Will the employee experience platform become the new intranet? With the launch of Microsoft Viva, we just might find out.
Recently, Microsoft announced the release of the first half of Microsoft Viva, a suite of solutions dedicated to the employee experience, embedded in Microsoft Teams. Four components, Viva Connections (access to resources and news), Viva Insights (dashboards on work and employee insights), Viva Learning (e-learning) and Viva Topics (knowledge management), designed to offer employees an optimized experience. With many companies struggling to set up a coherent digital workplace, will Microsoft Viva simplify things, or on the contrary, make the landscape more complex? Is Microsoft encouraging a new, centralized view of the world, and why was Microsoft Teams chosen as the starting point?
Opening keynote NRF 2020 – Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer Microsoft – Source : NRF.
As it so happens, Microsoft Sharepoint is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Twenty years since Microsoft first attempted to create a centralized point of access for employees. Whether you call it Portal or Intranet, this temptation, to centralize the employee experience, has always been strong. In fact, Microsoft Sharepoint is often seen simply as a repository for documents and links to business applications, and many of those who have chosen to give employees a better experience have had to invest in significant resources beyond Sharepoint. The traffic on these intranets has also remained modest in many cases.
Even as Office continued to be a hit with businesses, Sharepoint’s success remained mixed. But the release of Microsoft Teams, combined with the acceleration of telecommuting, ushered in a new era. With over 115 million daily active users, Microsoft Teams has become a must-have for many employees. It was natural for Microsoft to take this formidable collaborative traffic hub and extend the experience to other areas.
Microsoft Teams: What level of maturity?
But before we dive into Viva, let’s jump back quickly to Microsoft Teams. I personally find the tool great. It allowed us at Sociabble to really structure all our collaborative work, from the very first year of the tool’s release. But that also required a lot of initial structuring. We closed all our mailing lists, banned internal emails, and structured our teams and their respective channels in a disciplined, highly-structured fashion. The way a document is posted in a conversation, the rules for starting or prolonging a conversation, the tagging of people or teams—everything is codified. “Private” conversations cannot be used to structure lasting information, etc.
But many businesses still have an extremely basic use of Teams. They use it as an alternative to Zoom for audio and video, or as a “super skype” with conversations going all over the place. The level of maturity when it comes to usage is often low, and collaboration takes place half by email, half in conversations. Documents are posted and worked on in private conversations, without being able to save on time. Even if Microsoft Teams is indeed an important traffic hub, this traffic is still very chaotic, far from the vision and the potential of the tool. By shifting up a gear and attempting to enrich this experience, Microsoft also risks leaving people behind, as change is so difficult to implement in many companies.
However, it is clear that if we’re going to follow through on this enriched experience initiative, it is obviously relevant to do so where the people already are. This extension is done quite naturally through the tabs in Microsoft Teams.
The temptation of centralization for employee experience platforms
Whatever the components are of Viva, Microsoft seeks to create a central point of access: for resources and information (Connections), for data (Insights), for learning and for knowledge (Topics). And with each, assets to get companies motivated. The learning component already integrates LinkedIn Learning, the data component integrates Office 365 insights, the knowledge component already integrates all the artificial intelligence on top of office documents, the connections component aggregates Office 365 elements (now Microsoft 365) and Sharepoint. All editors have to do is integrate themselves into these existing components.
Personally, I have always been skeptical of this concept of centralization. Actually, no—not always. Exactly twenty years ago, I published a book with Hermès, “Enterprise Portals”; at that time, I believed in this centralized experience. But twenty years of difficulties with the subject, and especially the advent of mobile devices, have gradually convinced me of the opposite approach. The employee does not necessarily want central access. No one has a single app on their phone that gives access to all the features in the world. Because the phone itself is the portal. On the contrary, we access specialized applications that each have a specific role: photos are Instagram, the network of friends is Facebook, conversations are WhatsApp (or not!).
A good example? The weather, which can be found on the image of Viva Connections presented by Microsoft.
I don’t think anyone goes to the intranet or even its portal to see the weather, especially local (besides, the display of the “local” weather forecast poses real GDPR questions, but that’s a whole other issue). When you want to know the weather, you open . . . your weather app, which you trust. Precise, detailed, multi-geographic, etc.
