EP 19: Exploring the App Power in Microsoft Teams

Boost Productivity, Collaboration, and Innovation

Join George and Santi in this episode of Tech UNMUTED as they explore apps within Microsoft Teams. Discover how these business-oriented applications, boasting over 100,000 custom options, can elevate productivity and collaboration in your organization. From intuitive survey tools to AI-powered modules and industry-specific solutions, learn how to harness the full potential of Teams' app ecosystem. Embrace the app revolution and find out why, when it comes to Microsoft Teams, "there's an app for that!"

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INTRODUCTION VOICEOVER: This is Tech UNMUTED. The podcast of modern collaboration – where we tell the stories of how collaboration tools enable businesses to be more efficient and connected. With your hosts, George Schoenstein and Santi Cuellar. Welcome to Tech UNMUTED.

GEORGE: Welcome to the latest episode of Tech UNMUTED. Today we're going to talk about apps. The thing to keep in mind when you talk about apps in Teams is these are things that are very business-oriented kind of applications, typically. There is an analogy to the App Store on Apple, the Google Play Store. Those apps are typically a little different. They tend to be a bit more socially oriented, or leisure, or travel, or something like sports. Some of those things are available in Teams. What you generally see are much more business-practical apps.

One of my favorites is there's a survey tool that you can invoke in a meeting and do some really quick hit surveys with the participants of the meeting. Really intuitive to use, a couple of seconds literally to set up a question and launch it basically as fast as you can type, you can create the survey with it. There's a plethora of other apps that are out there. You were at a Microsoft conference a couple of months ago Santi, why don't you share a little bit on what they said about the number of apps and what that looks like?

SANTI: Oh, yes. This is the Microsoft 365 Conference in Vegas back in May. I remember I wrote it down, they said that currently in the Microsoft app store for Teams we have over 100,000 custom apps.


SANTI: Yes, that's what I said. It's like, "Wait, 100,000 custom apps?" That was back in May imagine when we reconvene next year at the next Microsoft 365 conference a year later. How many apps will there be? I find that just crazy. I do like the survey app. I guess if we had to divide apps into categories, you have what I would call the core apps. These are apps that are already embedded in Teams when you open up your team's environment. There's a calendar app there, there's a channels, those types of apps. Those are default functionalities of Teams, but they're essentially apps.

Then you have apps that are created by Microsoft, which by the way they've done a good job to your point of creating apps that really matter. There are some custom apps that maybe have some gamification to it to make I guess the work environment fun. Honestly, the Microsoft apps for the most part are all about productivity and stuff like that. I don't know about you, but I have a favorite list of Microsoft apps. There's an app from Microsoft called a Channel Calendar. Those of you who are familiar with Teams, you have a team, and within a team, you can have a channel.

Now you can have a calendar specific to that channel. Maybe that channel is all about planning an event or something. It's great because now you have your own standalone calendar. I thought that was genius. There's also an Approvals app, and that Approval app similar to the survey app that you mentioned. This is like you're trying to get sign-off from people on something, and so you can attach what it is you want them to approve, and then ask for the approval. They have to literally go in there and sign off and that's pretty cool.

Of course, you have the Avatar app. That's our favorite app. There is a new one called-- there's a Math app. Any mathematical equation, you can plug it in there and it will figure it out for you. That's great if you're like trying to crunch numbers or come up with some percentages, or some predictability. You can plug in this information to the Math app and get that. I like the Whiteboard where you can actually draw. Great if you're trying to explain some type of network design, or engineering, or you're trying to draft something. One that's going to be a hit. This is going to be a hit I'm telling you. This is going to be one of those things they talk about, and that is Sales Copilot.

Sales Copilot replaced Viva Sales. If you were familiar with Viva Sales, Viva Sales has been renamed to Sales Copilot because now the Copilot AI module engine is embedded into this. You can tie it into-- you're ready for this, salesforce.com or Microsoft Dynamics and grab the customer info. It has really cool stuff like you can basically grab an email from a customer and enter it into your salesforce.com notes by just clicking on it.

