Microsoft adds chatbots to Teams for the Pentagon

Yes, DoD admins, your users can ask for this now, but make sure your bots are in compliance

Administrators at the US Department of Defense are just like you: soon they'll have the option to add chatbots and message extensions into Teams for users.

Previously they couldn't do this, but Microsoft recently added the collab features already found in enterprises for the DoD – albeit for a more secure environment.

Agency admins can add the features as a line-of-business app. Third-party calling and meeting apps, however, are not available, at least not for this release, according to Shruti Mundra, senior product manager for Teams at Microsoft.

Microsoft offers bots in the Government Community Cloud, GCC-High – the cloud platform created for cleared personnel and organizations that support the DoD – and DoD cloud environments.

Watch your compliance, admins

As part of the release for the DoD, Microsoft is allowing devs to register a bot in the DoD cloud and for admins to sideload an app with bots, Mundra wrote. Redmond also has enabled conversational platform features that are available in the Teams Commercial instance, including Bot APIs, message extensions, single sign-on support, adaptive cards, and task modules.

However, the bots come with a word of warning: in such highly regulated environments like the DoD, enabling them will change the tenant's compliance boundaries.

"It is, therefore, the responsibility of the tenant administrators to ensure that they stay compliant with their FedRAMP, DFARS [Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement], ITAR [International Traffic in Arms Regulations], and other application requirements," Mundra wrote.

According to Microsoft, "a message extension consists of a web service that you host and an app manifest, which defines where your web service is invoked from in the Teams client. The web service takes advantage of the Bot Framework's messaging schema and secure communication protocol, so you must register your web service as a bot in the Bot Framework."

There are two variants of message extension commands, including action commands to create a modal popup task module for collecting or displaying information, processing the interaction, and sending the information back to Teams. Using search commands, users can search external systems and insert the results into a message called a card.

Chat, attendance reports and more

These are the latest additions to Teams for the DoD. Redmond in January added a host of new features to Teams for the government agency, including new scheduling form pop-outs, attendance reports, and emojis.

The new features, including the chatbots – also known as conversational bots – and message extensions are intended to automate tasks, get more out of web services, improve management of Teams, or more widely express themselves in meetings.

The chatbot can run repetitive user tasks like customer service or support staff, offering quick questions and answers or more complex conversations, Mundra wrote.

"Message extensions allow the users to interact with your web service through buttons and forms in the Microsoft Teams client," she wrote. "They can search or initiate actions in an external system from the compose message area, the command box, or directly from a message. You can send back the results of that interaction to the Microsoft Teams client in the form of a richly formatted card."

Microsoft over the past four months has bulked up what DoD personnel can do in Teams. In both GCC-High and DoD clouds, the company is taking a first step to resolve the hurdle of working on a file, to chat, or to look into an activity while managing time on Teams. Before, users had to switch between the apps if they wanted to work in the calendar, which could lead to lost data or context.

Now the scheduling form can be popped out as a separate window, whether creating a new meeting or working on an existing one.

In addition, meeting organizers can check attendance information for regular meetings or webinars on Teams for Android and iOS, including webinar registration data and times that attendees joined and left meetings. Meeting participants can also use emojis and organizations can disable or enable attendee videos before or during a meeting.

Participants also will now be able to automatically see up to 49 videos in a 7x7 format on their screen (before the maximum was nine videos in a 3x3 format; viewing any more required manual intervention) and organizers can manage the audio of meeting attendees. They can enable or disable participants' ability to use their microphones and modify their speaking capabilities. Very useful for noisy types. ®

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