I hope you are doing well, as we all adjust to a different style of work. Three months in and we’re all starting to become a bit more familiar with working from home, or possibly living at work. Microsoft Teams has enabled us all to stay connected, to keep in contact with each other and to continue to collaborate on projects. For many businesses however, there are some systems which don’t work well off the corporate network, if at all. Getting access to those can be challenging now, and impact productivity.
Even before our enforced period of remote working started, making users switch from their collaboration space – Microsoft Teams – and into another system just to find a specific piece of information or action an item, took time and effort. Wouldn’t it be better if those systems could be integrated into Microsoft Teams and form part of the conversation users are already having?
The good news is that this is all possible today! Microsoft Teams has a rich development platform to enable integration with other systems. Whether you are a developer or not, there are things you can do today to bring your line of business applications into Microsoft Teams and make your users more productive.
Tip 1 – PowerShell Cards
This is for the IT Admins, who right now are struggling to keep track of what is running where, what’s stopped working and which legacy line of business applications are critical to keeping the business operational. If you’re one of these people, likely you have PowerShell scripts performing scheduled tasks or responding to events. Using a simple piece of PowerShell code, you can notify yourself and others about progress or errors in Microsoft Teams. By creating a custom connector in Microsoft Teams and then calling the URL provided with a JSON body, you can send well-formatted Cards to a specific Teams channel. This is a 15-minute task which can bring visibility to back-end processes and act as an early-warning system of any problems. Sample code at: bit.ly/cardsfrompowershell
Tip 2 – QnA Maker
QnA Maker is a no-code way to build simple but powerful QnA bots which can answer user questions. Simply provide information from an existing FAQ document, website, spreadsheet or product manual and QnA Maker will analyse it to create a knowledge base of question-answer pairs. Then, it will apply natural language processing to that knowledge base so that when users ask a question, even if it isn’t worded exactly right, they still get the correct answer. There’s no coding required, and you can be up and running in half a day. Use QnA Maker for policies, protocols, instructions, how-tos and common customer questions. If you want to take it further you can add multi-turn conversations and improve the model by analyzing how it’s used, via the web portal. Find out more at qnamaker.ai.
Tip 3 – Bot Framework Composer
I’m a big fan of the Bot Framework to easily build bots that can then be accessed from multiple places, including Microsoft Teams. Bots make the perfect interface to legacy line of business applications which don’t work on the web or on mobile. With a bot that can enable users to interact with those applications to complete tasks, suddenly your legacy application is securely accessible in Teams, on desktop, web and mobile.
Now, there’s a GUI to make getting started even easier! The Bot Framework Composer enables you to quickly build a custom bot by combining different pieces of functionality together, like building blocks. Whether it’s asking the user for input, calling an API or having the user log on, each block is configurable and let’s you quickly build whatever you need. At any point you can download the code used behind the scenes and make adjustments or integrate into a larger project.
The Bot Framework Composer is an excellent training resource for developers as well because you can see how each block is written to fully understand what’s happening. Or, use it as a design tool for developers and non-developers to collaborate in. Try it for your next Bot Framework project – I guarantee you’ll be impressed. Find out more at: aka.ms/bfcomposer
Tip 4 – Power Virtual Agents
For citizen developers, the Bot Framework Composer might not be the right tool or might require too much of a time investment. If you’re a fan of Power Automate for just getting stuff done (I am), then you’re going to love this. Power Virtual Agents are bots that you build using a guided, no-code interface which can directly execute Power Automate Flows. This makes them perfect for subject matter experts who can build bots without needing developers to help. For the best of both worlds, a Power Virtual Agent bot can use Skills built using Bot Framework, meaning that developers can build composable parts for complex functionality that’s specific to the business, and then SMEs can simply drop them into their bot flow as needed. Find out more at: powervirtualagents.microsoft.com
Tip 5 – App Templates
What if I told you that there existed a collection of production-ready applications for Microsoft Teams which covered common business scenarios and improved productivity and communication. Then, what if I told you that these applications were written by Microsoft, open-sourced, fully documented and freely available? That’s App Templates for Microsoft Teams!
There are over 20 different apps available. Choose from Incident Reporter, Incentives, HR Support, and more. Each app has detailed deployment instructions to install in your Azure tenant. You can deploy them without needing to know anything about how they work by simply following the instructions. If you’re a developer (or just interested) you can also look at the source code, configure and change them, even brand them for your organisation. Whether you use App Templates as proof of concept to understand how users might interact with line of business applications through Teams, as front-end experience for your existing line of business application, or even as a full replacement, they’re an incredibly useful and powerful tool to have. Find out more at: aka.ms/teamsapptemplates
Those are my five tips for how both developers and non-developers together can migrate line of business applications to Microsoft Teams. With these tips you can enhance what Teams means to users in your organisation, by giving them access to data from disparate systems across your estate, right within Teams. Empower your users to be more productive by bringing this data to Microsoft Teams, enabling them to collaborate around it and achieve more.
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