Microsoft Outlook client for desktop and mobile
For good or for bad, email remains very much a part of many company's collaboration strategy. Microsoft has been updating its Outlook client to help people remain productive PHOTO: Microsoft

It became clear at Microsoft Ignite that the company was doubling down on its Microsoft Teams product as the center of an Office 365 user's world. Microsoft introduced new integrations with other Office 365 components, including SharePoint, OneDrive and Yammer as well as integrations with other third party tools. 

At the time, I asked whether this made Teams the new “portal” and noted we've had this discussion before, often revolving around the central role of Microsoft Outlook in many people’s working lives. 

Well, despite all those who would have us working exclusively in the modern world of Teams, or Slack or other tools, email still exists in the real world and (unfortunately) is probably still the most widely used collaboration tool, even if we agree it's a one to one or one to many communications tool, which is less than ideal for collaboration scenarios.

Outlook at the Center of Your Workflow

Microsoft strategy still very much has a place for Outlook as the front end client and Microsoft Exchange Server for on premises deployments, as part of the Office 365 cloud, as well as in hybrid scenarios. For many people, whether knowledge workers or task-focused factory or shop floor workers, email is simply not going away. We still need all the help we can get in managing and working with it. The volume of email the lawyers and compliance officers deal with in my workplace is unbelievable at times, but I am sure you all have similar horror stories you could share.

To help people make the most of Outlook, Microsoft continues to add features to the Outlook client (Outlook 2016), the web-based Outlook variant that is “mail” in Office 365, and to the iOS and Android mobile clients that help us triage and manage our email. 

For example, Microsoft migrated the Clutter machine learning-based functionality from Office 365 to the Outlook 2016 client. Clutter replaces the manual "inbox rules" you previously used by applying automated machine learning to processes. The system learns as you drag and drop email messages to the Clutter folder, and will apply that learning to essentially file these or similar message into the Clutter folder where you can deal with them later (or not as the case may be).

Outlook Collaboration Extends Beyond Email

Microsoft Groups provides the underlying infrastructure for collaboration in Office 365. When you create a Group, you create a shared email address and inbox for that group. Outlook now allows you to create and work with your groups both through the shared email and through new features for working with files from desktop and from OneDrive. If your organization uses Yammer, not only can you get email notifications but you can reply to Yammer threads directly from within Outlook. 

So we're now looking at Outlook integration with Groups, OneDrive and Yammer, not just email. 

As part of the pivot to Office 365 and “using the right tool for the right job,” Microsoft have confirmed the primacy of Exchange for calendaring and meeting scheduling, removing separate calendar functionality from other products, such as SharePoint, while providing better integration with “the one calendar to rule them all.” Exchange and Outlook thus remain at the center of the collaboration universe if your work involves a lot of scheduling work and multiple calendars.

Of course a number of third party products integrate deeply into Outlook, for example my organization uses the iManage “work management” (CMS) platform, which uses Outlook as its interface through a deep integration.

So turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks!

A Final Note on Microsoft & Information Governance

Microsoft learned a lot of lessons following the mass deployments of Team sites which occurred with very little or no governance applied. The company now provides more in the way of information governance features and functionality, including retention policies, Information Rights Management (IRM) and Data Loss Prevention. 

However, just like the bad old days, IT department's can still just turn on and deploy the collaboration features without any knowledge of these features. Make sure you have information management professionals working alongside your IT pros to ensure a “safe” deployment of these collaboration technologies, whether you're bound up in email land and still using Outlook, or you on the cutting edge and never work outside of Teams.