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Microsoft targets frontline workers with Teams walkie-talkie feature

Microsoft has added new features aimed at frontline workers that use its Teams workstream collaboration app, including a new “walkie-talkie” feature. 

With 200 million monthly active users on Office 365, Microsoft has been expanding its focus on  workers in the hospitality, manufacturing and retail industries. Many such employees have been underserved by IT in the past, the company argued, even though they’re the first point of contact with customers or products. 

Microsoft and others such as Google and Facebook, with its Workplace enterprise social network, see a lucrative – and relatively untapped market – in frontline workers. Microsoft notes there are some two billion people worldwide now in service- or task-oriented roles.

A raft of updates to Teams, Microsoft’s Office 365 collaboration app, arrived last week. Among them is the walkie-talkie feature, which is built into the Teams mobile app and lets users begin a conversation with a coworker at the push of a button or broadcast an audio message just as they’d do on an analog device. 

Unlike traditional walkie-talkies, there is no risk of cross-talk or eavesdropping by outsiders, Microsoft said in a statement. As it relies Wi-Fi or cellular data, the feature can be used across different geographic locations, too. The feature, available in preview “in the first half of this year,” is designed to reduce the number of devices workers carry and cut IT costs. 

The push-to-talk (PTT) function will be integrated into Samsung’s Galaxy XCover Pro, a ruggedized smartphone aimed at enterprise use and unveiled at the end of the CES trade show on Sunday. The XCover Pro features two programmable buttons users can press to activate the voice option in Teams.  

“Microsoft and Samsung have a deep history of bringing together the best hardware and software to help solve our customers’ challenges,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. “The powerful combination of Microsoft Teams and the new Galaxy XCover Pro builds on this partnership and will provide firstline workers everywhere with the technology they need to be more collaborative, productive and secure.” 

The push to talk option should help Microsoft as it targets frontline workers with its products, said Raúl Castañón-Martínez, a senior analyst at 451 Research.

“These workers have typically been outside the scope of IT and business communications, but are becoming increasingly relevant for digital transformation initiatives,” he said. “The addition of PTT in Teams is particularly relevant because in many cases, frontline workers can benefit from a ‘heads up, hands free’ approach to mobile communications.”

Other features announced by Microsoft include integration with Microsoft Tasks in Teams,; integration with third-party work management platforms from Kronos and JDA; and identity and management features such as SMS sign-in using one-time codes sent to a smartphone; delegated user management; and shared device sign-out.

This is not the first time Microsoft has offered Teams features for frontline workers. A year ago, the company added location sharing, the ability to record and share audio messages, and a camera module with image annotation. It has also folded in functionality aimed at frontline workers from separate services, including shift management tool StaffHub and WhatsApp-like communications app Kaizala.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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Atlassian targets agile development at scale with Jira Align

Following its acquisition of software vendor AgileCraft for around $166 million last month, Atlassian today launched Jira Align to help companies manage agile software development projects at scale.

AgileCraft, founded in 2013, connects agile teams with the wider business, giving executives an overview of project progress and potential bottlenecks. The application was already used in with Atlassian tools by various customers, including AT&T, TIAA and Duke Energy. AgileCraft supports a range of scaled agile frameworks, including SAFe, LeSS and Spotify. 

The acquisition was completed last week; AgileCraft has now been included in Atlassian’s Jira portfolio of products.

Cameron Deatsch, head of server business at Atlassian, said Jira Align is designed to support enterprises that have shifted from rigid waterfall development to more flexible agile processes, but need to give business leaders a clear view of large-scale projects under way. 

“There are a lot of benefits [with agile development]: it allows enterprises to be more nimble, to respond quickly to pressure and change to their roadmaps as needed based on customer demands,” he said. “But one thing that we have lost through that transformation is the certainty, the visibility and the clarity across an organization of when deadlines will be hit, and when capabilities will be available for customers. Agile simply just doesn’t work that way. And that is a big challenge, especially for these very large organizations that need to be more nimble.

“Our biggest customers were looking for guidance for how to scale all of this agile development goodness across thousands of people,” Deatsch said. “That is actually exactly what AgileCraft does.”

As an example, Deatsch said a large bank could be building a new mobile app, an effort that could involve large numbers of developers working on individual, but related, projects – from building a front-end UI to back-end transactions systems. 

As well as highlighting the project roadmap to business senior IT leaders, Jira Align lets developers see how their work fits into the bigger picture. “The benefit is not only for the execs with top-down visibility, but also the bottom-up view,” said Deatsch. “So developers and development organizations, designers and product managers see how their work is affecting the broader company goals.” 

Although there is overlap with Atlassian’s existing project management tool, Portfolio for Jira, Deatsch said that software is more suited to small- to mid-sized businesses, whereas Jira Align is targeted at its “1,000 largest customers.” Atlassian has more than 138,000 customers, according to its most recent financial results. 

“If you are one of our biggest customers and have more than 500 developers, AgileCraft is going to be the platform for you to use with Jira,” Deatsch said.

Thomas Murphy, a research director at Gartner, said Jira Align helps fill a “gap in the communication” with the C-Suite, project management office and others outside of development.

“AgileCraft provides support for what we call Enterprise Agile – this is how a company extends agile practices beyond teams … to the enterprise: strategic directions, flow of value, support for managing large initiatives that may coordinate many teams beyond just the product team: marketing, legal, etc.,” he said.

“So yes, it helps [Atlassian] expand their footprint to more roles, it helps them take a leadership position in support for enterprise agile (and the associated frameworks such as SAFe),” he said. “It also helps continue to drive diversification for Atlassian of their offerings going from low-price/low-touch to higher-priced/full-service.”

The AgileCraft acquisition follows the buy-out of OpsGenie for $295 million last year, and Trello for $425 million in 2017. Trello also acquired automation tool Butler last year, and has since integrated the functionality into its platform. 

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