5 Big Microsoft Teams Announcements That Partners Should Know

Microsoft has debuted new partner specializations related to Teams while also launching updated features for the collaboration platform.

Teams Takes Off

The explosive growth of Teams is leading Microsoft to make some major moves for partners while accelerating the deployment of new features to the collaboration app. This week, Microsoft announced two new Teams-related advanced specializations that aim to help partners showcase their expertise on the red-hot platform. The company has also recently announced a series of updates to Teams to improve its usefulness, with the needs of the remote workforce at the forefront. Teams—an Office 365 app that includes group chat and instant messaging, along with video and audio calling--is now up to 75 million daily active users, Microsoft said last week. That’s a 70-percent increase from 44 million daily active users in mid-March, with the platform continuing to surge amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

What follows are five big Microsoft moves on Teams for partners to know about.

Advanced Specialization: Calling for Microsoft Teams

Partners that have expertise in deploying Teams as a calling solution can now earn a new advanced specialization, Calling for Microsoft Teams. "Because implementation of calling solutions can be complex and involves network remediation, O365 service deployment, telephone number provisioning/porting and device deployment, customers need partners with this highly specialized skillset," said Dan Truax, general manager for Microsoft's One Commercial Partner organization, in a blog post.

The advanced specialization is open to partners with an active gold Cloud Productivity competency. Criteria for earning the advanced specialization include achieving certain thresholds for Teams growth and Teams-certified individuals, the company said. (More details are available in the Microsoft blog post here.)

Advanced Specialization: Teamwork Deployment

A second new advanced specialization--also open to partners with an active gold Cloud Productivity competency--is now being offered for Teamwork Deployment, with a focus on Teams as well as on SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Yammer. The advanced specialization offers an "added advantage" that "can help partners grow their Teams deployment services practice and build more meaningful connections with customers," Truax said in the blog post. Criteria for the advanced specialization includes reaching growth thresholds on three Teamwork services (choosing from among Teams, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Yammer), along with maintaining certain levels for active customer usage of the services and meeting other requirements around customer deployment and staff member certifications.

Teams Video Expanding To More Visible Participants

A top-requested for Teams video calls has been to expand the gallery view to more visible participants at one time. Microsoft says that the expansion of visible participants to nine--from four previously--began at the end of April. "If you don't see it yet, please sit tight as it is a staged rollout and can take up to a couple weeks to reach everyone," Microsoft said in a post.

Instead of the original 2 x 2 grid, the updated Teams video calling has a 3 x 3 grid for viewing nine participants simultaneously. With the update, "the increase of visible participants will continue to keep Microsoft competitive against other options like Zoom," said Travis Adair, principal partner and vice president of Columbia, Mo.-based InfiniTech Consulting, in an email to CRN.

Other Teams Video Updates

Microsoft has also been bringing other updates on video features to Teams. In April, a capability for meeting organizers to instantly "end meeting" by clicking a button in the control bar became available. Virtual backgrounds for Teams video calls are now generally available as well, and Microsoft says users will be able to upload their own background images starting by mid-May. Additionally, a "raise hand" feature--to let meeting participants send a visual cue when they want to speak--has been targeted to begin rolling to users this week.

Teams Payouts To Partners

In early March, Microsoft launched a free Office 365 E1 subscription for six months to businesses and educational institutions that aren't currently licensed for Teams. The free Teams subscription has been "very popular," Microsoft Channel Chief Gavriella Schuster (pictured) said in an interview with CRN. Because the solution is free, however, Microsoft has moved to enhance financial incentives for partners bringing Teams to customers, Schuster said. Incentive payouts have been increased for non-FastTrack partners who work with customers to achieve 15-percent usage in Teams deployments, while FastTrack partners are now eligible for a new incentive "at the lowest qualified entitlement level," Schuster has said. Those incentives are being offered through Sept. 30.