Microsoft Primes Partners to Build Next Wave of Teams Collaborative Apps

“We need a new class of applications centered around collaboration versus individual productivity.”

Jeffrey Schwartz

May 26, 2021

5 Min Read
Microsoft Teams app

MICROSOFT BUILD — Microsoft is adapting Teams to become the interface for collaborative apps, its new solutions category for hybrid work environments. Collaborative apps, revealed this week at the Microsoft Build developer conference, aims to bring more extensibility to Teams.

The shift to hybrid work environments has necessitated a major change in how people interact with applications. Consequently, Microsoft is enabling developers and its partner ecosystem to create new user experiences using Teams.


Microsoft’s Jeff Teper at Build 2021

“We need a new class of applications centered around collaboration versus individual productivity,” said Microsoft corporate VP Jeff Teper, who oversees the product groups focused on building new collaborative applications in Microsoft 365. Teper, joined by Microsoft Teams product managers, outlined collaborative apps in a Build session on Tuesday (available on demand).

In his opening remarks to the Build event, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gave significant emphasis to collaborative apps.

“Just like Win32 defined a new era of apps, and web apps and mobile apps did the same, this new generation of cross-device collaborative applications will be a transformational, first-class platform opportunity,” Nadella said.

Enabling Collaboration

Teper said these apps will enable asynchronous and synchronous collaboration with meetings, ad-hoc messaging, creating content and business process automation.

“Microsoft Teams was built for this very purpose of enabling collaboration,” Teper said. “With over 145 million people using Teams every day, Teams has become the digital platform for work and learning. This creates a net-new creative and economic opportunity for developers to build the next generation of applications where collaboration is at the core, allowing people to work from anywhere at any time and in any way.”

The collaborative apps Microsoft is previewing aim to enable users to work more easily with others on projects, Teper said. Notably, collaborative apps will let them “stay in the flow of work without needing to context switch across multiple apps and data,” he added.

Developers can build collaborative apps using their preferred JavaScript environments and by plugging some APIs into Teams messages, channels and meetings. Teper said many of its ISV partners – including Adobe, SAP, ServiceNow and Workday – are already doing this.

“Teams serves as the interface where users can stay in the flow of their work with these new collaborative apps,” Teper added. “You can connect your existing services – whether it’s a packaged SaaS offering or your custom apps – into a growing number of integration points and teams to streamline work for everybody from the C-suite to frontline employees.”

Real-Time Collaboration Tools


Microsoft’s Archana Saseetharan at Build 2021

Microsoft is also adding the ability for apps to integrate onto a shared-meeting stage. This feature, now in preview, lets meeting participants use apps to collaborate in real time. Microsoft Teams platform group product manager Archana Saseetharan said this capability is the most requested feature by partners.

“Teams is all about collaborative teamwork and this feature just brings it home for applications to enable teamwork within meetings,” she said. “And you can integrate by adding the meeting stage context in your app manifest.”

Shared stage integration lets developers add …

… collaboration capabilities to meeting apps including whiteboarding, design and project boards.

This summer, Microsoft will enable applications to surface real-time access to meeting audio and video with new media APIs. This will enable real-time access to audio and video streams to add services such as transcription and translation, among others.

Microsoft is enhancing Together Mode, a feature launched last year, which replaces the gallery with a background such as an auditorium or a meeting room. Microsoft is now making Together Mode more extensible.

A new scene designer tool in the developer portal lets programmers, or even end users, create their own scenes.

“Using this is as simple as dragging an image configuring the number of participants and their position,” Saseetharan said. “You can even assign role-based seating to the participants and grab the link and share it with anyone. Or you can publish the scene broadly in the team store as well.”

Azure Communications Services Previews

Microsoft is also building on the integration of Azure Communications Services (ACS) with Teams announced in March. ACS will let developers build Teams communications functions into custom apps or websites. With ACS, VoIP and chat usage will be billed to Azure resources when using the APIs and SDKs.

During a session at this week’s Build event, Microsoft demonstrated how to build applications across meetings, chat and channels within our outside Microsoft Teams.

Microsoft also released previews of new ACS features. Among them include the new UI Library for ACS designed to let developers more rapidly build cross-channel experiences. The UI component consists of React JavaScript libraries designed to build interactive interfaces and Microsoft’s Fluid cross-platform design platform.

Microsoft designed Fluid components to let end-users create live, collaborative components such as lists, tables and tasks, Teper said. Users can share them across Teams with other Office apps such as Outlook. Fluid components will let people share ideas. They also allow them to reduce the number of meetings they hold and minimize long chat threads, Teper said.

“Collaborative apps enabled by Teams and end-user experiences like Fluid components will help people in your organizations quickly align across teams and get work done efficiently,” Teper said.

Futurum Research analyst Daniel Newman believes the new features will provide a “material knock-on effect” on the success of Teams.

“While I believe there is still room for improvement in the Teams user experience, there is very little debate on its rampant growth within the enterprise,” according to Newman’s analysis. “The competition in the collaboration space will remain fierce, with Zoom, Cisco, and Microsoft leading the pack and pushing innovation to make work more productive and more enjoyable for the masses.”

Want to contact the author directly about this story? Have ideas for a follow-up article? Email Jeffrey Schwartz or connect with him on LinkedIn.


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About the Author(s)

Jeffrey Schwartz

Jeffrey Schwartz has covered the IT industry for nearly three decades, most recently as editor-in-chief of Redmond magazine and executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner. Prior to that, he held various editing and writing roles at CommunicationsWeek, InternetWeek and VARBusiness (now CRN) magazines, among other publications.

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