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Sideways 6 and Microsoft - Teams App Development-2

How we built an ideas app for Teams in partnership with Microsoft

A Q&A with Microsoft and Sideways 6 sharing how we built 'Ideas by Sideways 6' the idea management app for Microsoft Teams


With the launch of the new Sideways 6 application 'Ideas by Sideways 6' to the Microsoft Teams app store we caught up with Matt Calver, Head of Partnerships at Sideways 6, and Jack Lewis, Partner Technical Architect at Microsoft to hear how the app came about. 

We discussed how the partnership helped the app go from the outline of an idea all the way to being published in the app store and being picked up by some of the world's leading companies.


Matt let's kick off with you. Can you take us through why Sideways 6 wanted to develop the new application?

Matt: "Those who know Sideways 6 well will know that 'Ideas by Sideways 6' isn’t actually our first Microsoft Teams endeavor. As long-time Teams users ourselves, we've long known the power that Teams could have when it came to collecting employee ideas and driving innovation.

Early last year we launched our first Teams integration - you may have seen our dog-themed launch video! - that allows ideas to be collected from channels but after some testing and conversations with customers, we knew we hadn’t quite nailed it. 

 

So we went back to the drawing board. We looked at the way organizations use Teams and just as importantly the way individuals want to share ideas.

It quickly became apparent that to harness the power of Teams and maximize employee participation, the whole experience needed to be completely embedded and native within Teams.

This meant building a dedicated Teams app that connected to the Sideways 6 idea management platform.


Very interesting, where did you start with the project?

Matt: "We already had a starting point and knew that channels weren’t the ideal place to collect ideas from across the entire organization. Then like the start of any good project, it was incredibly research-heavy.  

We started by looking at what was already out there to get a better understanding of the Teams app space and we actually took a lot of inspiration from the Microsoft power app offering to understand some of the basics.

Sideways 6 & Microsoft Teams - Set Idea Challenges

We then ran a series of experiments to test how our use cases of innovation, continuous improvement, and employee engagement campaigns could all be supported in the Microsoft Teams environment.

We ended up interviewing leaders from Disney and Nestlé to American Express and Rio Tinto and these interviews allowed us to build out some MVP ('minimum viable product') mockups.

Microsoft's own app 'Employee Ideas' is great if you are working as part of a smaller team and you are looking for an app to collect a small number of ideas, but the research showed us that there was a need for something more for those people looking to run enterprise-wide innovation initiatives or idea campaigns that that would require sorting through and managing a high volume of ideas.

Teams Ideas Apps Comparison Ideas by Sideways 6 Microsoft Employee Ideas
Customize app name and icon  
Pin app to the Teams sidebar  
Customize campaign name, description & image
Customize idea submission form
View idea submission cards
Like & comment on ideas
Rank, filter & search for ideas
Shortlist & prioritize ideas
Send ideas to review panel  
Automate idea workflows  
Communicate back to ideas submitter  
Analyze campaign success  

 

Following some further testing, we were able to pin down the functionality our first viable product needed to include. After that, it was time to start building!"


Jack, you supported Sideways 6 with the first steps of the building process through a 3-day Microsoft Hack. What are the hacks all about and how did Microsoft support the Sideways 6 team?

Jack: "The Solution Accelerator Hack is hosted every few months and helps our technology partners overcome challenges, explore new technologies and speed up time to market. We provide three consecutive days of focused technical guidance and support from our technology-aligned solution architects.

Teams Hackathon - Sideways 6

Sideways 6 had the challenge of building a silent single-sign-on experience within their Teams application and deep integration into their backend system.

The hack enabled Sideways 6’s engineers to get focused time from our solution architects to understand the challenge, design a solution and engineer the features within a few days. It was great to see them leave the hack with a tangible solution that could be rolled out for customer feedback.

 

Our industry does not respect tradition.

What it respects is innovation.

-----  Satya Nadella  -----

The hack also allowed Microsoft to gain a much better understanding of the Sideways 6 offering, strengthen our technical partnership, and lay the foundation for future innovation."

Did you know?


There are over 145 million daily active users of Teams. That's the equivalent of the entire population of Russia logging into Teams every single day. Source: The FT

Matt: For us, the main outcome was a true acceleration in laying the foundations for the application. Our Lead Developers that attended the hack were able to really get into the detail of how we could provision users and allow instant sign-in through the silent authentication process that Jack outlined.

We were also able to start building some of the functionality that enabled ideas to be shared and then passed off to the Sideways 6 back-end for idea management which is absolutely key when it comes to innovation and ideas at scale with large organizations.

As a start-up, it also gave us some much-needed dedicated time to work on the project and we were able to draw on Microsoft support in breakouts and calls across the three days. This meant we were really able to work quickly through tough challenges and kick start the process safe in the knowledge we were following Microsoft best practice when it came to creating a great experience for users of the app. We couldn't recommend the hack enough!"


Jack, are Teams applications a big focus for Microsoft at the moment?

Jack: "Teams is a particular strategic focus for Microsoft, more and more organizations are looking to the Teams platform for improved collaboration and streamlined business processes.

Using Teams applications allows for higher productivity, less friction, and greater accessibility through our first and third-party applications when compared to using suites of disparate applications.

Teams Everyday

Our partner-first approach means that we have a terrific partner ecosystem publishing applications to the App Store which enhance the platform and provide rich user experiences and improved productivity and collaboration."


 What has been the customer reception?

Matt: "The Teams app has been a genuine game-changer for Sideways 6. We can now help companies collect ideas in Microsoft Teams in a really native way that allows organizations to create a dedicated space for innovation and ideas.

Sideways 6 and Microsoft Teams - Tube AdvertBecause of the huge amount of functionality within Teams we have been able to create a really nice front-end experience for idea submitters while bringing in the key parts of our back-end product into the Teams environment.

With the app and the Sideways 6 platform organizations can now:

  • Launch fully branded campaigns within Teams
  • Collect ideas from employees with a few clicks
  • Communicate back to idea submitters automatically
  • Allow idea submitters to collaborate around ideas with likes and comments
  • and manage ideas that are shared in Teams from inception all the way through to delivery.

Ideas by Sideways 6 for Microsoft Teams

Nearly half of our customers are already using the app and it's introduced us to a number of other great organizations that weren't aware of Sideways 6 before.

We are incredibly grateful for the support from Microsoft on getting the app to market and are looking forward to seeing all the amazing ideas our customers bring to life over the coming years."


Sounds very exciting. What's next?

Jack – "New functionality is being added to Teams all the time and we are focused on further improving the user experience, accessibility, and collaboration it provides.

We will continue to invest in our partners to bring exciting applications to the Teams platform enhancing its capabilities and embracing new working practices. We look forward to welcoming Sideways 6 on future hacks to accelerate joint business growth and technological innovation."

 

The value of an idea lies in the using of it

-----  Thomas Edison  -----

Matt - "We have a huge amount of additional functionality we want to build into the app to further enhance the user experience when sharing ideas on Microsoft Teams.

We are currently exploring further gamifying the process to bring some more fun elements into the app. There is a lot you can do within Teams due to the nature of the platform so we will be continuing to collect feedback from customers as we improve the app and launch new features!"

Thanks for the time both, exciting things to come!


If you enjoyed this article and would like to see the app in action, you can request a personalised demonstration at www.sideways6.com/Teams. 


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