Microsoft

Microsoft Ignite 2015: Collaboration tools to spark the modern workforce

According to Microsoft, the modern workforce relies on collaboration and teamwork to conduct business. Mark Kaelin is skeptical. Are you?

Microsoft envisions the modern workforce as a mobile and constantly collaborating mass of creative and productive people. At least, that's what I gleaned from the keynote address at the Microsoft Ignite 2015 conference held in Chicago in early May.

The purpose of the keynote address, and of the conference in general, was to get the IT professionals in the audience excited about Microsoft's new products and services. Satya Nadella, the Microsoft CEO, is a more dynamic and effective speaker than former CEO Steve Ballmer--so, from that perspective, the keynote was a grand success.

Ignite the future

However, true long-term success for Microsoft is dependent on whether the IT professionals attending the conference are inspired enough to translate their new found enthusiasm into measurable actions. Judging from preview presentations of Windows 10 and Office 2016, the possibility of a successful Microsoft strategy is not entirely out of the question.

Microsoft, under the leadership of Satya Nadella, has re-committed itself to the philosophy of mobility and cloud services. In fact, the mantra of "mobile first, cloud first" was repeated often during the keynote. This is why there's such an emphasis on the universal platform in Windows 10. The idea that users can access data and apps from any device running Windows 10 is the foundation on which every other Microsoft strategy is based.

Image: Microsoft News

Modern workforce

One of the more interesting parts of this keynote address was the Microsoft vision of the modern workforce, especially with regard to millennials. The presentation by Gurdeep Singh Pall and Julia White described a corporate environment in which young, good-looking, and highly creative people tackle tough business problems by collaborating in makeshift teams using powerful Microsoft tools, like the Surface Hub. It was an uplifting story to be sure, but it also struck me as more than a bit utopian.

The up-and-coming working age generation is going to be much more tech savvy than the previous generations to be sure, but that doesn't mean that every working person is going to have the social skills required for effective collaboration. Like the "leading a horse to water" axiom, Microsoft may provide great collaboration tools, but that doesn't mean collaboration will take place.

That being said, the new Office 2016 features presented during the keynote and at some of the conference sessions were very intriguing.

Office 365 Groups, for example, is like Google Hangouts, only on steroids. You can use Groups to form impromptu meetings, keep team members up to date on progress, and collaborate on documents in real time. The video part of the Groups experience will be handled by Skype for Business. Microsoft has taken the once familiar consumer-friendly Skype and morphed it into a powerful, yet simple to use video conferencing tool. This is bad news for companies like Polycom.

One other Office 2016 feature that sparked my interest was Delve. Going only by the previews I've seen so far, Delve is sort of the Office 365 dashboard app. It's the place where users can, among other things, check email, look at internal corporate news, and get team updates.

Image: Amos Morgan

Empower

The Microsoft Ignite 2015 conference reveals the company's overall business strategy under Satya Nadella. With new features in Windows 10 and Office 365, Microsoft hopes to tap into what it sees as the modern way to conduct business, especially for knowledge workers.

The modern workforce will rely on collaboration tools built right into the operating system, the web browser, and the office productivity suite. In Microsoft's view, collaboration and teamwork will be the natural way we work, solve problems, and make decisions.

I say that sounds like a fantastic way to do business, at least until reality sets in and ruins that utopian ideal. I commend Microsoft for presenting their modern workforce vision and for providing tools that make that vision possible--but after working in corporate environments for over 30 years, I remain skeptical that the inertia of established corporate cultures and human psychology can be overcome in a timely manner, no matter how good the tools are.

Am I wrong? Watch the Microsoft Ignite 2015 keynote address and tell me if I am being too cynical. Is the Microsoft vision a reality or a hopeful dream?

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