Microsoft Crashes the Employee Experience Party: Brings Together Glint, Workplace Analytics, and Others to Disrupt the Market
February 4th, 2021
Last Friday, we suggested that February would provide us with another strong next segment of HR tech market watching (did you take that popcorn out of the microwave like we advised?!). And wow, do we have a good one on our hands!
Today Microsoft announced Viva, a single employee experience platform “designed to empower people and teams to be their best.”
This announcement fundamentally reshapes the employee experience and people analytics tech market.
Those of you who know us well know that we don’t throw that type of language around lightly — and thus had to write a long blog to share our thoughts (#Sorry #NotSorry).
We’re going to explain what this new product is, why it’s such a big deal to the employee experience and people analytics tech market, and the implications for Glint (the engagement solution Microsoft bought 2.5 years ago).
What is Microsoft Viva?
For those of you who have been following along, you know we've predicted Microsoft would enter the employee experience market for years, especially following its acquisition of GitHub, LinkedIn, Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning), and Glint. That day has finally come.
Built on top of Microsoft 365 and Teams, Viva offers four modules (see Figure 1), which combine existing Microsoft offerings into a single solution:
- Connections – Creates a “digital campus” where all policy, benefits, communities, and other centralized resources are available. (Available this summer.)
- Insights – Combines Microsoft Workplace Analytics, My Analytics, and Glint to provide employees with insights on how they work, and gives managers and leaders information about their teams, burnout risk, after-hours work, etc. (Available now.)
- Topics – Leverages Project Cortex to identify knowledge and experts across the organization, generating topic cards, topic pages, and knowledge centers (including people – not just information) for others to access – a “Wikipedia of people and information” for the org. (Available now.)
- Learning – Integrates LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com), Microsoft Learn, and other external sources (including LMSs or LXPs such as Cornerstone and Skillsoft) into a single location within Microsoft. (Available this summer.)
For the newbies here, let’s clarify a few things: What is employee experience and how does tech support it?
Let’s take a step back here and provide a definition, as folks like to throw around the term “employee experience” like a magic eight ball (shake it and a different definition comes out each time!).
We define employee experience as:
Employees’ collective perceptions of their ongoing interactions with the organization1.
Within that definition, there are some nuances, which we illustrate in Figure 2. The main point is this: employee experience encompasses the entire experience – not just tech.
However, tech vendors – who have been largely responsible for popularizing the term – have only generally focused on a subset of employee experience:
- Improving and measuring employees’ tech experiences
- Measuring employees’ collective perceptions, primarily (though not solely) through surveys
Until a few years ago, vendors tended to stay in one of those two boxes. However, we’re seeing more overlap than we used to, such as employee experience vendors moving more into employee engagement (e.g., Qualtrics or Medallia) or HCM vendors offering employee surveying solutions (such as what we talked about last week with the Workday / Peakon acquisition).
Despite all the great things about employee experience vendors, many of them face 3 important challenges:
- Surveys are limited in scope. Surveys can only report on the specific items in the survey, only measure employees’ perceptions (vs. what actually happened), and can only be done with limited frequency (#surveyfatigue).
- Experience data are incomplete. Even in vendors that extend beyond survey data, they are often still limited in terms of the data available: the data necessary to truly understand how employees work exists outside these vendors’ solutions.
- Integration and analytics capabilities are limited. Many (though not all) of these solutions are not built to integrate varied data types at scale or to conduct deep analytics, limiting their ability to explain employee experience outside of the data they capture or integrate.
As a result of these challenges, many employee experience vendors partner with multi-source analysis platforms (e.g., Visier, Crunchr, OneModel, SplashBI, HCMI Solve and others in our people analytics tech tool), which specialize in data integration and deep analysis. Those tools’ core capabilities are integrating varied data sources and deriving meaningful insights from a lot of data. A prime example of this is the announced partnership between Visier and Medallia.
In sum, employee experience vendors, to date, have only covered part of employee experience – leaving open space for someone who can (at least claim to) do it all.
Why is Viva – and Viva Insights in particular – such a big deal?
Microsoft Viva has the potential to do three really important things:
- Cover nearly all digital aspects of employee experience, unlike any other vendor on the market
- Integrate expansive amounts of passive, continuous behavioral employee data with perception data (only for Glint / Microsoft / Workplace Analytics customers)
- Seamlessly provide deep analytics and insights of these larger data sets via Glint and Microsoft Workplace Analytics
These three capabilities are why we think this announcement fundamentally reshapes BOTH the employee experience and the broader people analytics tech market.
Let’s start with the first two points about the breadth of employee experience and data types. Through its combination of offerings, Viva will have access to continuous, passive, behavioral data in the areas that most of the other employee experience and people analytics vendors do not:
- Work Relationships: LinkedIn (who you know, inside and outside your company), Office 365 (also who you know, but combining that with email, calendars, Teams, Yammer, SharePoint interactions, etc.)
- Work Environment: Office 365 — including SharePoint — products (where work is getting done), but also Connections (the central hub) and Topics (the “Wikipedia of the org”)
- Org practices: Office 365 (how work is getting done and with whom), Topics (where and with whom information resides), LinkedIn Learning (what people are learning), and Glint’s performance development capabilities (360s, anytime feedback, development goals, and manager nudges)
Viva Insights will also be able to address the other areas existing experience vendors cover, such as improvement and analysis of highly repeatable experiences and employee engagement / experience surveys (Glint).
