This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Microsoft Ignite 2018 conference coverage

Microsoft Teams app takes aim at vertical markets

Microsoft is adding secure messaging tools for healthcare workers and a schedule management system to the Microsoft Teams app, which is now used by 329,000 organizations worldwide.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Microsoft has unveiled a set of secure messaging and image-sharing tools for the Microsoft Teams app targeted at the healthcare industry. The platform will also add a new schedule management system for swapping shifts and requesting time off, as Microsoft looks to broaden the appeal of its team collaboration app.

The patient care coordination feature, launched in private preview this week at the Microsoft Ignite conference, is a first-party API that integrates with electronic health records systems. Microsoft is marketing the service to healthcare organizations but hopes it serves as an example of how Teams can meet the needs of heavily regulated businesses.

One of the new healthcare-focused tools lets Teams users take and mark up photos before messaging them to a colleague in Teams. A doctor could use the tool to seek a second option on a patient's skin condition. IT administrators will be able to prevent the images from being stored on mobile devices or local drives, among other controls.

Another feature lets users send urgent messages that generate persistent notifications through Teams every two minutes for up to 20 minutes, or until the recipient responds. The alerts could be useful for paging a doctor about an urgent matter in the emergency room, for example.

In another bid to make the platform more useful to more businesses, Teams users will also soon be able to create and share their work schedules in the app. That way, employees will be able to see who else is working on the days when they are working and can swap shifts or request time off. That feature will launch in October.

Microsoft Teams app expands AI features to all users

Several AI features for the Microsoft Teams app released in preview in March began rolling out to all 135 million Office 365 commercial subscribers this week.

Teams will now automatically generate time-coded, searchable transcripts of recorded meetings. The app will also use facial recognition technology to let users blur their backgrounds during video meetings, a feature that could be particularly useful to remote workers.

Another AI feature in the pipeline will at some point in the near future let Teams users make a call, join a meeting or add a colleague to a meeting with their voice, through integration with Cortana. The feature will work with certain IP phones and conference room devices.

The Cortana integration could become more useful in the future given Microsoft's announcement this week that it will let businesses build custom skills for the AI voice assistant. The offering -- now in private preview -- will rival a similar service from Amazon that lets companies develop apps for Alexa for Business.

Microsoft Teams app user numbers continue to soar

Microsoft said 329,000 organizations worldwide now use Teams, including 87 of the Fortune 100. That's up from 200,000 organizations in March and 50,000 organizations in 2017.

Microsoft's release of a free version of the app in July was partially responsible for that rapid growth, Microsoft said. The vendor also recently finished adding several advanced calling features to Teams to convince more Skype for Business users to switch to the newer platform.

Fifty-four businesses now have more than 10,000 Teams users each, including the consulting firm Accenture, which has more than 100,000 users in the largest deployment of the platform.

Slack was the only Teams competitor that Frank Shaw, Microsoft's corporate vice president of communications, singled out in prepared remarks during a briefing with reporters. He pointed out that Teams was adding organizations at a faster rate than Slack.

But Microsoft has not detailed how many active users exist within the 329,000 organizations that have deployed Teams. As of May, Slack had 8 million daily active users at 500,000 organizations worldwide, up from 6 million daily active users in September 2017.

Dig Deeper on Team collaboration software