You have stuff like that. It's really cool. There's one that I got my eye on. This is a new one. It's under preview. This is the next one I'm going to dive into, but I really like what I'm seeing. It's called Customer Insights. Similar to Sales Copilot where it ties into a CRM, this one seems to be at the surface from what I'm able to see kind of like a popup, like the old call center popups where somebody would call in and boom.

GEORGE: I saw that when you shared it. That's a good look yesterday when you shared with us.

SANTI: I want to peel that one back. It's in preview mode right now, and we love to preview stuff. That's next on our list. Let me tell you, one that I am really enjoying and I can't wait to hear the results because we're implementing this live is the Virtual Appointments. We did a whole podcast on this, but man, to be able to go to a website and say, "I need to speak to somebody now," and have an appointment queue. Have agents sitting there waiting to engage with a prospect in this format in a video conference now, that's just going to be phenomenal. I can go on, but those are the ones that really stand out for me from Microsoft. Those are the ones. The other category I would put apps in is third-party apps. You know what I'm saying?


SANTI: Workday has a third-party app. Cisco WebEx has a third-party app. I have a third-party app that I love and that's the Starbucks app. There's a Starbucks coffee app. I don't know if you guys knew this, but you can have a Starbucks coffee app in your Microsoft Teams, and you're asking yourself, "Well, why on earth would you have a Starbucks coffee app in your Microsoft Teams. What are you going to do? Order coffee." No, it's that you can treat your colleagues to coffee. You want to thank somebody for helping you, you send them a coffee credit if you would, that they can literally go and use at their local Starbucks and get a free cup of coffee on you. You've paid for it in advance.



GEORGE: For coffee.

SANTI: Oh, it's coming. You have to do something really, really great for me to give you a cup of coffee. Then there's the custom apps. Custom Apps is what we're talking about, 100, 000 plus of these. These are just apps from people who they recognize there's like a gap or something that could be done better. You and I were talking about how we don't have email for Teams. Guess what? There's an app for that and we found one. There's a custom app that does that.

Listen, the app world in Microsoft specifically within Teams is mind-blowing. I think that most people today are probably leveraging just the tip of the iceberg of apps. They're probably, I'm going to take a guess here, it's probably just Microsoft stuff because it's what shows up first. I could see that changing over time. I think part of the reason why people don't use more apps, honestly, is because I don't think they have a good practice on how to search. It's overwhelming, so how to search for an app.

GEORGE: Can you give us a look? What is the best way? I sometimes look for apps. In Teams, there's the apps button at the top.

SANTI: That's what I use.

GEORGE: Other times I look in the standard Teams interface, not in a meeting and do some searches. I've found there's a Weather app in there, and there's a couple of other ones that I've run across just by looking in there. I'm seeing now it said, we're socially oriented stuff and games on other platforms. One of the ones that pops up in my top list of three when I'm in here is games for work. Why don't you give us a look at some best practices for doing searches and where people should go to search?

SANTI: Hold on, let me switch my screen real quick. Let me pull up my Teams app. The way I search for apps is I click on the app icon and it just brings up this entire dashboard here.

GEORGE: That's right on the left-hand side. On the menu bar all the way on the left, right in the center there.

SANTI: Yes, pretty much it's the whole navigation bar on the left, typical navigation bar. Then once you click on it you get this dashboard. Here's how I do it. First of all, if you specifically want to look at Microsoft apps, where Microsoft is the publisher, I go to Categories and I just click on Built by Microsoft, and it'll load up here in a minute. Just a ton of Microsoft apps. By the way, some of my Microsoft apps I mentioned earlier are in here. Something to note. Not every app works the same way. Some of these apps, when you add them, there'll be a separate icon on that navigation bar. Some of these apps will live inside of your messaging window.

When you have a Microsoft Teams message window open and you have your message field where you're going to type in your message underneath, you have a bunch of little icons. Some of these apps will live there. Understanding where they live and how you activate them it'll be intuitive. You'll know right away. If you want to see Microsoft apps, there's your Channel Calendar I just mentioned earlier. This is a great place to go and search for Microsoft-specific apps. That's how I do it. Now, when I'm looking for an app to solve a problem, the way I do it is I think about where does that problem live.

