Microsoft explains how a new walkie-talkie mode in its Teams chat app is part of a strategy to help companies modernize and get ahead in the cloud wars (MSFT)

Microsoft explains how a new walkie-talkie mode in its Teams chat app is part of a strategy to help companies modernize and get ahead in the cloud wars (MSFT)

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Microsoft wants to help industries like retail, manufacturing, banking and healthcare digitize and modernize their businesses using its technology. To do so, it’s building industry-specific features on top of its existing products — like a new walkie talkie feature in Microsoft Teams, to make it easier for retail workers on the ground in stores, to communicate with each other and work more efficiently. Emma Williams, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Office Verticals, says that these features are part of a broader strategy that integrate across most of the company’s cloud products.It’s a notable gambit in the cloud wars: Getting retail workers, who don’t necessarily sit in front of a computer all day, to use Teams is a way to broaden the app’s audience. And all the data from Teams and elsewhere can be analyzed and used in other Microsoft products, driving adoption.Click here for more BI Prime stories.Industries like retail, manufacturing, banking and healthcare are not often thought of as quick to adopt new technologies, but Microsoft wants to change that. Take, for example, the walkie talkie feature in Microsoft Teams, the company’s fast growing chat app. The new feature is meant to make it easier for retail workers, who are on the ground in stores, to communicate with each other and work more efficiently, Emma Williams, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Office Verticals, told Business Insider.The feature is indicative of Microsoft’s broader strategy here, Williams says: Take its existing products, and customize them to make them better and more useful in specific industries and markets. Other examples within Teams alone include the launch of a feature to automatically send daily assignments and tasks to retail employees, and controls that pause notifications when workers are off their shift.”Where we’re investing heavily, we’re looking at each of these industries one by one, and developing a portfolio of critical products and experiences across our three clouds to target the needs of those industries,” Williams told Business Insider.(Three clouds refer to Microsoft Azure, its cloud computing division, Office 365, its cloud productivity software, and Microsoft Dynamics, its cloud software for financial planning and customer relationship management.)The initiative is strategically important to Microsoft, which is widely considered to be lagging behind Amazon Web Services in the cloud wars.By making apps like Teams available to a wider audience — namely, those like front-line retail workers who aren’t at a computer all day — it can help push the app beyond the 20 million active users it claimed in November, and re-entrench its dominance over rival Slack. And, as Williams suggested to Business Insider, it all plays a role in a strategy that can push usage of its other cloud products, too.Beyond TeamsHowever, to Williams’ point, Microsoft’s strategy here goes beyond just Teams. She says that it ties in with some of the work that Microsoft has been doing around Power Platform, which allows users to make simple apps with little or no coding required.She says that’s an ideal way to help retail workers be more productive — especially since the data that those apps generate can be plugged right back into Teams, where they work with their colleagues. It’s better and more efficient than the apps that they’ve historically had to deal with, she said.

Microsoft Teams Walkie Talkie feature
Microsoft

“You take all those ancient line of business applications that IT departments have created… by lighting up and re-doing critical new digitized workflows in Power Platform and integrating that with Microsoft Teams, you get the very best of Microsoft Teams being a hub for pulling through all the digital experiences you need,” Williams said.And to go even further, she said, the data generated by all of these tools — combined with more futuristic initiatives like the internet of things (IoT) — can be analyzed and tracked in tools like Microsoft’s own Dynamics to understand and improve how customers, workers, and logistics providers do their job. The ultimate goalThe ultimate goal, here, is to “connect the first line and the information workers together on the same digitized platform for the first time.” In other words, by offering tools to front-line workers as it’s doing with Teams, the data flows into the same places as the business analysts working at a desk at headquarters.In so doing, Williams says, Microsoft can make it easier for its customers to modernize their tech. Everybody is on the same identity system, just for starters, and it all takes advantages of Microsoft’s investments in cybersecurity.

Microsoft

“It’s no small feat for a company and for a CIO and an IT department to roll out a new digital identity to 85 percent of their workforce. And so we have to think very seriously indeed about the way we can do it and empower the companies to be successful in doing it in a way where we’re giving them secure versions of tech,” Williams said.On the flip side, she said, those who don’t keep up with the pace of technological change will be left behind, she suggested.”Consumer expectations are changing around logistics, transportation, and shipping of their products. And so the world has to change. It can’t just be that there’s a retail store and then you have an online presence,” Williams said. Got a tip? Contact this reporter via email at pzaveri@businessinsider.com or Signal at 925-364-4258. (PR pitches by email only, please.) You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

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