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How Acquiring Ally.io May Impact the Future of Microsoft Viva

In today’s episode of #O365 Hours, we’re joined by Office Apps & Services MVP Paul Keijzers to discuss the future of Microsoft Viva and how Microsoft’s acquisition of Ally.io will shape their Viva strategy going forward. Watch our discussion below or read the full transcript at your convenience!

Guest: Paul Keijzers, Co-Founder at KbWorks (visit his website here)

Questions Covered:

  • With Microsoft expanding their investments within the Microsoft Viva space and focusing more and more, seemingly, on the employee experience, what are your thoughts on Viva and its future?
  • For people who may not be familiar with Microsoft’s acquisition of Ally.io, maybe you can explain what it is they do, and how it fits into the Viva strategy.
  • What is the impact of Ally.io? How important is it for companies to have shared KPIs and commitments?
  • Where do you think Microsoft is going with Viva? I know this is pure speculation, but looking at the portfolio of solutions, are there areas where you could see Microsoft investing in the future?

Transcript

Christian Buckley: Hello and welcome to another #Office365Hours. My name is Christian Buckley, and I’m the Microsoft Go-To-Market Director at AvePoint and a Microsoft MVP and Regional Director. And I’m joined today by Paul Keijzers, co-owner of KB Works based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He’s also an Office Apps and Services MVP friend that I’ve known for many years now and a long-time speaker and expert on the topics of Microsoft Teams in SharePoint. Good morning, Paul.

Paul Keijzers: Good morning. How are you? <Laugh>

CB: It’s great to have you join the program here. And so today we’re discussing the topic of Microsoft Viva and Ally.io. I’m excited to dig into this topic and learn some more about it! So why don’t we just kick things off there? Microsoft is expanding their investments around the Microsoft Viva space, focusing more and more seemingly on the employee experience. We hear that a lot from Microsoft. In fact, just about any presentation you sit through by Microsoft, they use that phrase “employee experience,” which is part of every popular drinking game now. What are your thoughts on Microsoft Viva and its future?

PK: Well, first of all, my thoughts on Microsoft Viva are that it’s a great product and it’s a great add-on to have in your organization. But what do we have at the moment? At the moment we have four products in Viva. We’ve got Viva Insights, Viva topics, Viva Connections, and Viva learning. And the other one is coming, which is called Ally at the moment. I think they are going to rename it, but—

CB: I think so too, yeah.

PK: —it’s going to be interesting. But with those products I know that a lot of people already get their Viva insight newsletter and some people think it’s really annoying that they get a newsletter every day or every week. So there’s a lot of education to be done there as well. But a lot of companies don’t even have the Viva suite enabled yet, so we see that as well. And yeah, if we look at the items, Viva Connections is one of the most obvious ones that I see. It’s easy to recommend to everyone because it’s free at the moment.

CB: Connections was something that people had been asking for for a long time as Teams adoption was on the rise about two and a half, three years into its lifespan. People said, you know, it’d be great to have a SharePoint homepage, since some like to use it more as a site. And so initially it was called the SharePoint homepage as it was being built. And we heard about it and talked about it and then Microsoft made the decision and said, you know, this really belongs within the Viva family of solutions and re-christened it as Connections.

PK: Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned it as the button in Teams, but it’s more than only the button and most people don’t even realize that; if organizations add Viva Connections, the IT departments often think it’s just the internet in Teams and that’s it. But Viva Connections is way more. It also has it it’s in there it’s connections dashboard, which a lot of people don’t even know that it exists. So there’s enough to be done around that, to get people to learn more about the Fifi experience. Yeah.

CB: Well, and that, that’s something that’s important too. And I think as organizations adopt different pieces…because you had some companies that were very SharePoint centric, intranet centric, and then of course, Teams adoption outpaced the growth of Office 365, which outpaced the growth of SharePoint, which had been the, the fastest growing product in Microsoft’s history. So, with Teams, a lot of organizations have been saying like, “Well, do we need to have a formal intranet?” And a lot of companies, my own included, said, “Yeah, we still need to have our standalone and intranet and make sense.” Here’s the scenarios for this. We also used Yammer. So it also made sense for us to have the social community aspect of that, but we wanted tighter integration between the things and that’s part of what Viva brings is that closer integration of the various solutions.

PK: Absolutely. And what you see is that a lot of the Viva products come together within Microsoft teams. So, Teams is really becoming this hub for teamwork (which it has been already for a long time).

CB: Yeah. And we all, we all mocked Microsoft for that, that branding too, but it’s really true. That’s what it’s become. It’s become that place where we go for all of those different things while still utilizing those other services.

PK: Yeah, absolutely. So. And if you, once you start with the Viva experience and all the other products, you get to know more the product and you think, okay, this is really nice to have in my office 365 environment. And I think the most difficult is that the Viva suite itself is an extra add on and a lot of companies think of, okay, this is going to be a cost for my budget on my on my licenses. So how does this work? And to be a honest, it’s still not clear to me, myself. But I think it’s a great add on, let’s say it that way.

