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New Microsoft Teams features on deck, but more work needed

Microsoft has continued to move Skype for Business features into Microsoft Teams, the vendor's 1-year-old chat-based workspace for collaboration, meetings and calling. The vendor announced several new Microsoft Teams features last month, but also said the features are "coming later this year."

Over the past six months, Microsoft has moved many Skype for Business features into Teams. The vendor announced in September 2017 that cloud-based Skype for Business in Office 365 would transition to Teams. Despite its progress, however, Microsoft still has work to do, especially for full enterprise voice features.

Many key Microsoft Teams features -- particularly for meetings and calling -- are expected to launch by the end of the second quarter this year. Other calling capabilities -- such as call park, group call pickup, location-based routing and shared line experience -- are expected by the end of this year. 

The migration roadmap for Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams includes 70 enterprise voice features, according to Lori Wright, general manager of Microsoft Teams and Skype. Microsoft delivered half of those features by January 2018, Wright said. The vast majority of overall voice features should be completed by June 2018, she added.

Looking to bolster calling features

Nearly 70% of enterprise Skype for Business users in Office 365 have started using Teams, according to Wright. Among that 70%, however, some enterprises have moved to Teams completely, while others have simply tested the service. Microsoft has asked Skype for Business users to use Teams in parallel, as the vendor and its customers grapple with the migration.

In particular, Skype for Business users have expressed concerns over the telephony tools in Teams. Microsoft announced new calling features in Teams last month, including call delegation, which lets a user receive someone else's calls. This feature is especially important in an enterprise setting, said Marc Pottier, principal program manager of Microsoft Teams.

Microsoft also announced direct routing, a feature that allows customers to use their existing telephony infrastructure with Teams for calling. To access direct routing, customers need to have Microsoft Teams and Phone System -- formerly called Microsoft's cloud PBX -- as part of Office 365.

With Microsoft's direct routing, the Phone System in Office 365 can help customers connect their Session Initiation Protocol trunks to Microsoft Teams. Direct routing will allow Teams to pass calls to other phone systems -- and vice versa -- using a Microsoft-supported session border controller.

"Our ambitions are to provide a terrific enterprise voice service," Wright said. The new calling capabilities are expected to be available in the second quarter of 2018.

Where Microsoft Teams falls short

Many of the upcoming Microsoft Teams features -- including software and hardware updates -- were well-received last month at the Enterprise Connect unified communications conference. The new capabilities -- including cloud-based meeting recordings, Cortana voice interactions and inline message translation -- should help Microsoft improve collaboration workflows, said Irwin Lazar, a UC analyst with Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

"I think Microsoft's announcements underscore its continued commitment to rapid development of the Teams product," he said. At the same time, Lazar added, Microsoft Teams still lacks some legacy telephony features and has other issues to consider.

Namely, Microsoft Teams currently lacks telephony integration with existing phone systems. But the forthcoming direct-routing feature will help facilitate that connection. Additionally, Teams has not enabled presence and chat interoperability across platforms, which is available between Cisco Jabber and Skype for Business users. That kind of interoperability is also possible between Skype for Business and Slack users via Sameroom, a team messaging interoperability service that was acquired by 8x8 Inc.

Another shortcoming for Microsoft Teams is a lack of end-to-end encryption with user-owned keys, Lazar said. Team collaboration tools Cisco Spark and Symphony offer these types of security controls.

Office 365 integration is key

One of the main strengths of Microsoft Teams is its integration with the Office 365 suite, said Marty Parker, principal consultant at UniComm Consulting, based in Loomis, Calif. PowerPoint presentations, for example, can be opened and edited directly in Teams, so users don't have to switch between apps.

Microsoft has touted Teams as its hub for communications and collaboration in Office 365. Last month, Microsoft Teams won Best of Enterprise Connect at the UC show. In the video above, Pottier demonstrates some of the existing and upcoming Microsoft Teams features.

"Teams is our product for the future," Wright said. "We're continuing down the path of our intelligent communications vision."

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