Microsoft updates Teams for manufacturing

Microsoft has launched an app that lets manufacturing workers do more of their jobs in Teams. This is the company’s latest attempt to expand its collaboration offering for assembly line workers.

The new app, called Updates in Microsoft Teams, became available this week as part of a list of Teams features for manufacturing needs. The company also extended Teams’ walkie-talkie capability to more mobile devices, tied Teams to scheduling software, and also expanded the Approvals in Microsoft Teams tool.

The Updates app allows companies to create forms in Teams for tasks such as employee registration and maintenance requests. The app includes templates for common form types, although managers can also create them from scratch. Managers can choose whether certain items are optional or required; whether the questions are multiple-choice or open-ended; and if they ask a worker to add a file, image or video to fill out the form.

In a video demonstrating the feature, Microsoft showed a case where a manager used the updates to create a checklist for a security inspection of corporate facilities. The app distributed the checklist to workers and provided real-time updates to the supervisor as employees completed the forms.

Businesses can also integrate the Teams Approvals tool into their own apps. Approvals allow employees to submit and managers to approve proposals and expense reports in Teams. Through integration, companies can add this functionality to software built in Microsoft Power Apps. This feature will be available in preview this summer, according to Microsoft.

Teams is also connected to the Workforce Management scheduling product from software company Blue Yonder. The integration uses Teams’ built-in tool, Shifts, to let employees view their schedules and request time off from the collaboration app.

The ability to share updates, request approvals and manage scheduling will make Teams a better tool for manufacturing workers, said Irwin Lazar, principal analyst at Metrigy, a research and consulting firm. These capabilities reflect an evolution of collaboration products from messaging tools to a hub for work, he said.

Microsoft has opened up Teams’ walkie-talkie feature to rugged devices from France-based manufacturer Crosscall. With this feature, employees press a dedicated button to talk to their colleagues in Teams over WiFi or mobile internet. Microsoft released the feature on Crosscall’s Core-X4, Core-M5, Action-X5 and Core-X5 smartphones and Core T5 tablet.

Earlier this year, Microsoft brought Teams walkie-talkie functionality to Zebra Technologies mobile devices, as well as iPhones and iPads. The feature also works on devices from Samsung, Sonim Technologies, and Kyocera.

Teams could be helpful in manufacturing by speeding up training time and connecting employees to experts for help, said Raul Castanon, an analyst at 451 Research. Teams could complement Microsoft’s augmented reality and artificial intelligence technology to attract manufacturers. According to 451 Research’s Voice of the Enterprise survey of IoT technology, 86% of manufacturers said collaboration tools had a high or medium impact on operational efficiency.

“Given the various assets in its arsenal…Microsoft is well positioned to respond [manufacturing] use case,” Castanon said.

Several vendors have created collaborative products focused on manufacturing and other frontline workers. Workforce management platforms Beekeeper and Webalo, for example, have scheduling and digital forms creation features similar to Microsoft’s new features.

Mike Gleason is a journalist specializing in unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the Massachusetts MetroWest region for the Milford Daily News, Walpole time, Sharon’s lawyer and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as local editor of Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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