If there were any doubts about what Microsoft meant when they call Teams the “hub of digital work,” announcements on 2/4/21 about Microsoft Viva should provide clear examples of what they mean. Microsoft is entering (or creating) the Employee Experience Platform (EXP) category with Viva.
Microsoft Teams has been gaining in popularity due to its chat, team collaboration, online meetings, and phone system features. By some measures, Teams usage is up 800%. Microsoft’s original vision was to have Teams be the app where employees could get all their work done, either on their own, with their colleagues, or with external parties. Instead of navigating to different apps, portals, and websites, all that could be inserted into Teams’ single pane. It's always been open to third-party plugins and embedded apps, an openness that’s helped it surpass its main competitor in this space, Slack.
Now with the announcement of Microsoft Viva, Teams’ vision comes into crystal clear focus. EXP provides a richer and more complete experience for workers, all inside Teams. There are four new modules with Viva.
The four modules are:
1. Viva Connections – brings the Intranet directly into Teams
2. Viva Insights – brings My Analytics and Workplace Analytics into the flow of work in Teams
3. Viva Learning – provides employees with training content directly in Teams, and managers the ability to assign and track learning activities
4. Viva Topics – provides helpful search and pop-up access to content across the organization.
Each will be outlined individually in a moment.
Built on Cortex
Many are familiar with Project Cortex, an umbrella term for what Microsoft does to provide customers with information at the macro-level about the organization’s productivity. Per Microsoft, “Project Cortex is a Microsoft 365 initiative that applies advanced artificial intelligence (AI) to empower people with knowledge and expertise in the apps you use every day. Building on the leading content services of SharePoint, Project Cortex connects content in Microsoft 365 and external content and enables you to manage your information and streamline processes with advanced security, compliance, and automated workflow.”
More specifically, “Project Cortex uses AI to reason over content across teams and systems, recognizing content types, extracting important information, and automatically organizing content into shared topics like projects, products, processes, and customers. Cortex then creates a knowledge network based on relationships among topics, content, and people.”
Let’s dig into the Viva modules that were announced today.
Viva Connections Module
Connections is the next step in the evolution of SharePoint’s hub and communications sites. Instead of fixed, flat content, Connections will update and curate the user experience based on previous clicks and items of interest. For instance, company news can pop up for the right people at the right time using Microsoft Azure Active Directory groups
The intranet will be a first-class citizen inside Teams, as shown by its icon at the top left of the Teams menu (see aqua “x” icon below).
Curiously though, Connections has some components of Yammer communities, which are not congruent with many organizations who simply want to use Teams. That aspect of Connections (and SharePoint Communication Sites) can be omitted if desired.
Viva Connections will be available for desktop in the first half of 2021 and for mobile in summer 2021. Additional features will roll out over the course of 2022.
Viva Learning Module
The Learning component of Viva is among the most compelling, and new. Microsoft believes people should be able to easily search for and share training in a chat as they would share other types of content.
This thinking has led to the release of the Viva Learning, “a central hub (there’s that word again) for learning where people can discover, share, assign, and learn from best-in-class content libraries across the organization—including LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, third-party content providers, and an organization’s own custom content—to help teams and individuals to make learning a natural part of their day.” Training content providers at the launch include Skillsoft, Coursera, Pluralsight, and edX. This formal content is also accompanied by informal internal information, like Word documents and PowerPoint decks stored in SharePoint.
The AI of Cortex makes learning information more personalized because insights from the Microsoft Graph make it easier for people to find and access the knowledge they need. In addition to displaying relevant learning through Search, Viva Learning displays recommended content in a personalized view (see "My Learning" tab below).
Helpful pop-ups in familiar places (i.e. Cortana’s daily alert and IMs in Teams) can remind employees of their training to-do’s, as shown below.
Microsoft isn’t positioning Viva as a Learning Management System just yet, instead of announcing planned integration with LMS providers Cornerstone OnDemand, Saba, and SAP SuccessFactors. But you can see where Microsoft’s vision again, as users will be able to access these LMS services through Teams, as the hub. You can see some familiar Pluralsight content loaded directly within Teams below.
Managers know skills are key to employee success. They’ll be able to assign training for each employee and track each of their progress as shown below. Much like in Planner, the status of each employee’s tasks can be shown. You can expect to see development around metrics, likely integrated with Power BI dashboards.
Microsoft is previewing the Viva Learning app for Teams with a small number of customers and partners in February 2021, and plan on making it generally available sometime later this year.
Viva Topics Module
Viva Topics organizes content to connect employees with information and expertise. If you’ve ever joined a new company or project and encountered unfamiliar acronyms or terms, topic cards provide a quick way to connect to shared knowledge. They also connect you to topic pages for more detail.
