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Microsoft updates Teams for manufacturing

Microsoft aims to make Teams more appealing to manufacturers with a new app, expanded walkie-talkie features and integration with scheduling software.

Microsoft has launched an app that lets manufacturing employees do more of their jobs in Teams. This is the company's latest attempt to push its collaboration offering for assembly-line workers.

The new app, called Updates in Microsoft Teams, became available this week as part of a slate of Teams features aimed at manufacturing needs. The company also extended Teams' walkie-talkie capability to more mobile devices, tied Teams to scheduling software and expanded the Approvals in Microsoft Teams tool as well.

The Updates app allows companies to create forms in Teams for tasks like employee check-ins and maintenance requests. The app includes templates for common types of forms, though managers can also build them from scratch. Managers can choose whether certain items are optional or mandatory; if questions are multiple choice or open-ended; and if they require a worker to add a file, picture or video to complete the form.

In a video demonstrating the feature, Microsoft showed an instance in which a manager used Updates to create a checklist for a safety inspection of company facilities. The app distributed the checklist to workers and provided real-time updates to the supervisor as employees completed the forms.

Companies can also integrate Teams' Approvals tool with their own apps. Approvals lets employees submit and managers approve proposals and expense reports in Teams. With the integration, companies can add that functionality to software created in Microsoft's Power Apps. This feature will be available in preview this summer, according to Microsoft.

Teams is also connected to  scheduling product Workforce Management from software firm Blue Yonder. The integration uses Teams' built-in tool, Shifts, to allow workers to view their schedules and request time off from within the collaboration app.

Teams' walkie-talkie feature
Teams' walkie-talkie feature lets workers push a button to talk with coworkers. Microsoft has expanded the capability to Crosscall devices.

The ability to share updates, request approvals and manage scheduling will make Teams a better tool for manufacturing workers, said Irwin Lazar, principal analyst with Metrigy, a research and advisory firm. Those capabilities reflect an evolution of collaboration products from messaging tools to a hub for work, he said.

Microsoft has opened Teams' walkie-talkie feature to rugged devices from Crosscall, a manufacturer based in France. With the functionality, employees press a dedicated button to talk to their coworkers in Teams over Wi-Fi or mobile internet. Microsoft released the feature on Crosscall's Core-X4, Core-M5, Action-X5 and Core-X5 smartphones and the Core T5 tablet.

Earlier this year, Microsoft brought Teams walkie-talkie capabilities to Zebra Technologies mobile devices, as well as iPhones and iPads. The feature works on devices from Samsung, Sonim Technologies and Kyocera, too.

Teams could be helpful in manufacturing by accelerating training time and connecting employees to experts for support, said Raul Castanon, a 451 Research analyst. Teams could complement Microsoft's augmented reality and AI technology in appealing to manufacturers. According to 451 Research's Voice of the Enterprise survey on IoT tech, 86% of manufacturers said collaboration tools had either a high or medium impact on operational efficiency.

"Given the different assets in its arsenal… Microsoft is well positioned to address [manufacturing] use cases," Castanon said.

Several vendors have built collaboration products focused on manufacturing and other frontline workers. Workforce management platforms Beekeeper and Webalo, for example, have scheduling and digital form creation features akin to the new Microsoft capabilities.

Teams' Updates app, Approvals tool, scheduling capabilities and walkie-talkie feature are included in Microsoft's 365 F1, Office 365 F3 and 365 F3 subscriptions for frontline workers. The plans have monthly per-user costs of $2.25, $4 and $8, respectively.

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily NewsWalpole TimesSharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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