Microsoft has announced a hands-on preview for commercial customers of its new Teams premium product designed to make meetings more personal, intelligent and secure.
The premium product includes many attractive features, such as:
- Using artificial intelligence to provide live translation and intelligent recaps of meetings with autogenerated chapters and suggested action items and insights;
- Advanced security with the use of watermarks, end-to-end encryption, and sensitivity labels to prevent copy and pasting of chat sessions;
- Tools for creating and managing high-quality webinars;
- Virtual Appointment Dashboard to control the end-to-end virtual appointment experience; And
- Ability to expand company image in meetings by branding background.
“This is an opportunity for Microsoft to open up monetization opportunities beyond Microsoft 365,” said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research, a consumer technology advisory firm in New York City.
“You’ll get basic-level functionality, but more functionality at the higher price levels,” Rubin told TechNewsWorld.
Race for AI Solutions
The AI feature does many things not done in meetings, such as providing outlines, notes and translations for their audience, said Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst at the Enderle Group, an advisory services firm in Bend, Ore.
“I expect this AI component to be the defining difference between platforms in the future,” he told TechNewsworld. “Powerful conferencing solutions are racing to see who can provide the most powerful AI-based solution.”
Intelligent Recap holds a lot of promise for helping organizations get the most out of meetings, said JP Gounder, vice president and principal analyst at national market research company Forrester Research.
“Too often, follow-ups and action items are forgotten after the meeting,” Gounder told TechNewsWorld. “Those who missed the meeting struggle to find the value of the meeting.”
“Intelligent Recap promises to automate the process of extracting follow-ups, action items, and meeting content,” he continued. “It will take some time to learn from real-world meetings, but it promises to increase the value of meetings and connect them to business actions.”
more efficient meetings
In some ways, the new tools in Teams Premium make virtual meetings more efficient than in-person meetings, said Michael Inouye, a principal analyst at ABI Research, a global technology intelligence firm.
“By more efficient, I mean making access to information from previous meetings and follow-up more streamlined and easier,” Inoue told TechNewsWorld.
He clarified that in a face-to-face meeting, any work on the whiteboard may not be included in the meeting notes. Similarly, note-taking is often not shared among participants or may be specialized to an individual’s note-taking style.
“Creating chapters and tagging recorded meetings makes searching through the archives much more efficient,” he continued. “Instead of trying to remember the date of a particular meeting by checking your notes, you can search for a topic or other information of interest.”
“These tools can benefit in-person meetings as well, because those conversations can be recorded and processed in the same way, so it’s not exclusive to virtual,” he added.
Features Too Good for Paywall
New security features in Teams Premium have also drawn praise. Forrester analyst Will McCann-White said, “The security enhancements like copy/paste controls and E2E encryption for groups are all excellent.”
However, he questioned the limitation of features to a premium offering. “It’s strange that these are divided outside of the standard Teams platform,” he told TechNewsWorld.
McKeon-White was also commended for joining the Teams Premium webinar. “There is a great need for offering webinars from a competition point of view and this will help organizations further strengthen an offering,” he added.
While praising the product’s translation feature, he also lamented its limitations. “Live translation is going to be transformative for how organizations communicate,” he predicted. “It’s a shame to see this change inside the paywall.”
One feature of Teams Premium that is getting mixed reviews is its branding feature.
Mark N., president and principal analyst at SmartTech Research in San Jose, Calif. “I think the branding-focused features are interesting and potentially different than what Zoom and Cisco’s solutions are offering,” Vena said.
“It appears that Microsoft is moving toward a more personalized experience with the premium version of Teams, which I think will be useful,” Vena told TechNewsWorld.
“The ability to create more customized experiences will be valued by some users, and I think the ability to add your brand will be valued by users who create video podcasts or conduct webinars,” he said.
ahead of time
While an interesting idea, the brand extension feature could be problematic, stressed Enderle. “Using a tool like this to push a brand requires marketing to have a direct say in the outcome, which isn’t the case here,” he added.
“It would be like providing a medical device without medical oversight,” he explained. “I don’t think you can do a brand feature without deeply involving marketing in the resulting process. That’s not the case here.
Inouye said that branding is usually not prioritized in virtual types of communication and collaboration. “Going forward, if virtual C&C becomes more widespread or more generally, I can see it becoming more valuable,” he added.
“It may be a little ahead of its time,” he continued. “No harm done, but it won’t be a significant selling point.”
Inoue said Teams Premium should help position Microsoft in the communications and collaboration market. However, he added, “it’s hard to say whether this will change the competitive landscape in a meaningful way, at least not yet.”
“Companies have reduced virtual events, which means a company may see less value from a more integrated solution,” he explained. “For a handful of events going with a third party can be as good an option as a more integrated solution.”
word of caution
Vena argued that Microsoft is playing catch-up in the video conferencing space as Zoom became the market leader during the pandemic, focusing on ease of use.
“But Zoom continues to face protests over security concerns, and Microsoft has a perceived advantage when it comes to protecting privacy,” he said. “This new solution should move the ball forward in increasing its appeal to Teams, especially with enterprise and SMB users.”
McCown-White said all of the enhancements are logical and add value to the Teams platform. “My biggest issue with Microsoft’s approach is they compartmentalized behind a paywall,” he said.
“Any time AI/ML features are divested outside of a platform, it provides an opening for competitors,” he said.
There’s a lot to like in this rollout, as Microsoft continues to evolve its AI to deliver more valuable features, noted Wayne Kurtzman, vice president of collaboration and communities research at IDC, a global market research company.
However, he cautioned: “Microsoft will need to add more benefits to maintain the premium value, as some of their competitors are likely to include some of these features in their core product. Regardless, feature innovation is likely to maintain a high velocity.