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7 strategic tips: external apps in Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is a platform that is continuing to evolve and receive great levels of adoption. When it first launched, few predicted that Teams would have quite the impact that it has, but it is now at the centre of the digital workplace for many organisations.

One element of the Microsoft Teams experience that is increasingly coming to the fore are the apps that can be experienced through Teams. In our experience, not many digital workplace teams and IT functions are fully leveraging the possibilities for accessing apps through Teams, meaning that many are missing out on a big opportunity.

Accessing apps through Microsoft has real value because:

  • Many employees spend their working day in Teams, thus it makes sense for them to access apps and relative content there, with Teams acting as an entry point into the wider digital workplace
  • Integrating apps into Teams means content from apps can be shared and discussed within Teams channels and chat threads, such as a page on the intranet, an e-learning course or a Jira ticket
  • Apps that have chatbots to support transactions and deliver information can be experienced through Microsoft Teams
  • Users of the Teams mobile app can also access apps and consume information through it, providing a feasible one stop shop for the digital workplace through one mobile app in a way that is relatively straightforward.

When considering an app strategy or approach to Microsoft Teams, there are several different elements to consider. In this post, we’re going to cover seven of these.

1 Deciding which apps to include

A major element of your approach to Teams apps will be deciding which apps to include. The good news here is that there are a wide range of apps available to meet employee needs, with very few barriers.

Within Microsoft Teams, there are essentially three types of apps that can be integrated into the experience. These are:

  • Microsoft 365 apps such as Yammer, Planner, SharePoint and the new Microsoft Viva suite of apps
  • Third party apps such as ServiceNow, LiveTiles intranet and Salesforce, many of which are available out of the box
  • Custom apps, built around specific use cases for your organisation or legacy applications, which can now be experienced through Teams.

Any app approach will need to include a policy on which apps to include (or exclude), and decide on a process around adding or removing apps. One handy element of the Microsoft Teams experience is that all these apps can be aggregated into the Teams app store and accessed by users in a uniform way, regardless of the type of app being used.

2 Enterprise-wide setting relating to apps

The Microsoft Teams Admin Center is the place where admins can configure enterprise-wide settings for Teams, including apps. Recently, there have been some improvements introduced that give admins even more control over how apps are experienced and the policies they want to implement, including which apps to include in the app store and which are pushed to different groups of employees.

Teams admins are able to target apps to different groups based on AD profiles. For example, you might want to target a particular app like LiveTiles Reach which delivers frontline communications to frontline workers, or an employee onboarding app to new hires. Within the Admin Centre, you can create policies that ensure a particular app automatically appears in the left-hand rail of Microsoft Teams for different AD groups.

Other settings you can control include:

  • Excluding access to particular apps already available within the Microsoft Teams store
  • Dictating which apps appear in the left-hand rail for all employees, such as an intranet app
  • Preventing apps being pinned by individuals for a more fixed Teams experience
  • Revoking an app completely.

3 Branding your enterprise app store

To provide a more branded, company-specific digital workplace experience, Microsoft has also recently introduced more flexibility to brand your own Teams enterprise app store. The Customize Store area now means that admins can decide on a logo, a custom background and specific text colours for their store. Although these changes don’t sound dramatic, they can help highlight the official apps to use, and differentiate the store experience from the normal Teams look to support increased adoption.

4 Building custom apps

One of the strongest elements of using Microsoft Teams apps is the ability to build and add custom apps that employees can access. These can range from highly complex apps that deal with specific business processes to relatively simple ones; a basic custom app might be used just to add a link to your company intranet within Teams. Defining the custom apps for your organisation is a big topic in itself, with multiple options for apps across the Microsoft 365 universe.

Within Teams, some apps can simply consist of a link and iFrame to allow employees to view information from within Teams. Some highly successful custom apps within Teams are just a set of links accessible across the top of a Teams app which might lead to a range of key pages and views, such as high value SharePoint pages or an area of ServiceNow. These simple custom apps are very straightforward to create using the Teams App Studio, and can be set up by a non-IT professional through a citizen development approach. Here, the interface allows you to set up links, tabs and more. More complex apps that might be driven though an API will need to be generated by an experienced developer.

5 Leveraging messaging extensions

Another way that Teams apps deliver value is through the ability to reference content from an app within Teams channels and conversations. For example, the LMS365 for Teams app brings a learning management platform right into the heart of Microsoft Teams. The ability for a user to search the LMS365 app for learning content they may want to share with a colleague has real value; likewise, you might want to reference a ServiceNow ticket in a conversation between a user and the IT helpdesk.

Apps that allow you to feature contextual information from the app in a Teams channel or conversation have messaging extensions; the relative information is usually presented in a card format. There are also some out-of-the-box messaging extensions such as those designed for sending praise and approvals. Considering which apps to enable messaging extensions for is another good way to add value to the Microsoft Teams app experience.

6 Utilising bots using natural language

Some apps within Teams can use chatbots driven by natural language. Chatbot interactions work very well within the Teams environment, and are increasingly being adopted by users. These can be a great way to carry out simple transactions, receive status updates on workflow and get simple answers to questions without having to visit separate apps, again, all without leaving Teams.

7 Support and governance

Of course, there are other elements to consider when formulating your approach to Teams apps relating to governance, support and training. For example, you will need to define who owns the app strategy, and who can configure the apps settings. There will need to be a process for adding and reviewing new custom and third-party apps, and you’ll need to consider communication and support for users as well as any necessary training.

Accessing apps through Microsoft Teams

Accessing apps through Microsoft Teams is becoming a core part of the Teams experience, and is popular with employees. If you haven’t previously considered an app strategy for Teams, now’s the time to start thinking about your options. If you’d like to discuss apps for Microsoft Teams, then get in touch!

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