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How Customizing Microsoft Teams Can Boost User Productivity

Customizing Microsoft Teams applications can simplify user experiences and allow collaboration in context.

For organizations using Microsoft Teams, building templates and custom applications can be an easy way to boost productivity, increase adoption and satisfy user demand for highly customized applications. Templates also allow organizations to meet demand for inward-facing applications that IT has neither the resources nor the strategic mandate to invest in. Customizing Microsoft Teams applications does require investing some developer time and resources, but organizations don’t have to start from scratch. Teams already includes many of the UI elements that a developer would otherwise have to build, and the platform can connect to backend applications using Microsoft’s Power Apps. In some cases, a junior developer or ambitious business analyst could build these applications.

Skills Required for Customizing Microsoft Teams

Customizing Micrososft Teams to create spaces that embed web content for team or personal use will require that developers know, at minimum, HTML, CSS and JavaScript, or React.js. Developing more sophisticated applications--ones that make use of bots and messaging extensions--requires knowledge of Node.js, C# or Python. Developers will also need Visual Studio Code with the Teams Toolkit extensions and the Teams JavaScript SDK and Bot Framework SDK.

Customizing Microsoft Teams: Range of Possibilities 

Just embedding other web-based content, such as part of an existing web-based application, can help boost productivity for certain end users. Task lists from sporadically accessed applications that have less-intuitive user interfaces make good candidates for this type of alternate entry point. Building a Teams app that displays just the main headlines and news from an organization’s intranet could also be a useful way to make use of an enterprise content management investment rather than face the expensive prospect of replacing it.

Organizations that use Microsoft Power BI can also use Microsoft Teams to make data more accessible and actionable to its constituent end users. In addition to making reports that users access infrequently more accessible, this type of customization can help data-driven teams collaborate in context using the chat capabilities of Teams.

Distributing Power BI Content in Microsoft Teams

Organizations have a few options for distributing Power BI content in Microsoft Teams.

A developer can create an app that includes content, such as an embedded report. This approach would be well suited for use cases where the end users don’t want, or need, to change the parameters of the report, such as a company-wide KPI dashboard. For more sophisticated use cases, such as distributing interactive data views, developers can create a template app in Power BI or use the Power BI personal app. Power BI integration requires that the Microsoft Teams platform has the Power BI tab.

Process Driven Microsoft Teams Applications

Developers should consider Power Apps and Power Automate as frameworks for building process-driven applications. Power Apps also provides a good framework for groups with data-driven processes, initiated through objects such as forms,. Power Apps’ forte is building applications around a data model; it has tools for building forms, creating views and works with Microsoft’s Dataverse data platform.

With Dynamics 365 working using the Dataverse data model, a company could build a Microsoft Teams application that ties directly into a Dynamics 365 use case, such as collaborating around a sales opportunity or having multiple team members enter information for complex repairs in a field service application. Developers will need to export any Power Apps they build from the maker portal and then embed them in Microsoft Teams.

Customizing Microsoft Teams through Simple Workflows 

Power Automate, formerly known as Microsoft Flow, gives organizations a way to build simple workflows that users can trigger through a message or the system can trigger through an event or using a bot. These applications can capture or display information using Power Automate’s Adaptive Card UI mechanism.

Power Automate’s best use cases focus on process or task automation. For example, a Microsoft Teams message could create a work item in some other application, such as a service request in Microsoft Dynamics. It can also display approvals from a Power Automate application. An organization could build an approval process in Power Automate and make that app available in the Teams UI. For example, an approval app could consolidate, in a single list, requests from multiple systems that require manager approval. In this way, requests for things such as travel, time off and purchase orders would appear in a single view rather than requiring the manager to log onto separate systems. 

While developers can build apps that collect data via Adaptive Cards, the cards really work best for collecting simple data sets rather than complex arrays--think surveys and basic selection forms. Similarly, Adaptive Cards have some inherent limitations for displaying information, so developers should focus on creating Adaptive Cards that display only simple data sets

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