The judges for the Best of Enterprise Connect Award program reviewed 62 entries — entries that spanned a variety of segments in the enterprise communications space, such as contact center, conferencing, management tools, team collaboration, emergency notification, speech analytics, and beyond.
There were some very innovative solutions. However, in my opinion, nothing matched the breadth of capability and vision demonstrated by Microsoft’s entry for Teams, which included the Teams for Firstline Workers (also known as frontline workers) and enhancements to the “intelligent workspace.”
Teams for Firstline Workers
At a high level, Teams for Firstline Workers’ capabilities are aimed at providing tools for the workers who are not considered information workers (according to Microsoft, this is 2.4 billion of the 3 billion workers worldwide, or 80% of the global workforce). These workers have traditionally been underserved by technology, and Microsoft created Teams for Firstline Workers as “a digital cockpit for all communication, collaboration and workflow, regardless of industry or role.” This “digital cockpit” is intended to replace the multiple disparate apps or physical solutions such as paper timecards, providing one central location to access the tools needed. At the same time, it provides security and compliance often not present in consumer apps that may be used.
Firstline Workers extends the Teams application to mobile devices used by these primarily deskless workers, and new capabilities have been added to specifically address their unique needs. Capabilities include:
- Shift Scheduling, which allows for scheduling staff hours within Teams
- Home, which allows workers to clock in and out on their mobile device, and provides relevant information about their day
- Customizable mobile experiences, along with features like location sharing and sending audio messages
- Smart Camera, which auto-crops images for quick sharing, and provides editing and annotation. Policies can be set so that the images do not reside on the user’s device, protecting sensitive information if the device is lost or stolen.
- Priority notifications and message delegation to ensure a message receives the intended attention.
- Patients App that integrates with electronic health record systems, gets patient data securely, and enables collaboration among care providers.
- Praise feature makes it easy for managers and employees to recognize coworkers right in the Teams app where the whole team can see it.
While these capabilities will not address every need of firstline workers, they are a start, and additional capabilities will surely be added. The leap outside the box of “productivity for information workers” to “productivity for firstline workers” is considerable.
Enhancements to the Intelligent Workspace
Since I am an information worker, I am personally more impacted by the enhancements in this area. Microsoft is leveraging artificial intelligence to provide capabilities such as:
- Live chat translation, available for 42 languages, allowing users to chat in their native language and others speaking a different language to click on the chat to have it instantly translated into their native language.
- Live captions, which allow attendees to read the speaker’s words, in their own native language (which may be different from the language the speaker is using) in real-time.
- Real-time transcription of meeting conversations, allowing those who could not attend to review transcripts later. It also means that no one has to take meeting notes, unless a summary is desired. Attendees may review the transcription and make corrections as needed.
- Enhanced background blur goes beyond the blurred background demonstrated last year at Enterprise Connect. This new capability allows custom backgrounds, such as an office setting, to appear behind the presenter.
Microsoft’s EC19 Announcements
The capability with the biggest wow factor for me is the augmented white board that allows a room with an existing analog whiteboard to be used for sharing and collaboration. A second content capture camera is required. This camera shares and sharpens the image of the analog whiteboard, making it readable for remote attendees. It also solves the problem created when someone is writing on the whiteboard and blocks the view; when this occurs, the person is rendered transparent. Once they move out of the way, whatever they have written shows on the white board.
For meeting rooms that go beyond analog whiteboards, an Ink Touch display allows any room to have collaborative white board capabilities for less than $5,000.
Other capabilities that were announced include Teams Expo, which allows any display, if enabled, to be used for digital signage. Content can be pushed by anyone in the organization.
Planned capabilities include:
- Team Sharing, which not only allows users to share information on display panels, it also allows people to respond to the posts by liking or replying
- Ad hoc Casting allows employees to cast content from Teams to Expo-enabled displays that all Teams members can see and review.
- Ad hoc Meeting Join and Sharing is also supported. When employees are finished, the displays revert to ambient mode, showing default digital signage.