CB: Yeah. And I know that’s something that we want, we’re not going to get into licensing and all those things here. But if you think about again, what’s free, what’s out of the box as part of the experience with Viva, you have Connect, you have as part of the Insights you have, what was formally like the Cortana services. So that’s where you were saying, like, I get the daily emails. I love getting those formally branded Cortana now Viva insights, those emails, because I’ll look at that and it’s doing the kind of the AI scraping of the email and it will, it will almost every day, there’s something that it identifies like, Hey, you said you would follow up on this. Is it still a task? Is it something that needs to be done or this other request came in? There’s always something on the list. There is like, yes, it’s done. And I thank you for the reminder, mark is done close out the email or be like my oh, crap moment. I need to add that to my task list. My to-dos. And so it’s great to have that follow up.

PK: Yeah, absolutely. I think for me, personal, it’s really great. The only thing, what I see is with larger corporate and with banking and that kind of stuff that people get the feeling they are being watched, so you need to be very communicative about what Viva Insights is to bring the people up to speed and that they really get the most out of the product and they just do not delete the product or at least delete the meals.

CB: You know, that’s a great topic for another day, because we can go in depth into like, what are the security settings? What is Microsoft? What can Microsoft see? What can administrators see? What do end users have control over kind of all those aspects. I think it’s an important topic that we need to focus on, but let’s, let’s change kind of, let’s go, let’s talk about the new kit on the block here. So for people that may not be familiar, Microsoft recently acquired ally.io. And so maybe you can explain what it is that they do and how all of that fits into the Viva strategy.

PK: Yes. What they do is they make it possible to have your key indicators into an app and they can help you get your goals done get your work done, but not only on an individual base, but also on a Teams base. So how is your progress going? Are you still on time or do you, have you already followed that training that that was assigned to you? All that kind of stuff is coming back into ally and you can see which indicators and you can also integrate it with power BI because it’s Microsoft from itself. So it’s really nice to have a dashboard that on that as well.

CB: You know, I’ve not yet talked to somebody who was an ally IO customer prior to the acquisition. And so I, and, and I know also Microsoft is being very tightly about their, their progress being made. I’m sure there are partners that are out there and maybe even my company, there’s somebody that’s on over on the engineering team. That’s part of some super-secret, you know, beta that’s, that’s going on. Like I’m just not privy to that information. I’m not aware of any other detail that’s been given out to like as part of the NDA discussions or, or anything there, but, you know I mean, I, I’m excited about this, this capability just because I’m, I’m kind of a leadership development junkie. I mean, I, I really am passionate about just that the broader concept of having shared commitments. If, if we’re on a project team, you and I should be in lockstep and know what, what we’re trying to achieve, the steps that are necessary to get there and our progress that are, are against the tasks to achieve each of those steps.

CB: So we should be able to have that regular conversation. I come from a project management background. That’s just kind of the way that I think, and I work that, that way, break it up into those, you know, consumable chunks as we, you know, build our way through that work breakdown structure. That’s kind of what, you know, ally IO does, which is provide what are the company goals, how that breaks down into business unit and divisional goals down into the sub teams down to individuals so that you know, what you are doing and how you are working towards delivering those top level, you know, companywide goals. And then as you point out having the metrics, having the alignment, the reminders through the AI capabilities. So that’s the old, the Cortana type features, the email reminders and those kinds of things. That’s incredibly powerful. Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. Why didn’t we have this before? <Laugh>

PK: This is exactly what I mean with Viva, it’s going to expand more and more. We will see more and more around productivity tuning. So yeah, absolutely. And I think you really have to see the movie of ignite what they presented on ally to get a real vision of what’s coming. Because I think it’s, it’s going to break some boundaries inside companies as well, because we are used to have application every time from a different vendor from like third parties. And now it starts coming together all where you only have one vendor in this case, Microsoft for all those experiences. And if we look on the roadmap, I think there’s going to be more and more around Viva.

CB: Well, this is, I mean, why this is such a, a, a for people to understand the scope. It’s not just like the Microsoft just thinking, oh, let’s web go create some new products that are out there, largely Viva and the four offerings. And there’s a lot of new capabilities and things that are within that, but really just kind of a repackaging of other existing solutions into this employee experience, platform focus. But it was, that was, it was a huge you know, undertaking of Microsoft to say, it’s not just going to be about enabling collaboration and communication. And for us to work together as a team, we Viva’s all about looking at, are we working the right way? Is it a healthy way of, of working? Is it sustainable? You know, yes, we’re productive. Yes, we’re efficient, but we’re burning people out at a fast pace.

