Microsoft says all business will be collaborative, and infused with data and AI

How will the world of work change in the near future? “Every business process will be collaborative, powered by data and AI, and will bridge the digital and physical worlds,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during the opening keynote of his company’s Ignite conference this week.

Nadella and other Microsoft executives speaking at the event gave numerous examples of this. One implication of this view is that collaboration can’t just happen within Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, or Outlook; it should flow between them and operational applications. Data and intelligence derived from the interactions between people — what Microsoft calls the Microsoft Graph — should allow the organization to refine and perfect business processes and make employees more productive.

“This digital fabric enables flexibility and strengthens connections from people to people, people to teams, employees to managers,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365. “It makes weak ties stronger, and connects people to mission and culture. It seamlessly weaves together data automation, and AI, all in the flow of work. It includes every type of worker: information workers, frontline workers, and flex workers, and every function from HR to sales to marketing and customer support. And it extends beyond organizational boundaries to include customers and partners.”

Leveraging Microsoft components

These are not new promises for what collaboration technology ought to be able to do, but Microsoft seems to be getting closer to having assembled the software to make it possible — at least for organizations willing to buy most or all of the component parts from Microsoft.

For example, to unlock some of the “fabric” Spataro described, you would supplement your implementations of Teams, SharePoint, and other Microsoft365 components with Microsoft Viva, the employee experience platform featured prominently at the event.

Aimed at human resources and corporate training departments, as well as IT leaders, Viva aims to make it easier for employees to access the information and training they need to do their jobs and for company leaders to detect work patterns that reflect employee productivity or suggest the need for coaching employees on how to do their jobs better.

Teams interactions are a primary source for the Viva Insights analytics module, although it can also pull in data from Zoom, Slack, Workday, and SAP SuccessFactors. Meanwhile, Viva Topics uses AI to digest information and documents from across workplace systems while also identifying sources of expertise within the organization, so that employees can more easily find answers to their questions or find out whom to ask.

Using Microsoft Graph Data Connect integration, the same source data is available to enterprises and independent software vendors who think they can do better or have a more specific use case. The connector can also be used to pipe data from other applications into environments such as Teams.

Helping communication take off

In a Wednesday demo session focused on how Teams can be used in combination with Microsoft Power Platform low-code development tools, Power Apps general manager Ryan Cunningham used the example of an airline trying to improve its on-time departure performance — something he said Microsoft has, in fact, worked on with a number of airlines.

In one scenario, Teams served as the back-end for a mobile app created with Power Platform tools to allow ground crew and gate personnel to communicate with flight coordinators via chat and interaction with automated chatbots. Those chats were restricted within security groups, so that ground personnel could not access channels meant only for managers. In addition to responding to queries, chatbots can also message an employee who needs to take action on some issue. “Having a chatbot reach out and proactively message a user has been one of our most requested features,” Cunningham said.

Meanwhile, at the corporate level, a desktop application created with the same tool can embed collaboration features in data dashboards and workflow screens, allowing employees to see who else they can contact if they need help resolving an issue — and interact with them right within that context.

Such applications weren’t necessarily impossible to create before; they just tended to require months of planning, Cunningham said. “That’s just not something the world has time for anymore.”

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