Microsoft may have a solution to solve the Hybrid Hangover

The cost of real estate for business is the second largest recurring cost item (first is people) and can often be more than 20% of annual costs. Since even before the pandemic, though fueled hugely because of hybrid work practices, organisations are looking for ways to be smarter with this space and better understand, plan, and manage these expensive costs.

As we talk about ways to optimise cost within an organisation, we often think about cost optimisation with regards to cloud spend, consolidating vendors, smarter hiring and moving more power hungry, space consuming data centres to cloud.

Announced at this year’s Microsoft Ignite Conference, Microsoft Places could be the redeeming feature large organisations need to help optimise their office real estate both now and for years to come.

What is Microsoft Places?

Hybrid work promises us the best of all worlds. The ease and comfort of working from home, the connection and energy of engaging with our coworkers in the office, and the flexibility and opportunity of working where we want. But today, there are still challenges preventing this promise from becoming a reality.

Microsoft Places is a new (coming in 2023) connected workplace platform that promises to deliver on the promise of blending the best of hybrid and in-person work. Microsoft places is a new platform (yes, platform not product), that will deliver solutions that help organisations coordinate where work happens, modernise the office with intelligent technology, and optimise the workplace for the continuing ever-changing needs.

Microsoft Places – Video: Microsoft

I said before, Microsoft Places is not a product – it’s a suite of products and services which will slowly embed themselves across the wider Microsoft 365 services like Team and Outlook which is where people spend their time. In short this is all about making the office space are more responsive to everyone’s needs.

Image: (c) Microsoft

Microsoft Places, aims to intelligently leverage signals, data and building systems to provide a truly connected workspace experience, bringing the best employee experience, through a single, unified platform which builds upon the building and technology infrastructure to create an environment which can adapt to serve the unique and changing needs of hybrid work and allows leaders and facilities management to better plan and manage their real estate.

The key services will include:

  • Hybrid scheduling – which will leverage common data signals from Outlook and Teams to allow employees to view their week(s) ahead and see when co-workers and others you need to work or collaborate with are planning to be in the office.
  • Intelligent booking for meetings – will help employees discover available spaces with the right technology to match your meeting purpose and mix of in-person or remote participants. This will also feature recommendations for the shortest commute times, along with prompts that provide guidance on when to leave the office for next meeting and ensuring you don’t get booked back-to-back when you have in person meetings to travel to.
  • Wayfinding – will help employees quickly find the right meeting room, which is key for larger organisations with many locations, buildings, and rooms. Employees will be able to see live interactive maps from their mobile device that guides them to the to the right location.
  • Hot desk booking – will mean that employees can see choose where to sit and reserve desks or rooms accordingly. Updates to Microsoft Teams Rooms will bring more inclusive features for hybrid meetings such as auto-framing, content capture and more.
  • Meet-ups – will allow employees to easily create impromptu meetups and share with others in the office.
Mock-up of Microsoft Places – Image (c) Microsoft

Insights and Data for Leaders

Since all this will leverage the wider Microsoft 365 suite and power of the Microsoft Graph, Microsoft Places will provide a plethora of data driven insights such as utilisation data, energy-saving opportunities, and occupancy trends to better manage the physical space.

This data will help leaders and facilities management make any necessary dynamic space adjustments on a particular day or week such as changing excess huddle rooms to overbooked collaboration rooms or converting meeting rooms into more hot desking areas.

Microsoft Places – Image (c) Microsoft

This data will provide not only trends and usage data but will also allow organisations to better prepare, plan and optimise the real estate they have available and how it’s used to maximum potential. This may include reducing available floors on lighter foot fall days – saving energy expenditures and improving the workplace experience for everyone as well as working with managers and team leaders to better understand office trends around people, and spaces and places across their entire portfolio, creating more flexible, dynamic, and sustainable places that support new ways of working.

Working with Connected Spaces Partners

Since the building fabric, sensors and existing management platforms are critical to the success of a modern intelligent building, Microsoft have partnered with many industry and technology partners. This ecosystem of partners will build on top of the Microsoft Places platform with new and existing solutions, leveraging, and enhancing the rich data of the Microsoft Graph.

