Microsoft announced on Thursday that it was launching a free version of its workplace chat and collaboration tool Microsoft Teams for groups of 300 people or fewer, the Seattle Times reported. The move puts the Redmond, Washington-based software giant in more direct competition with Slack, the startup whose popular group chat system operates on a similar “freemium” model. Previously, Teams was only available to subscribers of the Microsoft’s Office 365 suite of productivity software; the premium version remains tied to the 365 suite, but smaller organizations are now able to try out the free version and choose whether to subscribe and upgrade.
Like Slack, the free version of Teams puts some restrictions on what users can do, but the restrictions are different. Slack’s free version allows for an unlimited number of users but limits these groups to 5 GB of storage space and only lets them save and search up to 10,000 messages. Teams limits the number of free users but does not limit how many messages they can save. It also gives them more storage space than Slack: 10 GB for the group, plus 2 GB per user for personal storage. The free version also includes the platform’s built-in integrations with Microsoft Office and unlimited integrations with third-party business apps, TechCrunch adds.
Slack announced last week that it was integrating its platform with Workday to enable users to access the Workday suite of HR tools from within Slack’s platform. The integration will allow users to request time off and share information about their leave, provide peer feedback, and look up coworkers’ information without leaving the Slack interface. Other integrated features are in the pipeline, including custom notifications and a tool for IT functions to easily assign employees to the right Slack channels. These features are expected to roll out this coming fall, Slack says.
For Workday, the integration is an opportunity to reshape the way employees engage with HR, Chief Technology Officer Joe Korngiebel wrote in a blog post discussing the move:
We believe that the integration of Workday and Slack will be a game changer in terms of empowering employees. Employees will be able to engage with HR in a way they haven’t been able to before. Without having to move to another application, they will be able to resolve many of their questions and issues in an intuitive and familiar way. Slack and Workday are tools people enjoy using and derive significant daily value from. As a result, together we can empower people to work more intuitively and with less friction to more simply get things done at work.
From Slack’s perspective, the partnership is part of its efforts to turn its chat and collaboration platform into an all-in-one enterprise technology tool. Slack has been engaged in a feature war with a growing field of competitors, including major players like Microsoft, over the past year, and last week’s announcement illustrates the degree to which integration with other platforms is a central battleground.
Last November, Amazon announced that it was bringing its voice-controlled assistant Alexa into the workplace, launching Alexa for Business at its its annual AWS re:Invent conference. This week, the company revealed how far the enterprise version of Alexa has come, who is using it, and how the product is being applied in business settings. Amazon Chief Technology Officer Werner Vogels expanded on these points in a post on his blog, All Things Distributed:
Voice interfaces are a paradigm shift, and we’ve worked to remove the heavy lifting associated with integrating Alexa voice capabilities into more devices. For example, Alexa Voice Service (AVS), a cloud-based service that provides APIs to interface with Alexa, enables products built using AVS to have access to Alexa capabilities and skills.
We’re also making it easy to build skills for the things you want to do. This is where the Alexa Skills Kit and the Alexa Skills Store can help both companies and developers. Some organizations may want to control who has access to the skills that they build. In those cases, Alexa for Business allows people to create a private skill that can only be accessed by employees in your organization. In just a few months, our customers have built hundreds of private skills that help voice-enabled employees do everything from getting internal news briefings to asking what time their help desk closes.
Alexa for Business is now capable of interfacing with common enterprise applications like Salesforce, Concur, and ServiceNow, Vogels added, while IT developers can use the Alexa Skills Kit to enable custom apps as well. WeWork, one early adopter of the service, has “built private skills for Alexa that employees can use to reserve conference rooms, file help tickets for their community management team, and get important information on the status of meeting rooms.”
Microsoft has rolled out the biggest update to its Microsoft Teams collaboration software since the product was launched in late 2016, adding an array of features “allowing users to better work with apps – something Microsoft Teams accomplishes via integrations, new search and discovery features, commands, and more,” Sarah Perez reports at TechCrunch:
Some of the features are, in fact, quite Slack-like. For example, Microsoft Teams now offers a way to search for apps from the new app store where you can browse by category or search by name, category or integration type – like Project Management or BI. … In Microsoft’s case, however, there’s a bit more emphasis on the apps your organization has added and assigned to you, as well as those you regularly work with.
