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Viva - what is it?

 “What is Viva, Viva is a new product that is meant to help people and teams be their very best.” Chris McNulty – Director of Product Marketing at Microsoft

“Create visibility into what am I doing, in the sense of how I am spending my time, it also helps bridge those gaps, how do I connect with others, my peers, you know top down, bottom up, that it’s this holistic experience, that’s going to take in what is good for the individual, what’s good for the team and of course what’s good for the company, but I think it’s really grounded on, from their perspective not from Microsoft’s perspective, so it’s really giving visibility into how things are operating, what is most impactful at these different levels.” Jared Spataro – Corporate Vice President at Microsoft.

Introduction

Microsoft over the past decade have been looking outside the pure Office Tools, trying to find a way to capture business culture. After some false starts Microsoft’s first big push came with their purchase of ‘Yammer’, Yammer was a social media platform for businesses. Since its purchase in 2012, Microsoft has been developing several different systems that are not traditional office tools, including incorporating simple social media elements into the Documentation Tool SharePoint.

In 2017 Microsoft released Teams a ‘business communication platform’ pulling together elements that had previously floated around in Office 365, but now could be pushed out as a standalone element. Teams always had a feeling of being behind the times for the general public with tools behind what we were using outside of work, but ahead of what businesses were willing to move to. Fast forward to 2020, workforces around the world are told to work from home and Teams gets a new life, suddenly a platform that allows people to communicate freely and remotely, a system that included video functions, chat functions, work flows and combined nicely with Microsoft’s traditional tools was in demand. In November 2019 Teams had 13 million daily active users, then by April 2020 that had jumped to 75 million and by October 115 million users. Life hasn’t been easy for Teams but rapid changes have turned it from being a patch needed for the sudden remote working situation, to being a tool that actually brought teams together remotely. The next stage of the rapid development is Viva.

Employee Experience Platform

Three words, and not even three words that Microsoft pulled together, although Microsoft would like EEP to be up there with tech terms like CRM and ERP. Employee Experience Platforms were developed for Human Resources, to bring together tools to enhance and monitor the workforce, this is where self-service tools, education elements and performance goals along with standard HR elements such as payroll all sit.

Microsoft is taking these three words and lifting them from being an HR tool, to bringing in an AI driven business social platform. I am not trying to just throw buzz words into a sentence, Artificial Intelligence is a massive component of Viva and social is essential, trying to bring the water cooler moments to the remote workforce.

 

 

Intentions

I know what you all want to hear is what is Viva and I will come to specifics shortly, but before that it is important to understand the intentions behind the platform. Intranets have been with us for over 50 years, but it has only been in the past 30 years that they became essential to businesses along with the growth of digital data. Intranets are a walled area that businesses can use to store data that personnel can access. Viva’s intention is to take the Intranet to the next level, the main difference from what we had before, to what Microsoft hope we will have in the future is the social element of the content. When you reach a critical mass of mental disruption, when you can no longer focus on your current activity, an employee would not naturally decide to scroll through the content of the intranet. One, because it is not in a format that is suitable for quick form reading, but mainly because data within a typical intranet is static, changes are rare. Viva intends to bring in news, knowledge and social interactions, so when you need that 5 minute break, you will access the elements of Viva, to become better acquainted with your team members, the company culture and enhance your education of the company and industry.

What is Viva

For right now I’m going to detail the information that is floating around from various Microsoft outputs, until I get access to the platform elements myself, but it comes down to four elements, Insights, Topics, Learning and Connections.

Insights is the productivity element, often described as the equivalent of the counting your step culture for your productivity. Microsoft is keen to emphasise that this is not a management monitoring tool, but your own personal productivity. Importantly they identify personnel wellbeing as a focus, are you taking sufficient breaks, are you protecting your time, allowing for focused time, and keeping up with self-improvement.

This data is protected at a user level, what managers get is an overview, are their team being overworked, are meetings too long and unproductive, what is the collaboration across the team, across the company. Along with these are recommendations, are meetings between people and managers required, not productive meetings but touch point meetings, developing relationships and understanding each person’s unique situation, which is essential for a remote working, work force.

Topics, this is the AI driven element, knowledge transfer has been a problem for businesses since the beginning of time, and I could write a book on the subject. In the modern office the problem comes from the storage and access of information, and Topics intention is to remove those barriers. Key terms will be highlighted and users can click on those, the AI will then pull in from the data on Microsoft SharePoint, definitions, documentation but more importantly key people relating to the topic that you can connect with. Experts can enhance this information and users can state what information they find useful and each interaction by the employees is used by the AI to provide more relevant information and connections. If it works as intended this could be a really powerful tool to take new employees to the point of being not only productive, but part of the business culture, even when working remotely.

Learning, this allows for the pinning and assigning of learning topics, Microsoft has learnt from past mistakes here by not going it alone, Viva Learning will pull in educational elements from the likes of LinkedIn Learning, Cornerstone along with their own content. Companies can then store their own training elements alongside this and assign education modules to employees and importantly monitor completion. Individually an employee will see assigned tasks, but can also decide on their own elements for career progression. As with most content management software, AI will use the assigned and selected topics to offer suggested courses with the intention to allow each individual to remain at the forefront of their chosen profession and career. Of course sharing of this and completed courses, combine to make that social and cultural piece that is at the heart of Viva.

 

Which leads nicely into the final element of Viva, Connections, this is the centre of the social aspect that Viva is intended to become, a place where a business can post news and conversations. There have been a lot of attempts to get away from the E-mail tennis, here conversations between people are planned to provide a collaborative experience. As a social focus events will be housed here and Yammer will become an element of the overall structure.

Conclusion

Should we be excited?

If it meets its intended goals then yes, however Viva will take the majority of 2021 to roll out and it is still unclear of what elements will be free with Microsoft 365 and Teams. Some of the elements detailed like Topics could be really powerful, providing that data is there to support it and the AI works as described, you don’t want Wikipedia syndrome, where it is possible to plant incorrect information. The social aspects will depend on the business, just storing data on the Intranet will not lead to success on Viva, as with all Social Media platforms, consistent and curated content will be essential and not all businesses will feel the importance of the time needed, but that will come back to business culture.

For me the success of Viva will be in where remote working ends up post Covid, we saw that Teams integration was limited and I don’t feel it would have had the success it is now seeing without the sudden jump to remote working. So, if by 2023 the majority of workers are back in the office, I can see several elements of Viva being unused by many, as an unnecessary time-consuming task. However, if businesses embrace remote working for the long term Viva may have a place in enhancing the culture of that mobile, globally based workforce.

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