The list of partners (which will grow closer to release) include.

  • Accenture
  • Appspace
  • CBRE
  • Cisco (coming soon with DNA Spaces)
  • Conseco
  • EY
  • Honeywell
  • Johnson Controls
  • Swift Connect and
  • Many more

Availability

Microsoft say that Places will enter preview in early 2023 with general availability later next year. Microsoft will release more information on this over the next couple of months.

Microsoft launches Adoption Score to help businesses get the best from their Microsoft 365 investment.

Microsoft has released another analytics dashboard for the Microsoft 365 admin centre called Adoption Score. This latest AI driven insights dashboard is designed to assist IT and Customer Success Teams to ensure their employees are making the most from the core productivity and collaboration tools across Microsoft 365. Adoption Score replaces the  Productivity Score dashboard whilst adding a bunch of new features and controls that are designed to help enhance effectiveness and efficiency.

The anonymised metrics in Adoption Score help IT admins understand and optimize Microsoft 365 usage patterns in support of their digital transformation journey. The new name reflects the new product truth and provides clearer differentiation from other solutions that offer insights for business leaders and managers.

Microsoft.

Microsoft also indicated that they plan to add more functionality over time with the long term of aim of helping  IT (and / or their support partners or MSPs) ensure they are making the most out of their Microsoft 365 investment. Also included are lots of privacy controls to ensure organisations can adhere to their user-level privacy commitments which helps ensure it isn’t used as a spying or workplace surveillance tool.

Adoption Score shows how Microsoft 365 software gets used in an organisations and then offers “recommended actions” for more efficient use of those products. It also has a scoring service across eight categories that can be compared with similar sized organisations.

Microsoft 365 Adoption Score

Data is obtained and anonamises using Microsoft 365 application use data from activity across “Exchange, SharePoint, OneDrive, Teams, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Yammer and Skype.

Privacy

Microsoft claims that Adoption Score only shows “anonymised metrics.” The announcement stated that “Adoption Score is backed by Microsoft’s continued commitment to user-level privacy — meaning no one in a customer’s organisation can use Adoption Score to access data about how an individual user is using apps and services in Microsoft 365”, meaning you can’t identity individuals in the reports.

New Features

One of the new features is called “Time Trends” which will also soon be part of the Adoption Score Tool, which will help organisations better  understand historical data insights across the business and departments. This new “Time Trends will be added to each people experience category across Content Collaboration, Meetings, Teamwork, Mobility and Communication. Data will now be analysed from up to 180 days of historic data (but can be customised).

The tools will enable IT to better understand how a particular behaviour or insight, such as the response rate for new email responses, @mentions and Comms via Teams for example has evolved over the last 30, 90 or 180 days which enables IT or success mangers to understand the meaning behind the tends, helping them see whether they are close to achieving set goals for the adoption of modern comms tools (over just reply to all type email chains).

Availability

The Adoption Score tool is available now (rolling out) to all commercial Microsoft 365 subscriptions and can be accessed by Global admins (and then delayed as needed). On initial access, IT are required to approve both Adoption Score analytics and the people experiences category in order to access the Time trend data.

Viva Engage aims to improve company culture and human connector at work.

During Inspire 2022, Microsoft announced that they were intending to expand Microsoft Viva with a new Engage module. As of now, Viva Engage is generally available and rolling out.

What is Microsoft Viva

Viva Engage is the latest component of Microsoft’s Employee Experience platform, Viva. Viva brings together communications, knowledge, learning, sales, company goals, resources, and insights in the flow of work to foster a culture that empowers employees and teams to be their best from anywhere. It consists of Viva Insights, Viva Learning, Viva Topics, Viva Goals and now Viva Engage.

What is Viva Engage?

In short, Viva Engage is an Enterprise Social experience that allows employees to interact,  share news, ideas and stories as well as to develop relationships, establish internal connections, and at the same time provide an opportunity for people to learn from each other all from within Microsoft Teams,  helping to foster a better company culture

The purpose of Viva Engage is to “Connect everyone at your organisation through employee communities and conversations using Viva Engage, a Microsoft Teams app powered by Yammer“.