A new “personal space” displays all the items that you’ve been assigned across your apps, like your tasks in Planner or issues in Jira Cloud, plus those from apps you’ve recently accessed, like OneNote notebooks or videos from Microsoft Stream. Microsoft even added its own new app called Who, powered by Microsoft Graph. This lets you search across your organization for people by name or topic. The updated version of Teams also makes it easier to launch apps.
The new update continues the feature war that has been ongoing between Teams and the startup Slack, its chief rival, over the past year: Microsoft first introduced third-party applications for Teams at its Build conference last May, while both services beefed up their features in September to compete both with each other and with new entrants to the increasingly competitive workplace collaboration software market.
Gartner is projecting worldwide IT spending to reach $3.7 trillion this year, a 4.5 percent increase from 2017, with enterprise software expected to be the fastest-growing component of IT spend, growing by 9.5 percent from $355 billion last year to $389 billion in 2018. HR technologies are among the leading drivers of innovation in this space, with significant spending forecast on software-as-a-service solutions in financial management systems (FMS), human capital management (HCM), and analytic applications. Big data, algorithms, machine learning, and AI are among the technologies expected to drive growth in IT investments in the coming years.
(For readers who want to hear more about our IT spending forecast, Gartner analysts discuss these findings in detail in a complimentary webinar, available on demand here.)
For talent management leaders, this information carries significant implications. In the coming years, technology will inevitably be more embedded into the HR function: The only choice for leaders is whether they want to be on the front or back end of the adoption curve. Technology in the HR realm is advancing at a rapid rate, but the function seems consistently hesitant to take advantage of the opportunities and efficiencies it offers. A wide range of tools are newly available or in development that can help solve perennial HR challenges such as candidate vetting, employee wellness, space management, analytics strategy, recruiting and retaining diverse employees, understanding drivers of high performance, making learning more accessible, or offering digital assistants for all employees.
Voice-activated technology is one of the new frontiers in how people are interacting with technology. Google, Apple, and Microsoft have all developed voice-command assistants and have begun incorporating them into their enterprise software offerings. This week, Amazon joined the club, announcing the introduction of Alexa for Business at its annual AWS re:Invent conference.
The first rumblings of Amazon’s expansion of the popular voice-activated home assistant came in August, when the Seattle-based giant began posting job listings for a “new AWS/Alexa service” that would be “part of a growing family of SaaS offerings from AWS such as Amazon Chime, Amazon WorkSpaces, and Amazon WorkDocs.” Jay Greene and Laura Stevens of the Wall Street Journal report that the company has added hundreds of engineers to the Alexa team and is giving this initiative preference in hiring in order to keep up with the other tech titans in this highly competitive emerging market.
The technology will allow employees to book conference rooms, start presentations, make calls, join teleconferences, turn lights on or off, obtain Salesforce information, and more. CNBC obtained a list of the break-out sessions at the re:Invent conference showcasing the Alexa for Business offering:
Facebook has made a number of rapid-fire improvements to its enterprise offering Workplace since launching the bold play for the workplace productivity market last year: Earlier this year, it introduced a free tier of the service and added a collection of new features like file-sharing integrations to keep up with the rapidly developing standards of collaboration platforms as Facebook vies for dominance in the market against Slack, Microsoft, Google, Atlassian, and a growing number of new competitors.
This week, the social media giant released another package of new Workplace features, including a desktop app that allows screen sharing and will soon introduce group video chat. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden checks the specs of the latest update:
Previously, the video features in Workplace were limited to live video broadcasts and one-to-one video conversations. Alongside the new apps and features, Facebook is also updating the overall design of Workplace to simplify the interface and make it consistent across Android, iOS, desktop and web[.]
Workplace has positioned itself as the collaboration platform for everyone in your organization — not just those who are so-called “knowledge workers” who are at desks most of the day. The idea is that everyone, from executive to barista to warehouse assistant, will find Workplace easy to use because, well, it looks and feels a lot like the hugely popular Facebook. However, the new desktop apps — for both PC and Mac — are a hat tip that there are, in fact, a lot of those desk-sitters using Workplace, too.
Facebook had said the app was a response to user requests, but Lunden argues that these new features are also aimed at boosting user engagement, as that metric is critical for Workplace’s business model: