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ORLANDO, Fla. -- As Microsoft Teams replaces Skype for Business in Office 365, the move helps Microsoft streamline its collaboration story as it starts to consolidate the two applications. Yet the Office 365 suite still has applications with overlapping features that handle varying levels of collaboration and could eventually replace Outlook, Microsoft's established email client.
Microsoft is touting Teams as the hub for teamwork, where employees go to communicate and collaborate. With the cloud-based service, users can chat, launch voice and video calls and conduct meetings. Teams will also inherit several additional calling capabilities from Skype for Business.
Microsoft's merging of Skype for Business and Teams in Office 365 highlights the ongoing unified communications trend of consolidating collaboration tools onto one platform. The expectation for many users is to have one platform for collaboration, especially for internal teamwork and partly for external communications.
In addition to Teams, some Office 365 plans include several other services. Yammer, for instance, handles enterprise social networking for communications within organizations. Outlook, of course, is Outlook, the well-known email and calendar service. SharePoint pulls the apps together while also handling document collaboration, content management and storage. Office 365 apps are also heavily integrated in an attempt to break down communications silos.
With all these apps -- and even many more across the Microsoft spectrum -- feature overlap is expected. For that reason, Microsoft Teams could someday replace Outlook and Yammer, according to Irwin Lazar, an industry analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill. Yammer, in particular, could be the next consolidation target.
"It's hard to understand why you have Yammer as a separate stand-alone product when Teams fills a lot of those same functions," Lazar said. "[Microsoft] still has some work to do to form a more coherent strategy, but they take a big step forward with moving toward Teams."
Microsoft Teams to replace Outlook?
Slack and Cisco Spark, two messaging-centric platforms that compete with Teams, have been promoted as email replacements -- in other words, Outlook replacements. So as Teams competes with Slack and Spark, it's also in a way competing with Outlook.
Irwin Lazarindustry analyst, Nemertes Research Inc.
"My feeling on Teams replacing Outlook is: Yes, that's going to happen," said Lazar, who accurately forecast Teams replacing Skype for Business. For its part, Nemertes Research adopted Slack two years ago for internal communication. Now internal emails are frowned upon at the research firm.
"As companies adopt Teams, they would see a significant decline in the amount of internal email," he said. "They'd probably still use a lot of external email. Messages to people outside your organization are probably best-suited for email."
UC industry analyst Dave Michels agreed that Teams could replace Outlook: "Teams could easily replace Yammer, as well as Outlook, and I would not eliminate that as a future possibility," he wrote in an email. "Many of the competitive messaging apps play up the end of email. While that's an admirable goal, it's not realistic because of limited interoperability and federation. Microsoft isn't preaching the end of email, so it's surprising it's not offering a single client approach to communications."
"[Microsoft] had to do this," Lazar said about Teams replacing Skype for Business Online and emerging as the core communications client in Office 365. "I think this is the new way of working. If they didn't provide something like a Teams environment, they would be potentially losing customers to a Slack or HipChat."
Teams shift a big change
Email use among some Microsoft employees has evidently ebbed, too. Dan Stevenson, product team leader for Microsoft Teams, said at Microsoft Ignite that his own email usage has diminished. In the past, he said, he'd send and receive 100 to 200 emails a day. Now he sends and receives about 10 to 20 emails a day, he said. Within Stevenson's team, all communication is in the Teams platform.
"Sometimes, somebody will send an email and we almost ignore it," he said, adding that teams of workers also need to police themselves to keep communications in the chat-based workspace.
Products like Teams, Slack and HipChat represent a significant change in the way people work and work together, Stevenson said. Both Stevenson and Karuana Gatimu, a principal program manager who works in the Microsoft Teams engineering group, noted that the shift to Teams is a big change for organizations.
"We know this is a long journey, and there's a lot of information you will need," Gatimu said to Microsoft customers at Ignite. "We're doing everything we can to get it to you as soon as possible." Microsoft has launched successwithteams.com, a site to help organizations with their Teams deployments.
Integrated apps to ease confusion?
Office 365 Groups, which has some overlap with Teams, is a shared workspace for email, conversations, files and events. But Groups is also part of the baseline that empowers the other tools to work, said Jennifer Mason, a technology consultant at Planet Technologies, a Microsoft cloud partner based in Germantown, Md. If users create a Team or SharePoint site, she said, Groups is associated with that.
Flow, another Microsoft app, works with Office 365 apps as a task-management tool. Planner, yet another Microsoft app that works with Office 365, also provides task management where users can share files and chat.
Deciding which Office 365 collaboration tool to use depends on who you are trying to communicate with and the purpose of the communication, Mason said. Eventually the apps will become so integrated that it won't be entirely clear or matter which app you're in, she added.
"One size does not fit all," she said. "There's no one playbook that is going to work for every organization and team. The best solution is going to be any solution that gets used within your organization."
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