Microsoft is launching a Facebook rip-off inside Teams


Microsoft (MSFT.O) on Tuesday launched a public cloud for government customers, offering greater control over their data, and has signed up Italian defence group Leonardo (LDOF.MI) and Belgian telecoms firm Proximus (PROX.BR) as partners.

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a digital transformation in many public sector organisations, and Microsoft expects to use its "Cloud for Sovereignty" to better compete with rivals such as Amazon (AMZN.O) Web Services and Alphabet's Google (GOOGL.O). 

The size of the global government cloud market is expected to reach $71.2 billion by 2027 from $27.6 billion in 2021, according to market research firm Imarc Group.

"We do expect customers around the world ... but the first few customers have been in Europe," corporate vice president Corey Sanders said in an interview, adding that the company is conducting private previews with customers.

The European Union has been at the forefront of privacy and security legislation and its privacy watchdog launched a probe earlier this year into the public sector's use of cloud-based services to check if they comply with its privacy safeguards.

Both business and government customers increasingly use the data centres of big tech companies in the form of public clouds rather than building their own infrastructure.

Apart from the latest tech capabilities and lower cost, Microsoft said its cloud product would fulfil obligations around data governance, security controls, the privacy of citizens, data residency and other legal requirements.

The company is also working with other local partners to provide tailor-made clouds for local governments.

Microsoft officials have been talking up plans for a digital contact center offering featuring Teams, Dynamics 365, and Nuance AI for the past several months. Officials re-announced plans for this product with some additional details on Day 1 of Microsoft's annual partner conference, Inspire.

Microsoft finalized its acquisition of Nuance Communications in March 2022. For $19.7 billion, Microsoft got a company best known for its work in healthcare, but with products in voice recognition and related software and services. Nuance already offered its own contact center technology before Microsoft bought the company.

Microsoft has been signaling it was planning to pack up a bunch of its existing tech into a contact center offering for a while now. In November 2021 -- before the Nuance acquisition was officially complete -- Microsoft officials announced the availability of an all-in-one digital contact center, which combined Dynamics 365 Marketing, Customer Insights, Microsoft Advertising services, and first-party voice services.

Once Microsoft finalized its acquisition of Nuance, officials said they were working on a combined Nuance-Microsoft contact center offering. They said they would be integrating Microsoft's Dynamics 365 Customer Service product with Nuance's AI technology to create a "secure, AI-infused contact center."

At Inspire today, officials provided some more specifics about what Nuance and some of Microsoft's other existing AI technologies would bring to the contact-center party. Microsoft officials said its "Context IQ" predictive/sentiment analysis technology would help customer service agents better figure out customer emotions and their own next-best responses and recommendations for upselling and cross-selling. It also is integrating Power Virtual Agents into the combined digital contact center to provide self-service capabilities.

Microsoft officials said that Accenture-Avanade, one of its main partners, will deliver its own Customer Engagement solutions that are powered by Microsoft's Digital Contact Center Platform. Other partners also are going to sell the Microsoft contact-center platform, including HY, HCL, Hitachi, KMPG, PwC, TCS, and TTEC, among others.

Microsoft officials said the new Digital Contact Center platform will be available starting today, July 19, and will be customizable based on customer needs. Microsoft is announcing the availability of a Nuance + Microsoft joint offer on Enterprise Agreements starting August 1. Via this offer, customers can buy Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Service + Nuance Gatekeeper (GK), Nuance Conversational Interactive Voice Response (IVR), and Nuance Digital Engagement Platform (NDEP) on their Microsoft Enterprise Agreements.

In other Microsoft Dynamics-related news, Microsoft made available last week its Dynamics 365 and Power Platform product plans for 2022 Wave 2. These documents outline hundreds of mostly incremental features that Microsoft is planning to roll out across Dynamics 365/Industry Clouds and Power Platform between October 2022 and March 2023. Early access for some of the features will begin on August 1.

Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft is continuing to grow the footprint of its Viva employee-experience platform with another new app called Engage. Microsoft is positioning Engage as a social-community app with its roots in the Communities app for Teams. Microsoft took the wraps off Engage the company on July 19, the first day of its annual Inspire partner conference.