Viva Engage from Microsoft

Microsoft Viva Engage is not entirely new, but the name is! It is an modern version of the Yammer Communities app that’s been around for sometime.  It builds upon the social and communication capabilities of Yammer and Microsoft 365 apps and services, Viva Engage also beings new features and capabilities designed to make the experience more seamless than before. 

Viva Engage has a personalised Home page feature the brings users into a social landing page, where they can see news and posts from their connections. Like Facebook and Linked In for example, the feed learns and shows content that is most relevant based on machine learning and personal preferences.

Also within Viva Engage is a Communities Hub along with a list of recommended communities (if you are sed to using Yammer this will be familiar).

Viva Engage Stories

So what’s the connection between Viva Engage and Yammer?

Viva Engage is a new app, integrated in Teams, that surfaces existing and new employee experiences powered by Yammer services. Viva Engage delivers high-value employee experiences including community building, leadership engagement, knowledge sharing, and self-expression. The Viva Engage app integrates these experiences into Teams, and introduces new features including storyline and stories.

This means that for organisations that use Yammer today, these new Viva Engage features will also appear in Yammer web, desktop and mobile apps. So whether a user visits to Yammer.com, uses one of the popular Yammer mobile apps for iOS or Android, or experiences the Viva Engage app in Teams, they will see the same content and generally access effectively the same feature set.

New features coming too.

New to Viva Engage (and coming in the next few weeks) is the Storyline and Stories features, which have been built to enhance engagement among employees. With this, employees will be able to share their thoughts widely with colleagues through conversations and videos, similar to the experience in Instagram Stories.

The dedicated Storylines tab will get populated with content from colleagues but also features popular and trending posts from across the network. Employees can also use the ‘follow’ feature to follow other employees making simple to get updates and news from persons of interest.

Licensing and Costs

The new Viva Engage app, storyline and stories, are available to any organisation/user with a Yammer license, which is on by default for all Microsoft 365 commercial customers.

Conclusion

Viva Engage is not a new application, it is instead a partial re-brand of Yammer for Microsoft Teams with new modern features and deeper integration across Microsoft 365 apps and services.

Since Teams apps are the universal apps for the Microsoft 365 ecosystem Viva Engage will also replace the Yammer Communities app that is available for Outlook and Teams making Yammer more available from a variety of locations inside Microsoft 365.


To find out more about Viva Engage follow the link to Microsoft’s dedicated page.

What is Microsoft Digital Contact Centre Platform all about?

Microsoft and Nuance Contact Centre

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of the digital contact center has grown more vital for organisations to managing the increasing expectations of customer experience and excellence. Microsoft have had many of the core building blocks of a contact center platform for while with products like Dynamics 365 Customer Service, which was very focused on the support agent and customer experience … but it didn’t provide the actual engagement channels – which required third party services.

Despite the increasing importance of contact centers however, Microsoft had truly developed or built their own “true contact center” capability despite their prime competition in the UC&C space (namely Zoom and Cisco) have had Contact Centre in their UC&C portfolio.

Until now that is…

At Microsoft Inspire (Microsoft’s annual global partner conference), Microsoft unveiled their new Digital Contact Centre Platform which combines Dynamics 365, Nuance, Teams, Power Platform, and Azure to form a new modern contact centre solution that aims to engage customers through a blend of voice, video, and other digital engagement channels and plays to their strength and breadth of their “platform strategy approach”.

“In today’s digital world, brand reputation is synonymous with customer experience, including the quality of customer care. Consumers expect effortless, consistent, and secure experiences across any point of contact they choose—in fact, their brand perception and customer loyalty depend on it. With the stakes this high, companies need a comprehensive yet flexible solution to modernise their customer care experience. We are thrilled to introduce the Microsoft Digital Contact Center Platform, an open, extensible, and collaborative contact centre solution designed to deliver seamless customer journeys.”

Charles Lamanna | CVP | Business Applications and Platform | Microsoft

Great….so what is it?

Despite Microsoft adding support for Teams voice channels into Dynamics 365 last year, it’s really their acquisition of AI-based communications giant Nuance in March which has allowed them to take the next step into developing their own fully fledged Digital Contact Centre solution not only adding the omni channel experience, but also providing support agents with everything from recommended responses to live sentiment analysis across all channels.

