EP 22: Unleashing the Power of Integration: Microsoft 365 vs. Standalone Platforms

Why Microsoft's Integrated Approach Reigns Supreme

In this episode of Tech UNMUTED, hosts George Schoenstein and Santi Cuellar dive deep into the world of collaboration platforms. They compare the modular approach of standalone platforms like Zoom, WebEx, and Slack with Microsoft 365's fully integrated ecosystem.

Discover why integration matters and how it can supercharge productivity, streamline communication, and offer a universe of possibilities. From AI-powered automation to low-code app development, explore the incredible potential that Microsoft Teams and the Microsoft 365 universe bring to the table. Don't miss out on this insightful conversation. Subscribe now and stay connected.

Watch & Listen

Tech UNMUTED is on YouTube
Catch up with new episodes or hear from our archive. Explore and subscribe!

Transcript for this Episode:

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 take a look at a modular approach to building out collaboration platforms versus an integrated approach. This is really, think about the Microsoft 365 platform that we talk about a lot on the podcast, which is a pretty much fully integrated platform with everything from the collaboration suite all the way through AI elements, process elements, all kinds of other things we've talked about quite frequently versus standalone or mostly standalone platforms like Zoom or WebEx or Slack, for example-

SANTI: Slack, yes.

GEORGE: -that can be integrated with other platforms.

SANTI: Sure.

GEORGE: From a technology infrastructure standpoint, that requires more work and you're then buying services from multiple vendors. There is some breaks in that integration. I thought today we'd talk a little bit about why we like the integrated approach that Microsoft's taken and some of the elements that really work for us as a team to make us much more productive and why that integration really matters and makes communication seamless.

SANTI: You go first. Why do you like Microsoft Teams?

GEORGE: It is clearly that full integration. To a great extent, I spend my time in Teams. I use email, but I use email less frequently than I used to. I have the ability within Teams to natively collaborate on documents, on workflows, to both collaborate inside and outside of our organization. That happens in a couple of ways. I can natively interact with the Microsoft Team that we work with in Teams, as if they're a member of my team on chat, as an example.

Plus, our own integrated solution around calling services, I have the ability to place phone calls and also do texting within the Teams application, which opens it up to folks outside of the organization who might not be on Teams. It's that collaborative nature and the ability to take things, to move them between modalities effectively, to move from an email conversation into a Teams chat-

SANTI: Chat, sure.

GEORGE: -and eliminate that email flow in the box. A great example is I was on vacation a couple of weeks ago. I was out for two weeks. I pretty much didn't check in.

SANTI: Congratulations, by the way, on the vacation.

GEORGE: Yes, thanks.

SANTI: That sounds so nice.


SANTI: Welcome back.

GEORGE: Having the ability to go away, and we had some deliberate discussions beforehand, only loop me in things on an email that I really need to be on. When I came back, I didn't have a ton of emails. It was pretty good. Part of it was the Team over time has moved to chat.

SANTI: Correct.

GEORGE: I did have a fair number of chat messages in Teams, but I was able to see the totality of the message in an individual stream. I was able to then look at some things in email that were email based. I needed to do that as well. Having all that collaboration in one space and being able to link out the documents and that kind of thing and see where that document started and why it ended up at the point that it ended up was a tremendous time savings for me coming back.

I got back on a Saturday night. I got up Sunday morning. I pretty much cleared everything out in about three or four hours, except for a couple of stray things that needed a little bit more attention. If we were purely on email, I could have easily had thousands of emails. That integrated nature allowed both of those modes of communication to exist. We work collaboratively. We leverage this platform for all kinds of stuff.

SANTI: We do.

GEORGE: [unintelligible 00:04:45] is that bespoke approach of let me buy maybe things that people think are best in class and try to integrate them together or buy a single platform that has clearly best in class elements. Maybe every piece isn't best in class, but they're from really good to best in class, and pre-integrated for you.

SANTI: Before I answer that, I just wanted to reiterate something you said about calling services. A lot of people actually don't know this. I think it's a good opportunity to explain what that is. Because most people think of Microsoft Teams and are like, "Yes, it's an instant messaging platform. I can instant message with my co-worker." Yes, you can do that. You could probably even instant message with somebody outside your organization if they have Teams as well.

That's not what we're referring to. What we're referring to when George says calling services is Teams has the ability to be connected to a Microsoft PBX for a lack of a better term which is basically a private branch exchange. It's a phone system. From inside of Teams, a person can now make an outbound call, an actual phone call. That could be calling a customer, that could be calling a colleague who's on the road on their cell phone. You do that inside Teams. In essence, you can replace a traditional phone system with, well, Microsoft Teams, right?

