The millions of workers who rely on Microsoft Corp.’s Office 365 suite will have an important new update available for download the next time they log in.
The release brings with it Microsoft Teams, the company’s long-awaited answer to Slack, which hit general availability today after a four-month pilot. More than 50,000 organizations signed up for service over the course of program while the software giant used the time to expand its feature set. Kirk Koenigsbauer, the corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Office division, wrote in a blog post that its engineers have produced more than 100 new capabilities as part of the effort.
One area where the enhancements are particularly pronounced is usability. Microsoft Teams now includes a scheduling mechanism that can help users quickly find time for an online meeting, while the mobile clients have been updated with many of the core communications features that they lacked during the pilot. Plus, a new email feature created in response to popular demand provides the ability to send messages to a channel from Outlook instead of having to bring up the chat window and post them manually.
Another big improvement over the pilot version that debuted four months ago is the number of third-party integrations on offer. Microsoft Teams can connect to more than 150 services on launch, including enterprise staples such as Trello and SAP SE’s SuccessFactors workforce management suite. Administrators have access to a variety of external policy enforcement services that cover most everything from auditing to providing security for mobile users.
But the third-party additions that should draw the most attention are the chatbots rolling out alongside these connectors. Among them is Workbot, a newly introduced virtual assistant from application automation startup Workato Inc. that can pull information from outside services. The bot allows Microsoft Teams users to bring up specific records in a channel using natural-language commands or configure notifications to trigger when an important item comes down the pipe.
Microsoft Teams is available immediately at no charge with Office 365 business subscriptions. It’s closely integrated with the other apps in the suite, which means that users can access the chat window directly from where they’re doing their work. That feature could give the company a much-needed edge against Slack and its other better-established rivals in the team chat segment.