Microsoft reins in Office 365 collaboration tools

Microsoft launches tools that bring consistency to Office 365's wide-ranging collaboration portfolio.

Microsoft has formally introduced Office 365 collaboration tools for enterprise employees working alone or in teams. The features unveiled at the Ignite conference in Chicago will help unify an unwieldy collaboration portfolio.

Microsoft OfficeGraph and Delve are two new features of Office 365 that will improve the user experience by tying Microsoft's software together, said Constellation Research analyst Alan Lepofsky.

OfficeGraph is a "behind the scenes" function that maps relationships between people, content, and interactions, said Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar. "It's like being able to apply big data analytics to activities happening within Office 365."

OfficeGraph's counterpart Delve is the visual representation of OfficeGraph for users. Delve is an interactive dashboard that helps teams and individuals find relevant content and colleagues, Lepofsky said.

OfficeGraph and Delve demonstrate that Microsoft is trying to bring social features that only live inside of Yammer to other applications, Lazar said. A large adoption barrier for enterprise social tools is that they often require a behavioral change from users.

"Many [social] tools require a user to stop what they are doing to open another window to see the interesting things happening within their network. If I could have that information fed to me in Outlook, Skype for Business, etcetera, that is much more useful," he said.  

Team collaboration updates

Microsoft also announced that it will roll out the digital design app Sway to Office 365 business and education subscribers later this month. The application has been available to consumers via an invite-only preview since its introduction in October 2014. Sway can be used to create Web-based reports, newsletters, presentations, and lessons that are polished and engaging, according to Microsoft. The content has a consistent appearance across smartphones, tablets, and PCs.

"Word and PowerPoint are relics of the 80s," Lepofsky said. "Sway is a significant step forward in creating beautiful content."

Content created in Sway will be private by default. The tool restricts viewing access to people within the same organization.

"It sounds a little like Pinterest for the enterprise," Lazar said. "It's a different way to share information, and there really hasn't been an enterprise equivalent."

Later this quarter, and the Sway app for iPhone will support more languages, including French, Italian, Spanish and Japanese, Microsoft said.

Other Ignite releases included an update to Office 365 Groups. The latest version lets users create content and communicate via email, video, instant messaging, and third-party social tools like Twitter.

Office 365 Groups is currently used in Outlook, OneDrive, OneNote, Calendar, Skype, and most recently, Microsoft's Dynamics CRM platform. Office 365 Groups will eventually replace similar functionality in Yammer, Lepofsky said.

Let us know what you think about the story. email: Gina Narcisi, senior news writer and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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