Microsoft launches Viva, an AI-powered information hub for enterprises


Microsoft today unveiled Microsoft Viva, an employee experience platform that aims to deliver first- and third-party products across learning, wellness, insights, knowledge, and engagement. As a part of this, the company debuted Viva Topics, Viva Connections, Viva Insights, and Viva Learning, modules stemming from Project Cortex.

Most enterprises have to wrangle countless data buckets, some of which inevitably become underused or forgotten. A Forrester survey found that between 60% and 73% of all data within corporations is never analyzed for insights or larger trends. The opportunity cost of this unused data is substantial, with a Veritas report pegging it at $3.3 trillion by 2020 if the current trend holds. That’s perhaps why the corporate sector has taken an interest in cognitive search and robotic process automation products that ingest, understand, organize, and act on digital content from multiple digital sources.

“This fall, we saw the daily active users number in Microsoft Teams climb to 115 million, while Microsoft 365 users around the world generated more than 30 billion collaboration minutes in a single day as people communicated, collaborated, and coauthored content … But to truly empower people to feel connected, supported, and able to bring their best selves to work we need to do more,” Microsoft 365 CVP Jared Spataro said.

Spataro added that consulting partners including Accenture, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Ernst & Young will provide services to bring customers onboard with Viva. “Viva brings together communications, knowledge, learning, resources, and insights into an integrated experience that empowers people and teams to be their best, from anywhere,” he added.

Viva Topics

In September, Project Cortex — a Microsoft 365 offering that analyzes documents, conversations, meetings, and videos to identify domain experts and populate a knowledge database while surfacing info in Office apps, Outlook, and Microsoft Teams — exited preview. But rather than launch Cortex as a single platform, Microsoft said it would make its capabilities available as “a set of unique innovations” starting with SharePoint Syntex, which taps AI to automate the capture, ingestion, and classification of content, building on SharePoint’s existing content features.

Viva Topics is the second such innovation. According to Microsoft, it uses AI to reason over an organization’s data and automatically organize content and expertise across systems and teams. Topics funnels data into related subjects like projects, products, processes, and customers. When employees see an unfamiliar acronym or project in email or chat, for example, they’re able to hover on the word and pop out a topic card with a description and related experts, documents, and videos.

Microsoft Viva Topics

Above: Knowledge discovery in Viva Topics.

Image Credit: Microsoft

The AI system that powers Viva learns from signals, or behavioral data derived from inputs. These come from the pages that employees visit, the videos they watch, and the support tickets they submit. That’s not to mention detailed information it collects about users, including job titles, locations, departments, coworkers, and potentially all of the documents, emails, and other correspondences they author. Each signal informs the AI system’s decision-making so that it self-improves continuously, automatically learning how various resources are relevant to each person and ranking those resources accordingly.

Within Topics, clicking on a “card” calls up a knowledge page curated by AI and experts with information like diagrams that map contextual relationships between each different topic. This page also connects topics to recommended subject experts, with expertise added to individual users profiles and extended into people cards throughout Microsoft 365. Topics plays nicely with Microsoft apps including SharePoint and Microsoft Search, Microsoft says, and highlights will be integrated into the hub from Microsoft Teams, Outlook, and other Microsoft 365 apps throughout 2021.

Viva Connections

Complementing Topics is Viva Connections, which brings together news, conversations, and other resources in devices and apps like Microsoft Teams. It’s designed to deliver a personalized feed in which employees can explore news and contribute to internal conversations.

Using Connections, companies can publish content from Microsoft 365 apps including SharePoint, Yammer, or Microsoft Stream to a single feed. Alternatively, they can post external news and content they want employees to see, reaching specific departments, regions, or job roles by using audience targeting. Admins can also bring employees’ attention to feed items based on properties like “always on top,” “until read,” and “X number of impressions.”

Microsoft Viva Connections

Within Connections, employees can share feedback and participate in conversations about news and announcements with Yammer communities. Moreover, Connections provides employees with a dashboard where they can discover resources and complete tasks. Managers can create cards for existing Teams app or use low-code solutions like Microsoft Power Apps, custom solutions that employ SharePoint Framework and Adaptative Cards, and third-party partner services.

