Inspire 2021: 5 Big Updates In Microsoft 365, Teams And Industry Clouds

Microsoft’s sixth industry cloud offering, along with new Teams capabilities and a Windows “cloud PC” service, are among the major announcements at the Inspire partner conference this week.

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At Microsoft’s Inspire 2021 partner conference this week, the company is unveiling a new industry cloud offering, a virtual Windows desktop solution that is accessible from a web browser and new capabilities in the Teams collaboration app.

Microsoft announced it’s launching a sixth “industry cloud” -- a package of cloud tools and services aimed at a particular vertical. The new industry cloud is aimed at sustainability and corporate environmental efforts, something that is “top of mind for every CEO,” Alysa Taylor, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for industry, apps and data marketing, told CRN in an interview.

Rod Pruett, vice president of consulting services at Sunrise Technologies, a Microsoft partner based in Winston-Salem, N.C., said that Microsoft’s retail industry cloud has helped existing customers gain new insights into their e-commerce and business-to-business sales, the shop floor and with moving goods. And for potential customers, the industry clouds offer an easy-to-explain package of goods for a marketing win. “I’ve been doing this for 35 years and I have been so energized with how much capability and the value that we can bring to customers now with these platforms,” Pruett said.

Along with the sixth industry cloud, Microsoft has announced updates for its Viva employee experience platform, the Windows 365 “cloud PC” service and more integrations between Teams and Dynamics 365.

What follows are five big updates in Microsoft 365, Teams and industry clouds announced at Inspire 2021.

Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability

The new Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability will enter public preview later this year and come with tools to help users in all industries record, report and reduce emissions, Microsoft said. The cloud is built on Azure, Dataverse, Power Platform, Power BI and other Microsoft products. It will feature specialized third-party applications, data source and emissions data connectors, according to the company.

“These industry clouds are an enabler for our ecosystem to be able to bring their vertical and micro-vertical expertise to bear,” Taylor said. “Most organizations have a very small sliver of what they can see of their emissions data because the data is so siloed and in so many different places. This is about having industry connectors, like we do in retail and financial services and all of our other industry clouds, to be able to aggregate that data so you actually can look and have a 360-degree view.”

While other technology vendors have created industry-focused cloud offerings, Microsoft wants to beat its competitors’ industry-focused offerings through pulling in data from more disparate sources -- not just in the company‘s enterprise resource planning datasets, for example -- and deliver insights throughout the Microsoft technology stack, she said.

“This is very unique in the industry and highly differentiated from what SAP and Salesforce are doing,” she said.

Taylor said that companies can, for example, use Cloud for Sustainability to create alerts when an HVAC system is likely to miss its prescribed emissions reduction target. The cloud can then assign an operations manager to make improvements. The sustainability cloud will have uses for all industries, from manufacturing to agriculture to retailers, she said. And midmarket businesses will have need for the cloud as much as the largest enterprises, Taylor said.

The Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability joins the previously announced clouds for financial services, nonprofits, health care, retail and manufacturing.

Windows 365

Microsoft’s new virtual desktop offering, Windows 365, is aimed at meeting the hybrid work needs of small and medium-sized businesses along with certain use cases for larger businesses. Windows 365 is a “cloud PC” solution, Microsoft said, since the desktop is streamed in a web browser and will be available on any device. The offering is not meant to replace Microsoft’s Azure Virtual Desktop, but should be an option for a far greater number of businesses due to its simpler IT deployment and management, the company said.

The ability to access a Windows desktop through a browser is new with Windows 365 -- as is the ability to use a virtualized Windows desktop on any device, including Apple Mac, iPad and iPhone devices, along with Android and Linux devices.

Users can pick up where they left off when moving to another device with Windows 365, and the service can be deployed and managed using Microsoft Endpoint Manager in the same way as physical PCs, Microsoft said.

Windows 365 will provide a full Windows 10 experience to start, and then will offer Windows 11 once the new operating system is generally available later this year.

Microsoft will be launching two editions of the service--Windows 365 Business for customers with less than 300 users and Windows 365 Enterprise for larger customers. Windows 365 will be generally available on Aug. 2, and will be offered as a monthly subscription, including through Cloud Solution Provider partners.

Teams And Dynamics 365 Get New Integrations

Thanks to a new integration, Teams customers will now gain free access to view and edit Dynamics 365 data within the Teams app even if they don’t have a Dynamics 365 license, Microsoft announced in connection with Inspire 2021. However, Dynamics 365 purchasers will receive advanced features and analytics, according to Microsoft.

Dynamics 365 users can view and work on customer records from within a Teams chat or channel, Microsoft said. They can add Teams meetings when creating appointments, gaining customer information to review during a Teams call. And, users can save Teams call notes automatically to Dynamics 365 records.

Automatic notifications will alert users to when changes happen, and administrators can configure permissions and access rules to control which users access customer data, according to Microsoft.

Other Teams Updates

Independent software vendors will gain the ability to sell apps within Teams this summer, Microsoft disclosed at Inspire. Teams administrators can buy and install third-party apps from one location in the Teams admin center with a credit card or invoice, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft also announced that commercial marketplace fees are reduced from 20 percent to 3 percent for all transactions. And in addition, ISVs will be given the capability to set different prices for customers and Cloud Solution Provider partners, allowing ISVs to provide CSP partners with margin, Microsoft said.

“CSP partners can also add a price markup when reselling to customers outside of the commercial marketplace,” the company said in a blog post. “This new flexibility is intended to create stronger connections among partners and incentivize ISVs to share margin with resellers.”

Meanwhile, third-party apps for Teams will be released by ISVs including Atlassian Confluence, Salesforce, SAP Cloud for Customer (C4C), ServiceNow and Workday, according to Microsoft. “All these integrations bring structured business processes and data together into the context of collaborative work,” Microsoft said in the blog post.

Viva Updates

The Microsoft Viva employee experience platform will become generally available in the fall with integrations from 21 vendors, including ServiceNow, Qualtrics and Workday, Microsoft announced.

Microsoft also provided updates on tools to help partners and developers with integrating and extending applications into the Viva platform.

Viva Connections APIs will be generally available “later this year,” Microsoft said. The APIs will “make it easy for partners to integrate with the Viva Connections dashboard, enhancing

the discoverability and engagement of their tools directly within the Viva experience,” the company said.

Meanwhile, Viva Learning APIs will enter preview later this year, offering the ability to pull in content from learning providers -- as well as due dates and assigned content from learning management systems for use in Teams,, SharePoint and Microsoft Search in Bing, according to Microsoft.