style event. Microsoft’s aim was to reinvent the video meeting experience and to help beat meeting fatigue.

Paul, who is used to speaking at events and conferences around the world, said it offers a great simulation of the real-world experience. He commented: “From a presenter perspective, it is much easier to engage with the Together Mode interface. Having tried it, I much prefer it to the grid view. It is easier to connect to the audience and really is like talking to a live audience.”

Together Mode should be generally available to users by August 2020.

Key thoughts on the role of Microsoft 365 in the shift to the new normal

“We will see a seismic shift in how companies approach remote working” says Paul. “In the past there was a reluctance to allow remote working from many employers, but the events of this year have shown how people adapt and change. It has been an eye-opening experience and for many has proved to their organisations that they can both enable and trust their staff to work remotely.”

He said that for the small number that will abuse the flexibility of remote work, there are readily available and non-invasive tools to monitor employees within the Microsoft 365 platform. For example, having visibility of call and meeting engagement through the Microsoft Teams reporting dashboards.

According to Paul, Microsoft is constantly advancing to meet these challenges and Microsoft 365 has been nothing short of a lifesaver in terms of business continuity.

He concludes: “Microsoft has been pushed to meet the needs of their users. But they have responded and adapted well. They have produced rapid transformation to their platforms and invested in accelerated development to meet the customer challenge.”

A UK partner of choice for Microsoft

Trustmarque is a highly valued and top accredited UK partner to Microsoft. We are proud to work together to bring our customers the innovation that will allow them to adapt and grow.

To find out how we can support with you Microsoft Teams, Microsoft 365 or broader Microsoft strategy, contact a member of our team.

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By Katherine Murphy, content enthusiast