For example, you and I both know that there was a potential prospect that they were wondering how to tie salesforce.com data into their Teams environment. We're like, "Well, I'm pretty sure there's an app for that." What I would do is, in that case, I would come here to Categories and I would search for the category that best fits that problem. In this case, it's sales and marketing because we're talking about salesforce.com. I start here. That's where we brought up Sales Co-Pilot where Sales Co-Pilot is able to tie into your CRM and you can have communication between Teams and your salesforce.com instance and provide your customer records as well.

That's also where I mentioned earlier about the customer insights. As you can see, it's in preview mode. We're going to request access to this one so we can test it, but that's the second methodology I use. I'm looking for an app to solve a problem, what's the problem? Where does that problem lie? In this case, it was a sales challenge that they were having. I came to the sales and marketing section and I start to search. Sometimes you can tell by the name of the app if it's a fit. Other times you just have to take your time to read through the description.

Those are the two most common methodologies I use whether I'm searching from Microsoft app or I'm trying to solve a problem. I look for the category. I personally don't use the industries category or search capability, but there is an industry one where if you're specific to the healthcare industry you can click on there and you'll see healthcare-related apps. I personally don't use this one. The third option I use is the keyword search. For example, my pet peeve, where's my email in Teams, why isn't there an email?

If I type in email and I just do a search, first of all, it'll search for workflows, and then after workflows will always come up first for some reason. Then eventually it'll show me apps. Let's see here if I can-- oh, there. I just had to expand apps. That's good to know. There's a category called Workflow, category called Apps. Workflow was expanded. I just clicked on Apps, and here's that TMail I found the other day. It's a custom app, but I did it by searching with the keyword.

GEORGE: There actually looks like there's more than when we had first looked at this.

SANTI: Yes. Except that if you read the descriptions, so some of these. For example, one is add an email to a Teams conversation. I can do that today.

GEORGE: Yes. We can do that.

SANTI: Or enable texting on your business phone. Okay, great but we have a solution for that as well that we provided with our calling solutions. The one that really seems to be a good fit for what I want to do which is read, receive, and compose emails inside of Teams is at TMail which we haven't tested it yet, but it's one of those things that, again, I found it by searching for a keyword. Again, three methodologies.

One is I go to the built-by-Microsoft apps. If I want to find a specific Microsoft-published app, I use categories. I specifically look for business categories. I don't use industries necessarily, but you could. Then the third is I just use a keyword and see what else. I drill down that way. That's how I do it. Let me just switch my screen back. George, where do you see apps in six months, a year from now? What do you envision?

GEORGE: A couple of things, I think there's two dynamics that'll take place. One, there's probably going to be a more standard way to integrate them in certain parts of Teams. I would suspect that you'll have some ability to drag things around or move things around to customize it for your own view and your own businesses purposes.

SANTI: Oh, like build a set of widgets where you create a dashboard with the apps you want when you want it. I like that idea.

GEORGE: On my left-hand column there.

SANTI: Listen to this podcast, Microsoft. We're getting good feedback here. All right, go ahead.

GEORGE: I think there's going to be a growing set of more industry-specific apps and technology and platform-related apps. The AI and the workflow capabilities that are available in Microsoft 365, and the Azure, and some other platforms within the Microsoft ecosystem are going to continue to expand as we go through time. We've talked about this repeatedly. There's a really rapid advancement in almost every single tool that's out there, especially the new AI and the process tools that they've put out. The wonderful thing about it is it seems like every day we go in and something new is there, or if there was something that wasn't working exactly right then all of a sudden it works.

I think you're going to continue to see that rapid advancement over the next year, and you're going to see this store really become more prominent so that anything you can think of is probably going to be there. Somebody's going to try to address the need. Part of that's driven by the fact now there's well north we believe of 400 million users on 365 globally. Roughly the numbers look like about 85% of that top-level user number are active Teams users, and it grows every day, every month, every quarter, every year. This is going to continue to grow and the ecosystem's going to continue to build.

Again, the points we've made in other podcasts it's a converged consolidated platform, whatever words you want to use. It's the ability to go into a single platform and do most of the work you need to do as a business professional. That makes such a tremendous difference from having to use one thing for video, and another thing for voice, and another thing for content development or slide development. The list goes on of the various components that people try to cobble together. That single platform it makes such a difference in the way you and I work and our team works.