GEORGE: Yet another integrated element, right? We see that-

SANTI: Another integrated element.

GEORGE: When we were talking right before this call, we see that in the availability of apps.

SANTI: Absolutely.

GEORGE: A hundred thousand, I don't know what's in there. There's a lot.

SANTI: Whatever it is, yes. Yes. You also mentioned SMS, and so I want to make sure I clarify that because if you can get Microsoft Teams to make phone calls, the next natural progression is, well, what if my customer likes to use SMS and I want to send a text? Do I have to do that from my personal phone? No. You do it inside of Teams using your business phone number which is beautiful. Listen, that's the stuff that excites me. When you think about all these little possibilities that revolve around Teams.

To answer your question, everything you said, I agree with. Everything from the automation to making workflows easier, the almost elimination of emails it's a great thing. What excites me when I hear about the Microsoft approach is really what I call, because I don't know how else to refer to this, but I think of the entire Microsoft universe. Microsoft has an entire universe that they have built that is behind Teams. When you really take a step back and you look at how much there is out there, how many platforms, how many services, how many integrations, and then when you loop in there, the AI aspects of Azure, there's no stopping what you can do. That's what excites me.

GEORGE: Multiple layers, right?

SANTI: Absolutely.

GEORGE: The difference I see versus even some other platforms, if you look at G Suite as an example. The developer type of applications are good across a number of platforms. It's on AWS, it's on Microsoft's platform, the Azure piece and some other elements, it's on some of the Google stuff. It's that front-end piece that's exposed to individual users, so end users like we effectively are. That ability gets better every day from a Microsoft standpoint. It's all exposed. It's low code, no code. Just about any user can go in there and actually use it. You don't need to be a power user.

SANTI: You don't.

GEORGE: Even an IT person. You can create workflows that impact what you do every day and make you more efficient. Again, fully integrated with the platform. We talked about it before. We have an AI bot that analyzes emails that get kicked back from-

SANTI: Automatic responses.

GEORGE: Exactly. They get kicked back when we send newsletters out. We get hundreds of those. We tried to parse through them. It's a time-consuming process to do it. Now we have the bot parsing through those looking for something other than an out of office response and then also giving a sentiment. Is it somebody who's happy with something that happened? Is it somebody who's angry with something that happened or whatever? It gives us almost a real time ability then to respond back to that. I was on somebody else's podcast yesterday and the same topic came up. All of these things have an element typically that go to CX.

It's either the experience of your employees has changed or the experience of your clients and customers has changed. In that example, getting back to somebody five minutes after the message gets sent back is a very different experience than over a day somebody tries to go through 300, 400 kickback emails, and then they get back to them a day later. They're a little annoyed a day later, but if you get back immediately, they're much happier and, again, all fully integrated and presented in Teams. Those bots, most of the ones that we've built, and it's really you, Santi, have built that-


GEORGE: -they integrate back into Teams, and they present the data back into teams. You're not getting a laundry list of emails of updates. You're getting something in a Teams channel that you then go into and you know that you need to typically take some action. Some of the things we do are information based, but typically they're things that are driving to an action.

SANTI: Yes, and George, I'll take it to the next level. App development. App development and for Microsoft Teams is very low code. You can take an average person. In fact, the development portal for Teams is available to your end users. An average person can say, "Listen, I could use an app inside Teams that does X, Y, and Z," and they can develop a very low code platform. Most things can probably have an app that goes into a team environment and it makes it easier to your point for the end user to then say, "I'm going to use Teams as my central hub. This is where I'm going to launch that application. I'm going to work in here now instead of having two or three Windows opened, whatever the case may be."

Now even the ease of that, to be able to create an app, they have Power Apps, you have Power Automate, you have Power Virtual Agent, you have Power BI. Power BI is mind blowing if you really take time to learn how to-- By the way, you don't have to be an expert in reporting in databases. They have so many templates. Speaking of Teams, they already have canned BI reports for Teams. You don't have to create a lot of times these things. They already exist. That's--

GEORGE: Again, the key on that is you don't have to pull an API in, you're not anchoring on a separate data set that in most cases might require a separate login. There are some--

SANTI: Finding a connector or something to connect to a third party.

GEORGE: Exactly.