The Viva employee experience suite, which runs on top of Teams, currently incorporates Viva Learn, Viva Topics, Viva Connections, and Viva Goals. Microsoft officials have said they plan to add the Glint HR tools to the Viva suite in 2023. Microsoft also has branded a new CRM companion app as Viva Sales even though it's not part of the Viva suite.

Viva Connections, which also is based on Yammer, is meant to bring together news, conversations, and resources. Confusingly (at least to me), so is Viva Engage. When I asked for more clarification, officials told me that Viva Connections is about connecting employees to company resources, while Viva Engage is more about connecting employees to each other, as well as giving leaders new ways to engage in dialogue with employees. 

Microsoft also is introducing a few personal expression tools that are meant to be part of the Viva community experience:  Storyline, Stories, and Video Clip.

Storyline and Stories build on top of OneDrive for Business and Microsoft Stream video service. Storylines are meant to create posts with links, files, photos, and videos and will be available to users in Viva Connections, Outlook, Teams, and Yammer. The feeds of these posts will be available via a new Storylines tab. Stories are short videos or photos that users can share and upload quickly, officials said.

Video Clip leverages Stream technology but has nothing to do with Microsoft's Cliphamp video production technology. Video Clip will allow users to easily record and send short video messages in Teams Chat. Video Clip will be in preview in August and generally available in September, officials said.

Microsoft is planning to make Engage available to existing Microsoft 365 commercial customers for no additional charge. But users must have a Yammer license in order to use the app. Microsoft also plans to rebrand the Communities app for Teams as "Viva Engage" in late August, officials said. Viva Engage will be available within the Teams mobile apps for iOS and Android (like the Communities app is now).  

Finally, if you're wondering whether Connections and now Engage mean the end of Yammer, the answer is no. From one of Microsoft's blog posts today about Engage:

"The Yammer web experience and the native Yammer mobile apps will continue to be a part of Microsoft 365 SKUs and the same communities, storylines, and stories are made available through both Yammer and the new Viva Engage app. We are continuing to invest in Yammer and bring the powers of Yammer to Microsoft 365 and Viva." 

Microsoft is continuing to make real-time collaboration actually work inside Teams. Its latest effort in this space is called Excel Live. This feature will be available in public preview at the end of August. Microsoft officials announced Excel Live on Day 1 of the company's annual Inspire partner conference on July 19.

Excel Live is meant to allow people in a meeting to be able to collaborate in real-time inside of Teams meetings on their Excel content. Like PowerPoint Live, which Microsoft introduced earlier this year, Excel Live allows users to access and share their latest Excel workbooks by using the Share tray in Teams. Once a workbook is shared, everyone in a meeting can edit the Excel file directly from the meeting screen.

The new feature supports Sheet Views so that everyone co-editing a workbook can create customized views to sort or filter information without disrupting anyone else's view. Users can set permissions and use "Show Changes" to make sure edits were made during a meeting.

(Users also can access the Excel Live experience from within Excel for the Web using Share and then "Work together in Teams.')

I think the new Excel Live capability will use Fluid Framework technology under the covers like Live Share in Teams, which Microsoft introduced at Build 2022, does. Fluid Framework is Microsoft's fast co-authoring and embedding technology. Teams hosting and managing runs on top of the Azure Fluid Relay service, which is what supports Fluid Framework clients.

I've asked Microsoft to confirm whether Excel Live is built on top of the Fluid Framework technology -- and whether we should expect more real-time "Live" collaboration experiences built on Fluid for Word, OneNote, and other Office apps. No word back so far. 

In other Teams-related news at Build, Microsoft also announced the new Video Clip feature coming to Teams Chat that will let users record, send and view short videos. Video Clip is built using Microsoft's Stream video platform and will work with the newly announced Viva Engage module that Microsoft announced today at Inspire. Video Clip will be in public preview in August and generally available in September.

Microsoft also showed off collaborative annotations for Teams which will allow all meeting participants to draw, type, and react on top of/to content that's shared in a meeting using the Microsoft Whiteboard toolset. Collaborative annotations are now generally available.

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