That it's striking to when I joined two and a half years ago and we used Microsoft applications, the office suite, but at the time we're not on Teams, we're not on 365. Soon after I joined, we started testing it. It was probably three, four months in that we made a hard shift. I look at what we did before then and what we do now and take that convergence that has taken place, and plug in all these apps that are going to fill the gaps.

Think you're building a wall and you've got mortar to put in the wall. Sometimes there's a gap. This is next. Sometimes it's a brick and it's big, and sometimes it's just mortar to link everything together. I think that's where we're heading. I think the business impact of all of those AI and those process changes in all of those tools, plus all of these extra external pieces that plug an app in and plug another functionality in. I think we're going to look back a year from now and wonder how we operated today.

SANTI: It's true. I was actually thinking, not that I plan on going anywhere, but you imagine making a lateral move to some other organization. The first thing I'm thinking is, do they use Microsoft 365, do they use Teams, and are they allowed access to the Power Platform. Otherwise, I'd be like, "How am I going to get anything done? For sure. I like the concept of the ability to customize your view using different apps, in other words, like that widget concept. I really like that. I really do hope Microsoft figures that out.

That'd be great, where you can build your own dashboard with the specific apps that you want, whether it's tabulated or whatever the case may be. Then I do think that what we're going to see in the next, I'm going to say six months to a year, we're going to see 100% AI-driven apps where the apps are accomplishing, or they're prebuilt, or pre-configured AI modules. We talk about no code, no, this is pre-packaged AI modules. I could see that happening in the next-

GEORGE: That's the next step. If you think one of our first podcasts we spoke about-- it might have been the first one. We talked about an article I'd written in Forbes about you have pioneers, you have the Luddites, branch of pioneers who are really aggressively doing stuff. You have the Luddites who are at the bottom who are against all the AI and the mechanization of things.

You have that group in the middle that waits for it to happen to them. That's what's going to happen to that first. Their organization is going to make a decision to deploy a set of apps that are going to start to do things and recommend things much like Viva did for me the other day when it said, "Hey, you should start your virtual commute, it's the end of your day." It was 6 o'clock at night or 6:05.

SANTI: Time to wrap up.

GEORGE: Gave me a poke. I think that is really going to be a big element of what happens in the future that, again, it happens to you as a user, but it's your organization pushing you along to be more productive. The same token of things we've talked about before, the organization needs to decide to do some of these things, many of these things do not turn on by default. You saw it when you went into that app screen, some of them said request.

Not in every case, but in some of those cases it's because the org has excluded certain apps or certain categories of apps or specifically included them. Orgs need to really dive into this and understand the value add that comes out of these tools. To your point about experimentation, give your employees the opportunity within a certain set of boundaries.

SANTI: Of course, yes.

GEORGE: Experiment with new ways of doing work, some of the applications ways that they can streamline the business.

SANTI: Yes. I think now more than ever the old mantra of there's an app for that is absolutely true. [chuckles] You can find it right here within your Microsoft Teams environment. George, this brings our podcast to an end. I really do hope folks start to leverage more apps. Do not fear the app, dive on in and enjoy the ride. Remember to subscribe to Tech UNMUTED on your favorite podcast platform. You can also subscribe and follow us on YouTube so you don't miss the next episode. Until next time, remember this, stay connected.

CLOSING VOICEOVER: Visit www.fusionconnect.com/techunmuted for show notes and more episodes. Thanks for listening.

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Produced by: Fusion Connect

2023 TMCnet Best Tech Podcast award winner

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Tech UNMUTED, the podcast of modern collaboration, where we tell the stories of how collaboration tools enable businesses to be more efficient and connected. Humans have collaborated since the beginning of time – we’re wired to work together to solve complex problems, brainstorm novel solutions and build a connected community. On Tech UNMUTED, we’ll cover the latest industry trends and dive into real-world examples of how technology is inspiring businesses and communities to be more efficient and connected. Tune in to learn how today's table-stakes technologies are fostering a collaborative culture, serving as the anchor for exceptional customer service.

Get show notes, transcripts, and other details at www.fusionconnect.com/techUNMUTED. Tech UNMUTED is a production of Fusion Connect, LLC.