First Experiences with Microsoft Kaizala

What is Microsoft Kaizala? Is it Microsoft’s equivalent of WhatsApp for Business? A replacement for StaffHub? Is it something new entirely?

The answer is all of the above, and none of the above, as well as “I don’t know?”. The reality is I’m trying to figure out what exactly Microsoft Kaizala is.

The website tagline is: “A mobile app for large group communications and work management”. A further explanation is: “Microsoft Kaizala makes it easy to connect and coordinate with your Firstline workers – wherever they are – using a simple-to-use chat interface. Efficiently manage work or collect data from individuals or large groups, even if they’re not in your organization. View built-in reports to get insights for faster decision making.”.

That sounds kind of like StaffHub, with guest access and some reporting built in. Oh, if only it were that simple.

The first thing I’ll say is that it is simple, damn simple. I installed the app, signed in with my mobile number (hello WhatsApp…) and was immediately joined into a group conversation that some colleagues had begun. It was a fantastic experience for those who know why they are doing what they are doing, and what to expect.

The second thing I’ll say is that there is a lot this app can do; so much that I can’t fit it into a single blog post. In this day and age people don’t necessarily have the time to read or watch, so I’m going to keep this post very high level and largely in dot point form to allow you to get out there and experiment with it, should you be so inclined.

Before getting started

  • It requires a mobile number to verify you (hello WhatsApp…)
  • It looks like WhatsApp
  • It acts like WhatsApp in terms of contacts (you can only invite people by mobile)
  • It only works on a mobile device – there is no web or desktop experience (I found this frustrating when I was back at my desk and wanted to continue the conversation – I had to keep picking up my mobile)

What can Kaizala do?

  • Chat 1:1
  • Chat in public groups, private groups, and organisational groups (more on that later)
  • Share forms & quizzes
  • Facilitate feedback
  • Collect data via surveys
  • Post announcements
  • Use emojis in your conversation (including some borrowed from Skype for Business)

Some screenshots of actions:

You can also create connectors, play games, and find nearby groups.

What can’t Kaizala do?

(compared to other Microsoft apps that cross over functionality, as well as competing apps)

  • You can’t like a post, but you can like and comment on pictures
  • You can’t @mention people in a group chat
  • You can’t use GIFs
  • Make voice or video calls

I was a little surprised by these, as they seemed like basic features for a “social” app.

But I guess that’s the difference with Kaizala – it’s not just a social app to compete with WhatsApp; it’s where social intersects with work for mobile users.

What’s interesting about Kaizala is that it actually interacts with Office 365 – although not too much.

For starters you can’t add users via Azure Active Directory – only CSV import. That being said you can browse the directory for other users, but can’t message them if they haven’t signed up yet.

When a user signs up they can link their work account, but none of the attributes come across (ie. photo, email, title, location, etc.).

As an admin I don’t see Kaizala in the Office 365 admin centre either under Admin centers or Services & add-ins. It seems to be its own service, however it does allow me to sign in using my Office 365 admin account.

We can also make it mandatory for users to have an Office 365 account which is beneficial from a governance perspective.

To see how well users are accessing Kaizala there do appear to be a number of reports, and these can also be surfaced in Power BI.

Some important things for IT Managers / Pros / Admins:

(These screenshots don’t really require any further explanation)

How do I get it?

Kaizala started off life as a Microsoft Garage project it now appears to be a fully-fledged service with proper microsite on the Office site and its own URL:

While this has been available for some time and I had seen it available, previously it appeared to be targeted towards India, Kenya and the Philippines. Now it appears to be in preview elsewhere, so warranted a look-see.

Kaizala utilises the freemium model and as such is available for free or as a paid version (which appears to be included in Office 365 Enterprise subscriptions, but doesn’t specifically say that anywhere):

So where to next?

It is unclear where Kaizala fits in the Microsoft Office ecosystem. It has functionality that overlaps with Yammer, Teams, StaffHub and others. There also does not appear to be any clarity around data residency.

Has Microsoft bitten off more than it can chew with this app? It appears to be quite feature rich yet easy to use for non-technical workers.

My prediction is that this will be merged in with other products over time, as opposed to remaining as a standalone app.

To those who create infographics and like to talk about ‘what to use when’ in the Office 365 ecosystem; I say good luck to you!

For everyone else; just wait and see what Microsoft says in terms of a roadmap.

Too much conversation?

A song that has stuck with me since hearing in 1993 is “Too Much Information” by Duran Duran.

The theme of the song is television pumping content and products at us with Simon Le Bon singing “it’s too much information for me”. The film clip itself is constantly moving with no single shot staying on the screen for more than a second. It’s visually exhausting to watch (albeit very enjoyable to listen to IMHO).

Change in our workplace continues to evolve at an ever-faster pace. In 2002 when RIM introduced the BlackBerry businesses flocked to purchase their products and integrate them with corporate messaging systems to allow mobile access to email. The device became known as the “CrackBerry” due to the fact that people who used them were constantly sending and replying to emails.

Enter the iPhone in 2007 when this functionality was brought to the masses and the corporate world walked into the IT department’s office with their new handset and said “make it work with my email”. This posed a challenge at the start, and would also herald the consumerisation of IT (remember that marketing term?).

