As Microsoft continues to make a big push with their Teams functionality, an area that can sometimes get lost in the shuffle is it’s ability to Integrate with other services Outside of the functionality in Teams, and Office 365 in general. As the functionality in Teams continues to grow, it has become apparent that Microsoft is positioning it as a single pane of glass for collaboration (Just roll email functionality into already!). But there are ways to be able to extend it to the majority of services you might be already leveraging in your organization. Let’s with some of the most common ways to integrate other services with Teams:
“Apps” in Microsoft Teams come in different flavors depending on what your integration needs are. For this blog, I’ll focus on 3 of the major types: Bots, Connectors, and Tabs. Each of these have their own quirks and complexities, but should help meet the necessary requirements to get the data you need into the single pane of glass that is the Teams client. The good news is, by default, Microsoft offers a LOT of Apps to common services you may have already deployed for your organization.
Tabs are a really quick and easy way to integrate a web based service right into Teams. Essentially it encapsulates a piece of web application functionality into an iFrame, which you can then add as a “Tab” onto a Teams channel. If you’ve used Teams before, you should be familiar with the different tabs that come by default when you First set up a Team. Microsoft offers a plethora of Tabs that you can install onto channels as well (i.e. ZenDesk, PowerApps, Flow, etc). To quickly get started, there is also an option for
“Website”, where you can plug in any URL that is accessible by the client, and get a quick integration into any web based application. If you’re actually building a web based application to work with Teams, you can also develop a custom tab to more seamlessly integrate into teams for both the desktop and mobile client as well.
Connectors are used to receive information from a web service into a channel. For example, let’s say your organization has a Twitter Account, and you’d like everyone to easily see all of the tweets that have been sent out. You can easily add the twitter app, connect it to that account, and then see all of the individual tweets as cards in a Team channel. Additionally, you can build notifications around the information that is received, to help keep your team members up-to-date on the activity! (NOTE: don’t notify your users every time a tweet goes out, that just sounds annoying 😁 )
Using Webhooks you can also integrate into most LOB applications to receive information and get notified. For example, let’s say you have a legacy LOB application that runs on-prem, and you want to be notified in teams when a certain status changes on a specific type of item in your database. You could create a Logic App that integrates with the SQL DB, then use a Webhook Connector to that Logic App to receive the information, create a Card, and then send a notification through the Teams client!
While it’s the most complex type of integration, Bots are the most fun. Bots are essentially an automated way to perform a function through Chat. For example, let’s say you wanted to find a file a file in SharePoint. Typically you could just open a browser, go out to SharePoint, and do a search there, then sift and refine through the results. With a bot, you can just open a chat window, type in “@searchbot, get me the Good Proposal Document”, and have it appear as a card in the same chat window! (this is just an example, if you type this in right now, it probably won’t do anything 😂😂😂). Bots for Teams are built using the Microsoft Bot Framework, which encompasses many of the AI services that are offered in Azure, including Cognitive Services, Natural Language Processing, Search, Speech, etc. All of these services can be leveraged to provide a high level of AI automation that can can help bring your customers the information they need (or even submitting information), in a way that is as easy as asking a question. There are numerous bot that are available to be downloaded, or you can create your own custom bot to be deployed to your organization. Due to the complexity of creating a bot, if your organization does not have the resources, a company like Centric Consulting can help provide Full Life Cycle Development of a Teams bot to help meet your needs.
Cool stuff, how do I get going?
I hope this blog gave you a nice high-level overview of different ways to integrate with Teams. Check back here in the future, as I will be diving more in-depth on how to create these various integrations, and hopefully provide some useful examples you can leverage in your organization. As always, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.