Microsoft says that Connections will be available for desktop in the first half of 2021 and for mobile in summer 2021. Additional features will roll out over the course of 2022.

Viva Insights

Viva Insights, the third pillar of Viva, aims to bring together Microsoft Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics under the new Viva brand. Its introduction comes after Microsoft received criticism for ostensibly enabling surveillance via Productivity Score, which allowed managers to use Microsoft 365 to track employees’ activity at an individual level.

Microsoft claims that Insights is private, deidentified, and leverages safeguards like data aggregation and minimum sharing thresholds. Drawing on data and signals from Teams, Outlook, and other Microsoft 365 apps as well as Zoom, Slack, Workday, and SAP SuccessFactors, Insights attempts to find patterns in data that might affect work outcomes.

Microsoft Viva Insights

Above: Productivity and well-being experiences in Viva Insights.

Image Credit: Microsoft

For example, Insights’ Stay Connected pane gives employees a way to prioritize time for regular one-on-one meetings and keep up with tasks across emails, chats, and shared documents. The Protected Time experience lets employees schedule focus time so that they can work uninterrupted during the workday. And Insights’ daily Briefing email — delivered in English via Cortana, with a Spanish-language option on the way — highlights opportunities to connect, meetings to prep for, and commitments to follow up on.

On the managerial side, Microsoft says that Insights gives admins visibility into work patterns that can lead to burnout and stress, such as meeting overload, too little focus time, or time worked outside employees’ chosen work hours. Insights offers opportunities to create team action plans, providing employees recommendations and practices to prioritize well-being and potentially boost productivity.

Microsoft Viva Insights

Above: New dashboard featuring data from Glint and Viva Insights.

Image Credit: Microsoft

Debuting alongside Insights is the Glint Microsoft Power BI dashboard. In public preview to joint Glint-Workplace Analytics customers as part of Insights, it’s designed to find where teams might be struggling, proactively adjust work norms, and quantify the impact of those changes over time. Separately, new Workplace Analytics integrations in the Glint platform as a part of a pilot allow users to analyze engagement data including comment data based on metrics like weekly collaboration hours, workweek span, and manager-employee one-on-one time.

As of today, an Insights app for Teams is available in public preview for Microsoft 365 users with Exchange Online. (Manager and leader insights are available for licensed Workplace Analytics customers.) Microsoft says that in the coming months, updates to Insights will bring additional experiences including a “virtual commute” to wrap up the workday, check-ins for pause and reflection, an integration with Headspace, and actionable insights in Teams like recommended time for learning and courses from LinkedIn Learning.

Viva Learning

Viva Learning, the fourth and final component of Microsoft’s Viva platform, brings together a company’s communications, knowledge, learning, resources, and insights. It’s a hub where employees can discover, share, assign, and learn from content libraries across LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, third-party content providers, and custom content.

In Teams, people can search for and share training from Learning in a chat as they would other types of content. Teams and groups of people can also organize their own learning tab with customized, specific learning content. Learning displays recommended content in a personalized view, and Topics offers learning suggestions within the topic center, along with other knowledge resources.

Microsoft Viva Learning

Above: Learning resources in Microsoft Viva Learning.

Image Credit: Microsoft

Learning shows the learning assignments a manager has made, when they’re due, and employees’ reported completion status. Employees can see the learning assigned to them along with due dates and other important information or engage with LinkedIn Learning directly through Teams via an embedded player.

On the content side of the equation, Microsoft says it’s collaborating with platforms including Skillsoft, Coursera, Pluralsight, EdX, Cornerstone OnDemand, Saba, and SAP SuccessFactors. Organizations that license those libraries will be able to access content within Learning later this year, and Microsoft says it plans to make APIs available so additional customers and partners can integrate with Learning.

Starting in February, Microsoft will preview the Learning app for Teams with a small number of customers and partners. It expects to make it generally available later this year.

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