In conversation with Microsoft: What is Teams (and what it is not) and how it can be even bigger than Windows one day.
“I think we all are facing a new reality today. It’s (led to) a new way of working, thinking, living as well as interacting,” Samik Roy, who is country head for Modern Workplace at Microsoft India says while speaking exclusively with Financial Express Online. “While there is a crisis, as they say, every crisis has a silver lining. I think the new thing which has come out in this crisis is digital transformation and technology being the enabler for it.”
The world has witnessed two years (worth) of digital transformation in the last few months itself, Samik says, and it’s safe to say Microsoft has been at the forefront of all this innovation. It has been playing a key role in ensuring continuity in almost all walks of our “digital” lives, be it business, learning, healthcare, or simply staying in touch with our near and dear ones. “Technology is having a say in almost everything that we do. Technology is the key to come out of this crisis.”
Teams is central to that philosophy, now more than ever, in the sense that Microsoft believes it can be even bigger than Windows in the days to come. But it’s certainly not the only collaboration platform in the market today and comparisons with the likes of Google Meet and Zoom are inevitable. Samilk says, there’s no comparison though. Teams is different (and better). How exactly, we try to find out. Excerpts.
Microsoft has been working on Teams continuously, but surely, the current situation must have led you to rethink certain aspects and make changes to adapt to the surge in usage?
Samik: We have seen a surge in Teams (usage) over the last couple of months. As we speak, we have over 75 million daily active users on Teams. We are clocking over 200 million Teams meetings from a participation perspective and that is a massive number.
While we are introducing new features and functions, what’s more important for us is digital transformation. It’s important to understand that Teams is not just about having a video conference or a meeting or a classroom online. Remote working is not just about chatting and calling and a video conference, but it is also about collaborating. It is about brainstorming. It is about sharing files. It is about people (spread) across geographic boundaries co-editing a file, co-authoring a file. It is about multiple people working together, and all of this needs to happen in a secure environment.
So, what exactly is Microsoft Teams all about then?
Samik: Microsoft Teams is basically a hub for teamwork which is based on four pillars, communication, collaboration, extensibility and security.
For us, communication is not just about you and me communicating at this point in time. There are in fact three parts to it, the before, the during, and the after. We call it the Teams lifecycle which is all about continuity and context. This means you have context of the meeting before going into it and this continues till the purpose of the project or the purpose of the collaboration comes to an end.
The second aspect, collaboration, is where Teams being a part of Microsoft 365 comes in. This makes it possible to use all our applications, be it Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, SharePoint planner, or even Power BI, from a single interface.
Extensibility is when you can call in third-party applications. There are over 250 independent software vendors (ISVs) which you can call within Teams. Things like Poly, Jira, Monkey Survey which are very useful for daily purposes. Moreover, with Power Platform, you can build a low-code/no-code app in 15 to 20 minutes, which can (then) also run on Teams.
Remember, all of this happens from a single window, so the productivity and the efficiency is extremely high.
The fourth pillar is security, which is a very important aspect because in remote working you are very, very vulnerable to cyberattacks, your data and device is insecure. Everything inside Teams has enterprise-grade security.
There’s a renewed vision inside Microsoft, that Teams is going to be even bigger than windows. That’s a very big thing to say and a bigger task to achieve. Has this always been part of the plan?
Samik: I always say this that we should think of our world as Windows. And there are two aspects to it. The first is when you power on the computer and boot up your operating system (that’s the first window). The second window is Teams because as a hub for teamwork, it just brings everything together. There is nothing, absolutely nothing which you need to do on your computer, that you can’t do within the pane of Teams.
I would definitely say Microsoft clearly (has) had the vision of bringing people together and making them more productive every single day. You know if you go back to our mission, our mission is all about making every person in every organization achieve more and that you can only do when you bring in productivity, efficiency into every single moment of your life, and that’s what Teams is about. That’s why we believe that Teams will grow as big or bigger than Windows because it will be the only pane with which you work.
How is Microsoft tackling the surge in usage of Teams?