Employees go to Teams because they have an online meeting, or a need to collaborate on a document, not to check the weather.
The construction of a centralized dashboard such as Microsoft Viva Connections (which is based on Sharepoint, by the way) raises the same questions that have arisen for 20 years regarding intranets. What are we going to display on this dashboard, especially on mobile? A little news, a few links, a bit of weather, and finally—who will actually use it? Only time will tell.
When we built Sociabble, our SAAS platform, we chose to be very focused: news (internal, external, top-down, bottom-up), and employee engagement around the news (with gamification, employee advocacy, etc.). A thousand times we’ve been asked to transform Sociabble into a super Intranet. A thousand times we have refused. Our vision is not to be a central point, but on the contrary, to be broadcast everywhere: in a dedicated app, in widgets on the intranet, in a Microsoft Teams tab, in Teams conversations via bots, and tomorrow, in Viva. It doesn’t really matter where the information itself is consumed.
The sensitive subject of “insights”
We already know that all detractors of Microsoft are going to be critical of dashboards related to user activity. Already, the premise of Office 365 performance insights has made some people cringe. Personally, I find the way that Microsoft has approached this to be very clever. Consolidated data at management level is anonymized, giving group trends that provide a better understanding of use. At the employee level, these insights can provide real help. In my case, I already use Office insights: Office analyzes my calendar and automatically books slots for me when I can concentrate on my work.
Now, it’s definitely clear that these insights will have an impact on employee experience management. The company will no longer be able to say that it “did not know” that its employees were overbooked or overworked, for example.
While not popular with everyone, the “Insights” can be a useful tool when it comes to maximizing productivity and improving general employee wellbeing.
Viva Topics: the most promising?
It’s not the Microsoft Teams search engine that made it successful—far from it. Searches in the digital workplace have always been a complicated subject. The promise of finally being able to carry out intelligent searches, to go back to the concept level, the “topic”, to navigate through all the associated resources, including employees, is a real step forward. And there is an indisputable value in bringing together all the resources to improve the quality of a search. The power of the Microsoft Graph combined with the artificial intelligence of the Cortex project should thus allow classification, tagging, and search, not only in Office documents, but in all content that will be exposed to Cortex. It would also be possible to identify skills among employees. These topics and skills should also emerge in Viva Connections. Will artificial intelligence deliver on its promise in this area? Let’s wait until Viva’s full release to be sure. Project Viva is reminiscent of Microsoft Delve, which never really got off the ground.
Viva Topics offers the possibility of a truly intelligent search feature, a revolution in the employee experience.
A breakthrough in any case
Microsoft Viva may not be the perfect and total answer in terms of an employee experience platform, especially for those in the field, in stores, in factories, who have very specific needs. It will also bring up the question of cost. However, we cannot fault Microsoft for wanting to capitalize on Teams and forge ahead, building on the many acquisitions made in recent years. But it should be kept in mind that the maturity level of the market is still low when it comes to these subjects. It will also be interesting to see how the editors, who were presented with the fait accompli of this announcement, position themselves.
Customers, many of whom have already made large investments in the digital workplace, and who have often experienced painful intranet projects in the past, will surely be cautious. The current trend is to deploy solutions that meet specific needs (e-learning applications, news and alert applications, collaborative, CRM, etc.) on shorter cycles than in the past, thanks to SAAS (software as a service). And while there is value in aggregating and measuring centrally, this poses many questions that organizations are not necessarily ready to answer, have already answered (by deploying an intranet with considerable effort) or, on the contrary, no longer want to address.
And Sociabble’s role in all of this?
Microsoft Viva is a new opportunity for Sociabble. The possibility of offering additional channels for disseminating information (via Viva Connections), the possibility of feeding insights to Viva Insights or, on the other hand, of using it to improve the experience within Sociabble, even the chance to position the Sociabble content (with the proper rights) so that it can be searched in Viva Topics—these are just some of the prospects we will be working on. Being entirely designed on Microsoft Azure and fully integrated with Office 365, Sociabble will be the information and engagement component for the employee, whether it is used standalone, through Microsoft Viva, in Teams, or on existing intranets.
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