Finally, Viva Insights will provide an integrated, deep analytics platform with the combination of Glint, Workplace Analytics, and My Analytics (for employees). There will be no need for customers to marry two different vendors and hope they can sort out data integration challenges. Viva Insights should do all of this, seamlessly, and then integrate it into Teams and Office 365. It is important to note that all of the above is only possible if companies are customers of the relevant products (e.g., Glint and Workplace Analytics), but there are no additional integration costs.
With this offering, Viva has the potential to fill the gaps left in the employee experience market, and thus fundamentally change it.
What does this mean for Glint?
First, it is critical to note that Glint will continue to operate as a standalone offering, in addition to being integrated into Viva. The integration of Glint into Viva – and the inherent integration of Glint with Workplace Analytics that comes with it – means that Glint’s aperture of employee experience is much bigger, and moves beyond employee engagement (perception) data to include passive, continuous behavioral data. Glint, through these integrations, will be the only vendor that will be able to do this at such scale.
The primary benefit of this is leaders will be able to connect how people feel to how people work.
The specific types of questions they will be able to answer are things like:
- What work patterns and habits correlate with specific employee perceptions?
- How do those sentiments influence how people work and collaborate?
Practically speaking, that means leaders can tell if manager 1:1s, large team meetings, or growth in after-hours work is impacting employee engagement as well as other perceptions.
Given the recent (and critical) focus on mental health and wellbeing, this connection of data sources – and literally being able to see what people are doing and how it is affecting them – could be a game changer for many customers, and thus for Glint, as well. Customers will be able to access this analysis either within Workplace Analytics (Figure 3) or Glint (Figure 4).
Glint is very likely to get a super-charge to their business as a result of this announcement.
There are numerous reasons for this:
- Glint gets more looks. Existing Microsoft and Workplace Analytics customers looking for an employee engagement solution will be more likely to look at Glint due to the integration.
- More actionable data. The integration with Viva and Workplace Analytics will give Glint customers the ability to access data that tells leaders which behaviors (as measured by all these passive data sources) are resulting in different outcomes, and as such those data will be highly actionable.
- Data where people will use it. The integration of Glint data into so many other Microsoft products means customers won’t have to step out of the apps they use to access the data. It will be presented in the course of the normal workday, enhancing the likelihood of action and thus impact.
Also, looking forward, there are many future product offerings Glint could develop as a result of gaining access to this richer data set (e.g., organizational network analysis (ONA), targeted manager offerings based on more relevant, real-time data).
It all sounds so good. What could go wrong?
The sections above outline what could be. We all know that the reality can be harder.
First, much of the success of this product requires the different parts of Microsoft to collaborate with each other effectively. We all know that large companies don’t always do that. Further, much of this product involves successfully stitching together existing products and, again, that is often easier said than done, due to tech debt, tech limitations, and in some cases, egos.
Second, one of the big selling points here is that all the data actually integrates and everyone has access to what they need. Even though Microsoft is one company, it is highly unlikely that much of this data is on a similar architecture (especially when you factor in the number of acquisitions being pieced together here – oy vey!). I imagine that a lot of this data alignment work has been done, but we all know the devil is in the details when it comes to data integration. Further, a company has to be customers of all these various solutions in order to reap the benefits of data integration.
Finally – and this is the elephant in the room – there are issues of data privacy and ethics. All these data together – especially data coming from work productivity apps – presents some really thorny issues. We’ve been told that the following data privacy steps have been taken:
"Leaders and managers using Viva Insights in Glint—currently in pilot—can see only aggregated, de-identified results based on the confidentiality thresholds built into Glint. The Glint dashboard will never display Viva Insights information about an individual's work patterns."
While these are all real and meaningful steps to take, there will likely remain other questions, such as:
- Will employees be told that these types of data will be collected and what will be done with them?
- Will employees have the ability to opt out?
- What are the ethical implications and unintended consequences of looking at all these data together? (Perhaps the most important question of them all.)
What does this mean for the broader employee experience, people analytics, and HR tech market?
There are a lot of broader market implications of this announcement, but we have space for just a few:
- Passive / continuous data is now a must for employee experience vendors. Employee experience and engagement vendors that don’t have a way to access continuous data need to figure it out and FAST.
- Multi-source analysis platforms may be the next area of acquisitions. Given the pressure this puts on seamlessly combining lots of data with platforms that can analyze it, we may see some of the multi-source analysis platforms be purchased by bigger HCM or employee experience providers.
- Big money is here for real in the employee experience market. In case you needed more convincing after last week’s heady news of the $27 billion valuation of Qualtrics and the Workday acquisition of Peakon, this deal should reinforce one thing: BIG money is now here in employee experience and HR tech. And it is going to crash plenty of other parties.
As we all know, the proof will be in the pudding when it comes to how well this new offering serves customers. However, it has all the pieces to be truly transformational for our industry, and we expect it to drive some quick responses from competitors. The next segment of HR Tech watching should be another good one.
Until next time, stay well and safe — and please, don't forget the popcorn!
Heather Gilmartin Adams
- “The Four Levers of Employee Experience to Create Sustainable Results,” Stacia Garr / Karina Freitag, RedThread Research, October 2019.