The addition of Microsoft Loop is likely to be the most important change that Microsoft has made to its Microsoft 365 platform.
Microsoft Loop, based on Microsoft's Fluid Framework, will let users collaborate in previously impossible ways. Some of these new capabilities are already available in Microsoft Teams, but Microsoft will soon make Loop available across all Microsoft 365 applications. Loop is now in private preview, and public release is on the horizon.
The elements of Microsoft Loop and how they interact with Microsoft 365
Microsoft Loop's capabilities are far different from other collaborative features available today. To understand and fully appreciate what Loop brings to the table, it's helpful to look at the basic building blocks that make up Microsoft Loop and how they connect with Microsoft 365.
Microsoft Loop consists of three high-level structural elements: Loop components, Loop pages and Loop workspaces.
Of the three, Loop components are arguably the most important. A Loop component is essentially just a Loop-enabled document object. To put this into perspective for a Microsoft 365 user, imagine a Microsoft Word document. Although Word is primarily for writing and editing basic text, it supports numerous design elements. With the addition of Loop components, Word supports several component types with real-time editing across the Microsoft 365 suite. These live-editing components include paragraphs of text with a bulleted list, tables, checklists and numbered lists.
Loop differentiates itself from its legacy Microsoft Office 365 counterpart because these elements are collaborative across the productivity suite.
Consider a user who adds a paragraph to a Microsoft Word document but isn't sure whether it's accurate. Rather than emailing the entire document to someone who could edit and approve the addition, that user could copy the Loop component into Outlook and email it to a supervisor or message it to them in Microsoft Teams. The recipient opens the message containing the paragraph and makes a change from within Outlook or Teams. That change immediately shows up in the original Word document. Other Loop components behave similarly across Microsoft 365 applications.
A Loop page is a document that includes one or more Loop components. As it stands right now, the Microsoft Loop app acts as a blank canvas on which you can add loop components. Some users could work within this interface, but the value of Microsoft Loop is that users can keep the components within the apps and files they need without having to seek them out.
It may be helpful to think of Loop workspaces as being somewhat of a next-generation OneNote and essentially serves as a File Explorer for Microsoft 365. OneNote allows users to create notebooks that group similar information. Users can then create sections within the notebook and pages within each section. These pages are free form and can accommodate various types of content. These might include embedded files, handwritten text, recordings or countless other Loop elements.
Loop workspaces is an application designed to help users keep their Loop pages organized. A user could, for example, group related Loop pages together for a project, and that workspace could serve as the central hub for a team to access all project resources.
Loop workspaces does not limit users to working solely with Loop pages. Like OneNote, users can add a variety of other content types, such as a Word document alongside some Loop pages.
Enterprise use cases for Loop within Microsoft 365
Microsoft Loop has enormous potential to change how collaboration works in an enterprise setting. Organizations that have adopted a hybrid work model with some users in the office while others work remotely could especially benefit from this technology. This is because Microsoft Loop is location agnostic. Remote users and users working on site can all collaborate on the same documents simultaneously if they have a connection to the internet and a valid set of Microsoft 365 credentials.
It's fair to note that real-time document collaboration is nothing new. At the height of the pandemic, many organizations added Google Docs and other Google Workspace services to their workflows because they allow users in remote locations to collaborate on a document in real time. What makes Microsoft Loop different, however, is that Loop does not tie the collaborative process to a specific document. Collaboration happens at the Loop component level rather than the individual file level. This means that users can edit the data using whichever Loop-enabled application makes the most sense for them at any given moment. One user might edit a table in Word, while another user looking at the table in Teams would see the change in real time.
There is another aspect of Microsoft Loop that is far more profound. Loop will provide enterprise users with a single source for all their Microsoft 365 work, data and files. Consider how many copies of a single document could exist within an organization. There may only be one copy of the document saved on a SharePoint site, but that doesn't account for the original Word document that is saved on -- potentially -- multiple laptop hard drives. How many versions of that document have been emailed back and forth between users? Because of each user's changes, all those document copies are probably slightly different from one another. Loop makes it so that even if someone were to open an old document copy, the data within the document is always up to date -- assuming that it is based on Loop components.
Third-party integrations for Loop
While Loop represents a compelling collaborative framework in its own right, one step that Microsoft has taken is sure to make Loop a game changer for some organizations. Microsoft has made Loop extensible, so private developers and third-party vendors can create new Loop-enabled data types.
From an enterprise IT department's perspective, this means that users will eventually be able to create Loop pages containing both Microsoft 365 data and data from the line-of-business applications that they use in their daily workflows. Because all this data is Loop-enabled, it will always be up to date, reflecting real-time changes. It may even become possible to establish relationships between these varying types of data, such as a real-time Excel chart linked to data from a sales app.
While these third-party plugins and integrations are hardly market-ready, the potential of this technology could be wide-spanning across numerous business-critical processes.