CB: How do we make sure that we can maintain this level of high efficiency, high productivity, and that people can be happy in their work? And that’s where I point to you like this, this just seems like an obvious move to acquire a company like ally or, or build their own solution. We’re working on that. We can, we can see all these shared activities. We’re, we’re part of a rapidly growing number of teams and channels. And, and, and we both hear all the time. I’m sure you hear you know, people that are frustrated, which is the volume of, of noise that’s coming out of, you know, the, the conversations and the project activities and tasks and all these things that are happening. And it’s easy to then lose focus on what should we be working on, where are we actually making progress? And so this is a critical piece I’ve in my view to this Viva strat.

PK: Absolutely. And we didn’t talk in the beginning about that, but Viva is of course released just, just like a, a year, something like that. Right. and it’s game after we all had to go work remotely, right. So there us already, of course, they already knew something was coming like this. And now there was the time exactly right. To bring out the Viva product suite.

CB: Think, well, general availability of all four Viva solutions that are available to, like, that was just one of the ignite. So this just in the fall, so that we had seen different pieces at different speeds coming together. And I mentioned like you know, SharePoint the, the homepages was something we’ve talked about for a couple years, and then it got rebranded and rolled into Viva. But yeah, so there’s, we’ve known about aspects of, of this, but the strategy has really just come together. And I, I think I, I think 20, 22, I don’t think I’m over representing this, but I think it really is kind of the year of Viva where we see people really starting to click and people understanding how big this really is.

PK: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think it’s, it’s just starring actually. And you know, what’s really important is to have your IT organization know what’s coming, but also the adoption around the whole Viva suite. How are you going to use it? And why is this side thing pointing me to that? I need some focus time, which is good, but some people think I have to work, work, work, and sometimes you have to switch to focus, time to get more productive than just go on and on. So the burnout rate is really important.

CB: <Laugh> That’s another, like we could dedicate an entire topic just around burnout and strategies around that. But where do you think that Microsoft is going with Viva? I know this is, I’m asking you for pure speculation here. So this is we’re not breaking any NDAs or anything. So, any Microsoft people watching don’t freak out. But looking at the portfolio solutions, Paul, I mean, I have to believe that you have some thoughts about where they should go. So, are there areas where you could see Microsoft investing in the future around Viva?

PK: Yes. I think as we know, Viva is all about the employee experience. So what I could think of, and I don’t know if it’s coming or what is going to happen, but, you know, for example they are at the mileage app. I don’t know if you have seen it in the past. I could imagine that you would get a Viva app for your expenses for your off time all that kind of stuff, which is around the person, which is important for the person will come to Viva, I guess. It would be logical the same goes for HR that they can do something for you that for example, that your welcome package is there, or something like that, your onboarding stuff like that. I think it’s all about the employee. So if you think about something like mileage or like time off expenses.

CB: Time off requests, vacation requests. Yeah. And I know that there’s been from time to time, different platforms, certainly within SharePoint. And there have been modules that have been kind of community created and shared around that are out there. And I know that there are some third party solutions out there, around there as well. And so some of these things, Microsoft will, you know, I I’m sure will, will acquire or build themselves or, or partner with. And you’ll just have these other partner solutions that can plug directly into and leverage all these aspects. We’re still waiting. I work for an ISV. We’re still waiting for the APIs to open up in a number of areas. So that’s always there. There’s always going to be requests for more data, more deeper integration.

PK: Yeah. And I think that’s really still the hardest part I already mentioned it, but it’s an add on the Viva suite to your office 365 license. And you first need to convince your manager, your Mt to buy the li extra license that they don’t know what the extra license does for them. So, I think that’s going to be an interesting topic to see and follow up in the upcoming year, if people are willing to go on and pay for the extra mile.

CB: Yeah. So, well, will ally require whatever they name that product in Viva? Will it require your E3? Do you need to have an E5? We don’t know the answers to any of those questions yet. But in how integrated it’ll truly be into the other offerings I’m excited to find out more when they’re making their next announce. I know the timeframe for this I’m. I need to go back and, and rewatch some of those sessions as part of Microsoft ignite fall 2021. So learn more there. Well, Paul, you know, thank you for joining me this morning. It’s an interesting topic. I’m sure we’ll be back once. There’s more, that’s announced at live and that’s out there. And of course, you find, you know, content guest posts from, from Paul out on the AvePoint blog. And if you’ve not already done, so please subscribe to the office 365 hours. It just means that you’ll get notifications of our shows, which are broadcast on the first and third, Wednesday of every month at 11:00 AM Eastern. So thank you everybody for watching and, and thanks again, Paul for participating.

PK: Thank you.


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Christian Buckley
Christian Buckleyhttp://buckleyplanet.com
An Office Apps & Services MVP, Microsoft Regional Director, and the Brand Alliance Director at AvePoint, Christian Buckley is an internationally recognized author and speaker and runs the community-focused CollabTalk blog, podcast, and tweetjam series.

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