Viva Topics is integrated into other Microsoft applications, such as SharePoint and Microsoft Search. Topic highlights will be integrated into Microsoft Teams, Outlook, and other Microsoft 365 apps throughout 2021, creating a personalized experience.
When Microsoft Viva discovers topics, they appear as suggestions in the topic center. In the future, the topic center can be accessed from Microsoft Teams or SharePoint. You will be able to use the topic center to discover recommended content based on the topics you follow or manage, personalized by the Microsoft Graph. You can also manage your connections to shared topics.
Viva Insights Module
Insights provide personalized recommendations to change how people optimize their work. They’ll get insights to build better work habits, such as following through on commitments made to collaborators and protecting focus time in the day for uninterrupted, individual work.
The personal insights and actions in the Viva Insights app are based on your Exchange Online mailbox data, such as email and calendar data. The insights are derived from data that is already in your Exchange Online mailbox. To determine what commitments have been made to others, people could manually review each email in their mailbox. Using Insights saves them from this trivial process.
Here’s where the big AI of Cortex flexes its muscle. There are elements of Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics in play, but that will feed into a more modern user experience in Teams.
All of that data creates a lot of questions about data privacy, personally identifiable information, and appropriate use. Some of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Viva Insights were addressed by Microsoft in their launch materials.
Q1. Does the Microsoft Viva Insights app comply with GDPR?
A1. Yes. The Viva Insights app complies with GDPR requirements. (See GDPR compliance.)
Q2. Can users see information about other users in the Viva Insights app?
A2. The personal insights in the Insights app include only existing information that’s already available in the user’s mailbox. The insights surface content from documents, emails, and meetings to make it easier for the user to find what’s most important for their day ahead. Users cannot see any new information about other users that wasn’t already available in their mailboxes.
Q3. Can my manager, administrator, or anyone else at my organization see what’s in my Insights app?
A3. No. Personal insights are private and visible to you and only you. Personal information in the Insights app is from your mailbox and stored in your mailbox. Insights just make it easier to find items that might need attention.
Q4. What data does the Viva Insights app use?
A4. Insights uses:
o Information from email items:
o Metadata. This includes the email's timestamp, names of sender and recipients, and "read" status.
o Task statements. Statements that people have made in the body text of the email. These statements are used to create task cards for your use only.
o Information from calendar items:
o Type (meeting or appointment)
o Status (busy, free, out-of-office, tentative)
o OneDrive SharePoint data: Viva Insights shows a count of OneDrive and SharePoint documents that you have worked on.
Insights does not use:
o Email and calendar data from people outside your organization, with the following exception: Insights uses data that is present in your own Office 365 mailbox. For example, if you conduct a meeting with a person outside your organization, the start and end times of that meeting can be found in your mailbox and are visible to you. This data, therefore, can be used in computations about your collaboration history.
Availability and Licensing Costs:
Viva Connections: Public preview in Teams desktop app in the first half of 2021. Teams licensing required.
Topics: Generally available for $5/user/month on top of Microsoft 365 F1, F3, E3, A3, E5, A5, Office 365 F3, E1, A1, E3, A3, E5, A5, Microsoft 365 Business Basic, Business Standard, Business Premium, or SharePoint K, Plan 1, or Plan 2 license.
Insights: Teams app in Windows, iOS, Android, and web application are in public preview. To have access to the Viva Insights app, you will need an Exchange Online license.
Learning: Teams app in public preview. Pricing TBD. Will need to account for a third-party training service license.
The AI behind the scenes is impressive, and now the user experience will begin to match.
Early adopters began using the first “product” from Project work, SharePoint Syntex. It took documents and files of various types (structured and unstructured), and pulls out information of interest. For structured documents, such as forms, it’s easy to tell the system what key fields are of interest. For unstructured documents, training/modeling done on example files would improve the intelligence of the system to classify and extract the desired information. Microsoft peculiarly calls this process “document understanding,” proving that humans will always be better than AI at naming products. AI pulls out the important information from a variety of sources, which can be used to present helpful cards to users, kick-off workflows using Power Automate, and even feed into knowledge bases.
Until now, the helpful output of Syntex was found in SharePoint, custom portals, or popped up in Cortana messages. Microsoft Viva is built around Teams and HTML on the front-end. Much of the backend technology is based around SharePoint, which is the upper rightmost service in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for content services. It’s been there for years but now gets a boost by providing a more native, intuitive user experience.
The services are not all generally available, but information and sign-up can be found at Microsoft Viva Registration - Microsoft Tech Community Resource Center.