For a while the world rested on a number of different communication modalities such as phone calls, text messaging, email, and (back then) disruptive technologies like Skype that provided text/voice/video.

Flash forward to the modern day and look around us at the variation of communication modalities available to us (and please don’t go hard on me as I’m nearing 40 and am not necessarily up to speed with all of the technologies available everywhere).

On my phone I have the following communication tools at my disposal:

App/Service Communication Modality Audience Individual/Group Messaging Capabilities Usage Level
Facebook Text (comments) Consumer Individual & Group High
Groups (Outlook) Text (email) Business Group Low
Instagram Text (comments) Consumer Individual Medium
LinkedIn Text Business Individual & Group Low
Messaging Text (SMS) n/a Individual & Group Low
Messenger (Facebook) Text, Voice, Video Consumer Individual & Group High
Microsoft Teams Text, Voice, Video Business Individual & Group Medium
Outlook Text (email) Business Individual & Group High
Skype Text, Voice, Video Consumer Individual & Group Low
Skype for Business Text, Voice, Video Business Individual & Group Medium
Twitter Text (same as SMS) Both Individual & Group Medium
WhatsAp Text, Voice, Video Consumer Individual & Group Low
Yammer Text Business Individual & Group Medium

I use most of those apps on a daily basis on my phone, but I am quite a connected and social person. I also vary and switch between applications for the same people on a regular basis.

For example, I may have a 1:1 conversation with Martina Grom and Darrell Webster (both Office 365 MVPs, friends, and co-contributors to community projects) separately using Facebook Messenger, but then we might also have a group conversation via Twitter group messaging. Why did we use Twitter group messaging instead of Facebook Messenger group messaging? Because Darrell initiated it and was probably using the Twitter app at the time he thought to start the conversation.

Conversely I may have a work conversation with one of my work colleagues via email, and then switch to Skype to talk about something not work-related. Why did we use Skype? Because perhaps that colleague doesn’t use Facebook but does use Skype.

Or I may have a short messaging conversation with a friend using Facebook Messenger but then we switch to text. Why? I don’t know – he started it. It doesn’t really matter as I’m still communicating with the same person.

What about my fellow MVPs and other friends who work at places that use Skype for Business? Do we message each other during the day on a consumer messaging platform, or switch to our Skype for Business work-based instant messaging platform because we know we have it and it’s easier than using something outside of our work context?

There are also a number of apps on the list above that I don’t use either due to platform or because I simply haven’t needed/wanted/gotten around to it – such as iMessage or FaceTime because I don’t use Apple products, Snapchat, Google Hangouts because I don’t use Google services, and I’m sure a whole bunch that I don’t even know of.

The challenge here is that the conversation is fragmented – it exists across a number of services and modalities. There’s no one communication flow and path.

And what happens to those users who are not “digital natives”? For example the conversation this morning with Martina and Darrell we were talking about the potential of using Medium as a publishing platform instead of our existing blog sites. So that prompted some research into why Medium over Tumblr or hosted versions of WordPress instead of our own hosted versions. Looking through the history of Medium we realised we were old and already behind the times. Think about that and the fact that we work with and have to keep current on a cloud platform that changes every day!

So in the workplace what can people expect?

Many IT departments and leadership do not drive the digital innovation that their organisations so desperately need. They leave the users to rely on email and perhaps even an instant messaging or conferencing system, but leave it at that because they believe their users fear or cannot handle change. Now I’m sure that millennials will put my communication app usage to shame, but the reality is that most people are already using more than phone calls and text messages on their phone. So why are IT departments limiting them to the same level of communications in the workplace?

Within Office 365 for many years we primarily had Outlook and Skype for Business (previously known as Lync, and previously before that known as Office Communicator). Back then the concept of instant messaging was disruptive enough, let alone computer-based audio/video calls and conferences. Then a few years ago came along Yammer and introduced enterprise social. In November 2016 Microsoft unveiled the preview of Microsoft Teams – something that brings together most of the previous three communication platforms in one application.

It is important when thinking that we know the best for our users and customers that we actually ask them.

It’s like expecting a marketing professional to work on a PC running Windows – sure they can make it work, but they’d probably be happier with a Mac. Perhaps we should ask them what they want and how they might work best before assuming our corporate standard is acceptable?

The same applies to every single user in an organisation. We don’t necessarily need to survey all staff, but it is important to make sure that their voice is heard and considered before choosing a communication platform for their organisation, department, or team.

A key point of the new communication world within Microsoft when we consider Outlook, Skype for Business, Yammer and Teams is that there is no “one size fits all” and that everybody works in different ways. I am more connected than a number of people I know, but then there are also a lot of people I know who are more connected than me. We need to make sure that we offer choice to people of all ages and levels.

My wife and I are both Generation-X and only two years apart (she is the younger one), yet I am the more technologically adept and social user. So straight away we have different communication modalities, speeds and preferences.

Let’s not be afraid of Teams or Yammer and the change they bring. Because if we do our users will use things like Slack and Facebook for Work that are beyond our control, security, identity management, and governance.

Let’s start a conversation about how people want to have a conversation, and go from there.