Microsoft’s Viva Platform Shakes Up HR Technology Market

Vendors integrate services to pull all the tools employees use into one portal

By Dave Zielinski February 25, 2021
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​Microsoft's new Viva employee experience platform—an app in Microsoft Teams that functions as a one-stop-shop employee portal—has arrived. HR technology vendors now need to determine how they'll co-exist with or compete against a major new player in the market.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said the migration to remote work during the pandemic has made consolidated platforms that integrate a company's system with third-party services more important than ever.

"Every organization will require a unified employee experience from onboarding and collaboration to continuous learning and growth," Nadella said.

Microsoft said the initial release of Viva will feature modules that help employees find internal communications, trends, learning resources and information across the company's own systems and sources such as Zoom, Slack, Workday and SAP SuccessFactors.

Implications for HR

Josh Bersin, an HR technology industry analyst and founder of the Josh Bersin Academy in Oakland, Calif., said the Viva app addresses some of the most important and complicated areas of the employee experience.

"These are enormously important areas of an employee's life, and Viva is bringing them right into Microsoft Teams, which makes them easier to find, easier to use and more intelligent," Bersin said.

Trevor White, research manager for employee applications with Nucleus Research, a research and advisory firm in Boston, said Viva's insight goes beyond what individual HCM vendors provide.

"We've seen the market as a whole move toward a more standardized, cohesive strategy around the employee experience, and Microsoft is now at the forefront of that movement," White said.

Such unified platforms also can address challenges around collaboration and feelings of isolation that remote workers have experienced during the pandemic. "We're seeing a focus by vendors on collaboration tools and applications that help recreate the office environment with the understanding many people may never go back to the traditional workplace," White added.

There is room for improvement in the services HR offers to improve employee experience, said Brian Kropp, group vice president and chief of HR research for research and advisory firm Gartner.

"Products that will have the biggest impact on supporting employers in this space will accomplish two things," Kropp said. "First, they will pull together a wide array of tools into a more consistent and connected set of experiences, creating a better user experience for employees and additional insights for employers. In addition, technologies like these will help organizations realize they have to manage the life experience of employees, not just the employee experience."

Kropp said such attention to life experience will help employers better understand employees' personal lives and thus deliver more well-rounded support.

Impact on HR Technology Market

Experts say the arrival of Microsoft Viva presents new challenges and decisions for HR technology vendors. "I think the learning experience platform vendors are going to have to co-exist or compete with Viva," Bersin said. "The survey and engagement vendors are going to want to integrate with Viva. Vendors who sell content are going to want to be Viva content providers. And vendors who do case management, workflow management and onboarding may find Viva competitive or a new platform they have to work with."

White believes Viva will accelerate an ongoing movement by HR technology providers to unify fragmented systems and will lead to more market consolidation. "Microsoft is following where the market already was heading over the past 18 months in creating more unified, cohesive technology platforms," he said. "As a result of the trend, I think we'll also see more consolidation of HR vendors and more small providers either being acquired or having to partner up to survive."

Stacey Harris, chief research officer and managing partner with the Sapient Insights Group, an HR advisory and research firm in Atlanta, said some components of Viva represent an extension of employee and manager self-service applications now common in many HR technology platforms.

"Viva's success depends on how user-friendly the platform is," she said. "It will be interesting to see how many organizations see Viva as an addition to or replacement for their current employee and manager self-service solutions."

Viva's success also will depend in part on how effectively Microsoft integrates data from other enterprise applications into its platform, Harris added. "If integration isn't easy, it will just become one more location where employees have to go to access information and connections."

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer and editor in Minneapolis.

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