SANTI: This is part of the ecosystem. That's what I'm saying. That's what excites me. When I think of Microsoft Teams, I'm not thinking, "Oh, yes, Teams, I chat. Oh, yes. Now I can make phone calls." No, I think of the Microsoft universe behind it, because that is where the excitement comes in. There is so much technology that Microsoft is involved with that's behind Teams. A lot of that stuff helps enhance your experience with Teams. A lot of that stuff helps you expand beyond teams. That's what I think about. I agree with everything you said, but my mind goes elsewhere. It's like, "Man, what possibilities do I have?" There's a lot of possibilities right now.

GEORGE: Again, the thing that's different there is, there's a lot of those backend developer type things across multiple platforms. Those are more difficult to use. This is exposing a layer of data analytics and data connectivity and workflow building to an average end user.

SANTI: That's correct.

GEORGE: Literally, anybody in an organization with a 365 license has the ability to go in and use these tools, and it doesn't require some significant level of expertise. It requires effort and learning-

SANTI: Oh, sure.

GEORGE: -and leaning in.

SANTI: You have to learn, yes, for sure. There's a learning curve. I don't want people to think, "Oh, you can just go in there." It is mostly intuitive, but like anything else, there's nuances to everything you do. Here's the good news though. Microsoft, they do two things very well. They document very well. If you have a question, you can find the answer, but they also have excellent training modules for the end user, for the admin person, for the technologist.

They're there and they're free. You go into these apps and they actually link directly to an entire learning library. Yes, you invest some time to take some courses, but man, the aha moments that you're going to have when you're in there, like, "Oh, you can do that?" Next thing you know you're doing it, and you're creating a new app or a new flow. Yes, I don't want people to think it's-- That's why I hate the term No Code. There's always code, and it is low code. It is mostly intuitive. There are nuances, but if you take the training modules, you will learn.

GEORGE: Again, the power that is, "We're not integrating together a collaboration piece with a document management piece, with a document creation piece. We don't have IT on the backend trying to glue all those things together." They are natively there and integrated.

SANTI: They keep upgrading and they keep adding.

GEORGE: They keep upgrading. It's every day there's something that I--

SANTI: I can't keep up with them. It's like we're--

GEORGE: We periodically go back in on stuff. We are not using currently, at least Santi and I aren't, the newest version of Teams. There's a beta version that's out there that we can use. We periodically go in and test. There's one or two things we don't like the way they work, so we haven't been using it yet. Same thing on Outlook. There's a beta version of Outlook. Every once in a while, I go in and play with that. There's one or two things that exist in the current live version that aren't in that beta version, so we're not using it. Every time you go back in, there is something new and something that's changed, right?


GEORGE: Sometimes you need to read the notes, right?


GEORGE: See where they're at and what's changed.

SANTI: Sure.

GEORGE: Other times, we got a couple little hot buttons. We look at stuff and we're like, "Okay, that thing's still not exactly the way we want it to be," but there are other advancements in it.

SANTI: There are other advancements. There's always changes. Microsoft does a great job at documentation. They have a website. You can just Google Microsoft 365 Roadmap. They have--

GEORGE: You should Bing that, right? Not Google.

SANTI: Yes. Bing it. You should Bing, absolutely, the Microsoft 365 Roadmap. Every aspect of Microsoft 365, they break it down by product. You can actually see what's on the horizon, what's coming, what's in preview mode, what is the general availability date for things. If you're an IT admin and you manage the Microsoft 365 environment, it's easy to stay on top of things and actually plan and prepare for some stuff that's coming out if you just look at the roadmap. That's what I do. I visit the roadmap at least once a month just to see, "Oh, that's right. This is coming up next month. We have to align to that," or whatever the case may be.

Here's the thing about these podcasts, George. There's not enough time. I enjoy this stuff. This is my passion. I love talking about technology. I just love to see how AI is being infused in everything we do. How workflow automation and processes are now in the hands of the end user. You had to outsource this stuff to an entire professional engagement entity to get stuff done. Now it's at your fingertips. We do have to bring this podcast to an end, don't we?

George, welcome back. It's good to have you. I'm glad you got some time off. I have some time off coming up soon, I can't wait, but until next time folks, remember this, you need to subscribe to this podcast [on YouTube] because it's one of the best podcasts you're going to listen to, and you need to just do it. As you're listening to me close out here, go hit that subscribe button. You can do it on YouTube. You can do it on your favorite podcast platform. We're on all of them, so you can find us. Until next time, as we like to say around here, stay connected.

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

Episode Credits:

Produced by: Fusion Connect

2023 TMCnet Best Tech Podcast award winner

Expert insights, exclusive content, and the latest updates on Microsoft products and services - direct to your inbox. Subscribe to Tech ROUNDUP!

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.