Microsoft describe their new Digital Contact Centre Platform, as an open, extensible, and collaborative contact centre solution designed to deliver seamless customer journeys. The platform brings together a comprehensive yet flexible solution for contact centres, delivering best-in-class AI that powers self-service experiences, live customer engagements, collaborative agent experiences, business process automation, advanced telephony, and fraud prevention capabilities.

Microsoft say that “the real USP in their offering is that by leveraging their core suites of platform, enables organisation to capture additional customer information that might otherwise fall through the cracks” | Pete Daderko | Director of Teams Product Marketing.

The viewpoint is that since Microsoft already over 250 million people using Teams as their primary work tool, then “It’s really only natural that organisations would want to take the productivity or collaboration platform that they’re already using and use it to better serve customers.

MSFT Digital Contact Centre is built on Teams, Dynamics, Power Platform and Nuance.

With the combination of Teams telecommunications infrastructure, Dynamics 365 customer agent experience and Nuance AI, Microsoft believes it is uniquely placed to be able to address the three main pillars of a contact center – Infrastructure, agent experience and true conversational, contextual based AI.

The Competition

This is an interesting one. Microsoft of course aren’t the only vendor to take this approach. After the failed FiveNine acquisition last year, Zoom later went on to Solvvy to bolster their own AI capabilities into their contact centre solution.

Still, Microsoft knows it won’t replace every customer’s contact center. Recognizing that very few customers will switch their entire tech stacks to Microsoft overnight, the company plans to play nice with others (for now).

Microsoft, despite the extent of their cloud platforms have always touting the open ecosystem approach to bolstering “gaps” or “specialist” areas in their portfolio – with contact centre being a big example. They have continually addressed the answer to the question of “when will Microsoft build its own native contact centre” around the extensive integrations with leading contact centre providers such as Genesys, Avaya, NICE inContact and others. As Microsoft move into the next stage of their own development, they say that “When we called it the digital contact center platform, we called it that very deliberately — the platform piece — because we think integrations and interoperability and being open is so key“.

“Nuance has a rich history and legacy of connecting to really any kind of CRM, or any contact center infrastructure or contact center as a service provider,” is a key part of that open platform strategy”

Charles Lamanna | CVP | Business Apps and Platform | Microsoft

Summary

This is a big investment space and with cloud penetration still generally low across the legacy contact center industry, which still relies on a single mode / voice, on-premises infrastructure and limited connectivity to CRM and other LOB apps, there’s tremendous opportunity for Microsoft and their partners to help its customers move from on-premises to the cloud. It will just have to beat out the likes of Zoom, Salesforce, and others with a longer history in the market.

What do you think – please leave your answers in the comments.

Microsoft Viva Sales: Aims to provide seamless integration from any CRM into Office 365 and Teams.

With the annoucement the Viva Sales platform, Microsoft aims to help organisations harness the power of their existing CRM platform and seamless expose this within and across Microsoft Teams and Office 365 without third party apps, plug-ins, or data exchange tools. Microsoft’s goal is a native, common and familiar experience regardless of an organisations choice of CRM system.

Viva Sales will connect customer data across from any CRM into Teams and Office.
Image: (c) Microsoft

This approach is not unique to Microsoft. Salesforce’s acquisition of Slack last year was in part to enable them to ramp up their communications tools for sales teams. Microsoft, however, is not looking to compete directly with Salesforce or any specific CRM vendor. Microsoft’s goal here is more around “filling gaps” left behind by legacy and traditional CRM systems that done provides the “smarts” that systems like Salesforce and Dynamics 365 provide for example.

In the official announcement of Viva Sales, Microsoft said:

We definitely think people benefit from a CRM system, the difficulty is, a lot of what’s happening between a customer and a salesperson is actually never recorded in the CRM system, because it’s just too tedious.”.

Jared Spataro | Corporate VP for Microsoft 365

What does Viva Sales do?

