Q&A: What Microsoft Viva Means for Partners and the SharePoint Community

With Microsoft Viva applications rolling out, VisualSP's Asif Rehmani shares his take on how the platform could impact SharePoint users and the Microsoft partners that support them.

Microsoft is positioning its new Viva platform as an "employee experience platform," with many implications for organizations running SharePoint Online and Microsoft Teams.

First unveiled in February, Viva has four planned applications: Viva Topics, Viva Connections (previously known as the SharePoint "Home Site app for Teams"), Viva Insights and Viva Learning. In March, Microsoft announced the general availability (GA) of Viva Topics, as well as released the Viva Connections desktop app for PCs (mobile and Web clients are expected to arrive this summer).

As Microsoft Viva applications all start to emerge as GA commercial products, I asked Asif Rehmani, founder and CEO at VisualSP, about his views on Microsoft Viva relative to SharePoint. Plainfield, Ill.-based VisualSP makes products that provide in-context help within SharePoint, plus the company offers training videos and classes. Rehmani, an author of SharePoint books and a lecturer, has received the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional award for 14 consecutive years.

Mackie: Were you surprised, as a longtime Microsoft MVP on the SharePoint side, by the direction Microsoft took in announcing Microsoft Viva? How are partners reacting?
Rehmani: Not surprised at all. It was a logical thing for Microsoft to do. Microsoft Teams and SharePoint are by far two of the most popular applications within the Microsoft 365 universe and bringing them together just seems obvious. With Viva Connections, employees can now go into Teams and see their SharePoint-based intranet home site right in their flow of work within Teams.

I believe the partners' community sentiment is the same. It was a long time coming and we are all glad that Microsoft built the Viva brand to bring in the investments they are making in SharePoint within Teams, where people are spending most of their days.

Is SharePoint assuming a more back-end content management role in this scheme, rather than being the central place for a company's intranet communications?
SharePoint has been, and will always, remain the core Microsoft collaboration component. SharePoint is the largest consumer of Azure cloud. So many services are hosted and provided by SharePoint that it is an essential cornerstone for almost all technologies within the Microsoft 365 stack. SharePoint interfaces are still very crucial to provide the easy navigable components of an intranet. With Viva connections now being surfaced inside Teams, it just brings the goodness of SharePoint closer to employees, where they are already at -- within Microsoft Teams.

Viva Connections is considered to be an application, not connector middleware, but the install process seems somewhat complex. What's your impression so far about Viva Connections?
It is true that the one-time installation of Viva Connections is not user interface-driven. It requires administrative privileges in SharePoint and Teams and also requires you to use the SharePoint PowerShell console. Having said that, this will be easy to pull off for anyone who is comfortable with administering SharePoint and Teams, within an hour or less. A small price to end up with an app that serves as a gateway for your intranet for your employees with within their daily flow of work.

Having said that, Microsoft does intend to provide a much easier user interface to install Viva Connections in the future.

"SharePoint interfaces are still very crucial to provide the easy navigable components of an intranet. With Viva connections now being surfaced inside Teams, it just brings the goodness of SharePoint closer to employees, where they are already at -- within Microsoft Teams."

Asif Rehmani, Founder and CEO, VisualSP

Can organizations use Viva Connections without first building SharePoint sites?
​SharePoint is the foundation of Viva Connections. You can't have Viva Connections without building out your SharePoint site first. And not just any SharePoint site but it has to be a modern SharePoint Communication Site. Microsoft recommends that the Communication Site be designated as a Home Site also, but that's not a requirement.

Will Viva Connections enhance company communications by putting SharePoint Home pages in Teams, or is it just another access method and perhaps optional?
I'm a big proponent of meeting people where they are. Contextual delivery of information in the flow of work is the way to get people's attention. No matter how great a resource some information is, if it takes a few steps to find that information, then the chances of that information being discovered decrease quite a bit.

Having said that, Viva Connections aspires to do exactly that. It brings the communication from a company as close to the consumers, their employees, as possible. I foresee Viva Connections becoming the first tile on Teams that people land on every morning when they start up Teams. That way, they see their intranet home page and consume relevant news and information they need to know before they start their day. So Viva Connections becomes the communication layer through which a company communicates to their employees and then those same employees continue collaborating with each other throughout the day using the same tool (Teams) on Channels, Chats and Meetings.

People already need help using SharePoint. Does VisualSP's efforts to provide SharePoint training solutions become more or less complex with the Microsoft Viva layer on top of SharePoint?
VisualSP has been innovating ways to deliver information to employees within organizations in the contextual manner way before it was cool to do so in the mainstream. We sincerely believe, and now have been verified by Microsoft Viva, as well, that you need to meet users where they are in the flow of work, in context of their own environment and at their moment of need.

VisualSP provides solutions that create a better together story along with Microsoft Viva Connections. Our customizable guided walkthroughs, announcement banners, in-line help, video pop-ups and more are components that show up directly on top of a SharePoint site -- and now within Viva Connections, as well. Companies use these contextual components to onboard and provide ongoing support and training to their users. 

We are very bullish about how VisualSP can continue to provide a complete solution built on top of components of Microsoft Viva and looking forward to a bright future together.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.