If 2020 were the time for video meetings, 2021 could be the year for apps that became popular during the crisis to consolidate their central position in professional life.
In the race to rebuild work in the shadow of the pandemic, no one has greater ambitions than Microsoft. This could make Teams, the company’s communications and collaboration service, its most important product for many years.
According to Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s Office-based CEO, Teams is well on its way to becoming a digital platform just as important as internet browsers or computer operating systems.
In an interview with the British newspaper Financial Times, he defined the new cloud computing software as an “organizational level” that brings together all the resources an employee needs in one place and serves as a platform for other developers to offer their services. Services. The result: tools for collaboration, video conferencing, chat and other business applications that can be accessed through a single interface.
If the world of work has not seen anything like this before, there is at least one parallel in the area of consumption. “In China, WeChat is the Internet, and this is a great example,” said Nadella. “There is no western equivalent. Teams are probably closest to this in the workspace. “
The enthusiasm of the Microsoft boss is understandable. Teams – accompanied by apps from companies such as Zoom and Google – served as a digital connection to keep many companies up and running until 2020. The number of active team users rose to 115 million per day by the end of September, compared to 13 million in mid-2019.
On a representative day in the third quarter, the team’s users spent 30 billion minutes – an average of more than four hours per person – participating in video conferencing, working on shared documents, and reviewing meetings. When we consider how long it will take for new business software to take off, it’s usually possible to define teams as an instant success and an important new gateway to digital work life.
Microsoft “wants to be the captive portal through which the user experiences everything else,” said Jim Gaynor, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm. “You tried again and again. Teams are the closest to ever achieve this goal. “
Creating a unique “workspace” like this is also an echo of Microsoft’s ambitions when it dominated personal computers, said Wayne Kurtzman, an analyst at IDC. “That was Windows’ original promise – the circle was closed.”
“You are making rapid progress”
The teams didn’t seem like an instant hit before the pandemic. It was originally designed to compete with Slack, a pioneering work communication app that threatened to steal Microsoft territory among communications workers. As the pandemic hit, video became a major driver of team growth.
Microsoft is now focused on making Teams a channel through which users can access their Office apps. The company is also promoting it as a platform for other developers that will enable the development of a new generation of lightweight apps that are likely to be built by third parties as companies reorganize all of their work processes around teams.
A month ago, Slack accepted a takeover proposal from Salesforce, which is a sign of Microsoft’s progress. The $ 27 billion (R $ 143 billion) award was a huge win for Slack shareholders, but also an admission that the company’s path to becoming a dominant force in the software world was blocked. Zoom, the 2020 sensational software, faces a similar challenge after Microsoft decided to focus its efforts on video conferencing.
“You had Slack in your sights and now you’ve declared victory,” said Art Schoeller, Forrester analyst. “It’s very clear: now your attention is focused on zoom and you’re moving fast.”
Microsoft critics say the company resorted to aggressive tactics it used before Nadella took over the helm in 2014. This included offering Teams as a free accessory to the Office suite that turned the app into an app, a natural choice for any company that is already paying for the widely adopted Microsoft productivity suite.
“It’s Microsoft’s game manual that is played over and over again: create packages and eliminate intermediaries,” said Schoeller. “Slack had no way of responding.”
The company’s business tactics show that Microsoft “has become aggressive again as a competitor” after spending several years showing a gentler side of the planet under Nadella’s command, Gaynor said. Lightweight apps can bypass the controls created by the company’s technology departments and help Microsoft grow its business, but create the kind of “third-party IT” that big companies want to withstand.
Critics like Slack and Salesforce accuse Microsoft of creating a “closed” software platform that allows users to remain tied to the company’s services, as opposed to the more open platform these competitors are trying to develop.
“I think you should probably look at yourself in the mirror before you leave,” Nadella countered. As an open platform, Windows has helped companies like Slack find a market, and competitors are free to integrate their services with Microsoft’s.
Jared Spataro, who runs Microsoft’s 365 service, said the company had no choice but to allow customers to integrate its other applications with Microsoft services. “Many companies take heterogeneous approaches, and that’s the reality. So we have to stay open for the sake of our existence, ”he said.
Beyond the “knowledge worker”
The question now is how big is the platform that pandemic year 2020 has created for both teams and their main competitors.
When the health crisis is over, the job will look very different from what it was before, Nadella said. Workers will ask for more flexibility in terms of where and when they work. This requires a combination of what he calls “synchronous and asynchronous” software tools in a single package: real-time meetings combined with collaboration software and messaging services that allow employees to work at the times most convenient for them.
“I think there will be structural change,” he said. This requires software tools that allow workers flexibility “while continuing to build social capital and knowledge within the company by enabling people to collaborate on important tasks”.
For Microsoft, attracting people to teams can increase engagement with other apps in the company and reduce the likelihood of customers switching suppliers. It can also open up new opportunities “well beyond our traditional knowledge worker market that has always dominated our history,” said Nadella.
At the top of their list are so-called “frontline” workers in industries such as retail and healthcare who currently do not use Microsoft Office, but rather perform functions that could, for example, be integrated into wider work processes in their companies by the teams.
Deeper engagement through such a cloud service can bring Microsoft new benefits: a wealth of data that is not available to competitors. With information on the daily work habits of millions of workers, the company needs to be in a strong position to develop new digital services and find new ways to make money, Gaynor said.
She will also be able to study “key behavioral indicators,” added IDC’s Kurtzman, learning how people are using the new generation of cloud collaboration software and what makes them more productive.
Microsoft is already working to educate managers about the operation of its digital workforce, Spataro said. However, he said this would not include any information about individuals, only aggregated data. “We never want to create a surveillance tool,” he said.