Due for release in Q4 2022, Viva Sales will allow sales and marketing teams to automatically synchronise data between any, and all, of their communications applications such as Microsoft Teams and Outlook, and their CRM system which does not have to be Dynamics 365 either. This is like the Salesforce’s Sales Cloud and Slack integration, and what Microsoft have done natively with Dynamics 365 and Teams.

In their official blog, Microsoft describe Viva Sales as a intelligent service which enables sellers to capture insights from across Microsoft 365 and Teams, eliminate manual data entry, and receive AI-driven recommendations and reminders – while staying in the flow of work. Viva Sales promises to streamline the seller experience by surfacing the insights with the right context within tools people already use, without them needed to dip in and out of their CRM therefore saving time and ensuring that the CRM becomes part fo the core workflow without compromise on the productivity tools the teams use across the wider organisation.

Microsoft say that Viva Sales will work with any CRM to automate data entry and brings AI-powered intelligence to sellers in Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams.

The key benefit for organisations using Viva Sales is that is that Viva is already (naturally) integrated with Microsoft Teams and Outlook which are used and adopted.

The launch of Viva Sales isn’t just about sales however. What!!!?, Well, Microsoft has a much broader vision with Viva to provide a layer of intelligence across its entire Office 365 suite and Teams. This strategy is demonstrated by the incredible reach and integration available through the Microsoft Graph – a major part of strategy for moving beyond the underlying enterprise resource planning tools and more towards the type of workflow play displayed and respected by the likes of ServiceNow.

A Change of Approach

This approach is a strategic shift for Microsoft. In the past, Microsoft’s go-to-market strategy was to require their customers to choose their products such as Teams and Dynamics 365 over the say WebEx, Zoom and then Salesforce or HubSpot. With Viva Sales, this is now about choosing what products work for you and then leveraging the intelligence services through Viva and the Microsoft Graph to bridge them together and provide data intelligence on top.

“The most significant thing about this announcement is we are saying … choose whatever you want to choose — what we actually think will be most valuable over time will be the layer of intelligence that binds it all together.”.

Microsoft

Microsoft have compared the enterprise software industry to that of a city, where it is built from the ground up. For example, If Azure, AWS and GCP are the city’s foundations, then SaaS applications and workflow are its roads and buildings.

“People will keep putting money into sewers and roads and stuff like that,” he said, “but a lot more money goes into the hardware put on top.”

What do you think?

What do you think of the announcement? Is this a good move for Microsoft or are sellers better off just working in their native CRM?




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Viva Goals promises to bring ‘purpose and alignment’ to the employee experience

Microsoft Viva Goals has just been annouced and has entered a closed private preview. It will be included in the current Microsoft Viva suite subscription from Q3.

What will this bring?

Viva Goals is based heavily upon Microsoft’s 2021 aquisition Ally.io, who are a world leader in the realm of objectives and key results (OKR) platform which will find its way into Viva and gradually across the rest of Microsoft 365 and Teams. Viva Goals promises to help aligns teams to an organisation’s strategic priorities and will bring them together around an organisations’ company mission and purpose and values.

According to Microsoft’s latest work trend index report, more than half of all managers say they feel leadership is ‘out of touch’ with employee expectations around work life, hybrid work, and workload commitments. This new Viva Goals module is designed to address this by bringing purpose and alignment into Viva alongside the other core purposes the focus on culture and communications, wellbeing and engagement, growth and development, as well as knowledge and expertise.

Viva Goals (image (c) Microsoft

“Viva Goals brings business goals into the flow of everyday work, making it easier to stay up to date with connected data and automated reminders as well as to share OKRs and their progress across the organization with customized dashboards and quick links. It integrates with Microsoft Teams, Azure DevOps, etc.—and has more integrations to come with Microsoft Viva, Power BI, and other Microsoft 365 apps and services”.

Vetri Vellore |Corporate VP |Microsoft Viva Goals

Vellore states that (according to the work trend index report) 77% of employees say it’s important or very important for their employer to provide a sense of purpose and meaning at work, and 69% say its important or very important to be rewarded for impact instead of hours worked.

Want to see Viva Goals in action

Viva Goals is Private Preview, but to learn more about the wider Microsoft Viva suite, visit the Microsoft Viva website and check out the video below.

Viva Goals in action (YouTube)