On November 2, 2016, Microsoft made a big splash with the announcement of Microsoft Teams, a chat-based workspace for Office 365. The introduction of this new collaborative workspace environment immediately caught the eye of competitors like Slack. But all of that hype and back-and-forth with Slack may have overshadowed a significant technological feature of Microsoft Teams—bots.
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As a baby boomer and veteran (read old) member of the technology community, I must admit that the idea of working with a far-flung team using a chatting/messaging app sounds awful. But for the younger generation working in a modern enterprise, a chat-based workspace is second nature—for lack of a better term, it is their "natural habitat."
Of course, there is more to Microsoft Teams than just a place to exchange messages. The new workspace leverages other tools found in Office 365, like Skype for Business, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, OneNote, Planner, Power BI, and Delve. All those other apps can be called upon, individually or collaboratively, and then be used to create documents, presentations, reports, or anything else the team needs to create in order to finish the task at hand.
If you are used to operating in a chat-based environment, Microsoft Teams is going to provide you with a wealth of productivity tools, all accessible without ever leaving the messaging application itself. But there is one aspect of Microsoft Teams that most of the reporting seems to have glanced over. This new chat-based workspace will take advantage of artificial intelligence and bot technology.
In simple terms, a bot is artificial intelligence that can interpret messages in a chatting application and act upon it on your behalf. For example, if someone in Microsoft Teams mentions 2015 sales figures, a bot could read that and automatically display a document with those figures to everyone in the chat session without being formally asked to do so.
The Microsoft Bot Framework provides the tools necessary to create these intelligent bots and the technology has become a big part to the company's overall business strategy. In Microsoft's vision, the mobile modern workforce operates within the confines of its messaging applications, and if the company's products are going to reach this mobile workforce, they have meet them in their natural habitat.
Bot technology is in its nascent stages now, but this could be the distinguishing feature that separates old-technology software makers from new-age software makers. Who knows, maybe with some help from intelligent bots, an old guy like me might be able to do some work in a chat-based workspace after all.
Years ago, it seemed Microsoft was always a step behind whatever modern trend was taking place at the time. But not anymore. Microsoft Teams is another example of the company reading the signs and looking forward to what may be reality instead of trying to catch up to what already is reality.
The younger generation joining the enterprise workforce is used to, and very comfortable with, a chat-based environment. By adding integrated support for bots developed by the Microsoft Bot Framework, Microsoft Teams brings another dimension to what is possible now—and what will be possible in enterprise productivity software in the future—at least if the younger generation has anything to say about it.
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Can you work effectively from within a chat-based workspace? Share your opinions with fellow TechRepublic members in the comments below.
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.