Samik: We have been monitoring it very closely and that is why you did not hear of any untoward incident since the past couple of months. We proactively went and increased capacity across all our data centers.
We have also been carefully listening to our customers. We knew that we would have a surge of calls coming and we will have a surge of our toll free numbers ringing and we will also have a surge of automated chats. So, we added an automatic chat to our India site. We said let’s go and service more customers and if the chat bot cannot serve you, we can then take you to a call center which will answer you, if that does not happen, we ensure that within 10 minutes a customer is called back either from the India datacenter or Manila or China, wherever there is capacity.
It’s all a very close collaboration between the field, which is all of us, between engineers who are building these products, and support who are very closely listening to the customers to try and understand what is the kind of usage. We also have different departments like customer success units and fastrack that work with the customers to ensure success. A very close collaboration between all of this, something we call One Microsoft, helps us in being proactive to ensure we cater to surge as well as customer call volumes and requirements.
Teams is (still) strictly an enterprise solution while your rivals are increasingly pushing into the consumer domain by offering many of their services for free. How do you see that?
Samik: Teams is basically for organizations and is part of the Microsoft 365 umbrella. While you would have heard about a lot of security and privacy issues with competition, you would not have heard about those things with Teams because of our enterprise-grade security. The privacy and compliance aspects are not of Teams, but that of Microsoft 365, and this is where we are better.
The likes of Mahindra & Mahindra, Fortis, TCS, Infosys, Mindtree, Godrej properties, all of them are using Teams, but we even have football coaches using it, giving football coaching to students that are dispersed over the weekends. We have music tutors and classes which are happening on Teams. It’s seeping lower and lower down and every single day we get requests saying can we use Teams within the family? Probably that’s where the differentiation is.
At the same time, some people have this misconception that our competition is just a click (and use) and it is easy to use while Teams takes a little bit of time. The answer is yes, it takes a little bit of time because you’re creating a tenant, but once you have created that, then see how rock solid it is and how much more things you can do and you know how secure it is because we are not creating a tin sheet hut but a complete fort with a lot more functionality in it.
Having said that, we are (also) giving out a set of products, paid SKUs in fact, for free to ensure work continuity for everyone. This is so they can overcome this crisis and can be ready to embrace the post COVID period coming tomorrow, because that will all be about organizations which are more digitally transformed. We’ve come out with offers like Teams free. We’ve taken away any limitations on timings in Teams free. We’ve taken away any limitation on the number of users that can come in on Teams free also. Unlike others, we’ve not been giving a free SKU for free. We’ve been giving our paid SKUs for free because we realize that people not only need to use Teams, but they also need to use Microsoft 365. So, we came out with an Office 365 E1 offer for six months.
So technically, it isn’t right to compare Teams with Google Meet or Zoom for that matter?
Samik: Yes, absolutely right. Those products only do a video conference. That is it. It’s like comparing a car with one gear with one that’s got nine. You may just be using gear one and you may be comparing the features and functions of gear one of my car with the other car. That’s great. But I’ve got eight more gears to go, so get into the car, start driving, get from the first gear to the second gear and you’ll see the difference. That’s what is increasing the MAU (monthly active usage) or we can call it DAU (daily active usage) of Teams because we’re not just about video conferencing.
Teams was one of the big highlights at this year’s Build conference. Lot of new features are coming. Can you talk about some of those features and how they are going to change the experience?
Samik: We are introducing more frames, we are coming out with a hand raise feature so that people can know who wants to talk because there are so many people coming together, they should not be crisscross. We’re increasing the capacity for every meeting. We can go up to 250 people for a meeting today, we can do live events with up to 10,000 people, which is like a broadcast event which also you can do in Teams. You don’t need a third-party application. We’re coming out with attendance capability so that people know how many people attended, registered versus attended.
So, a lot of features are coming in. Some of those features are specific to verticals, some of those features are even specific to users. So, for example, today we have Teams which can be used by the CEO, which can be used by the management, which can be used by an information worker, person on the shop floor, and even the first line worker. For the first line worker we have features like Shift.