Two years after it first appeared, Microsoft’s mobile messaging app Kaizala is now available to all Office 365 users globally. Microsoft will integrate the app with its Teams collaboration platform in the next 12 to 18 months, the company said in a blog post on Thursday, as part of its larger plans to appeal to “first-line” workers such as retail, healthcare and service staffers.
Kaizala was launched in 2017 for customers in India, with the “Pro” version subsequently made available for commercial Office 365 subscriptions in 28 countries including Brazil, Turkey, and Indonesia. The free Kaizala app for Android and iOS has been available for individual download in the U.S. since launch, but not included in Office 365 subscriptions.
As of today, Kaizala is available to Office 365 customers globally in 40 languages and 180 markets, including the U.S.
What is Microsoft Kaizala?
Kaizala supports group text messaging as well as video and audio calls, much like consumer messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Indeed, Kaizala emerged as a project within Microsoft as a business alternative to consumer messaging apps, according to Raúl Castañón Martínez, a senior analyst at 451 Research.
With its business focus, Kaizala has security and administrative features that consumer-focused tools tend to lack. With Kaizala, data is encrypted at rest and in transit, and the Kaizala management portal lets admins create and manage groups, for example, as well as define group policies. This is important, as the use of consumer apps in the workplace can be a significant challenge for large organizations that want to retain control of sensitive data.
“Microsoft lacked a consumer-style, business-grade chat tool, especially one that could get business users away from the consumer tools they may be using,” said Wayne Kurtzman, research director at IDC. “Kaizala is part of that effort, and already comes with a number of compliance certifications.”
Users don’t need a Microsoft account to access Kaizala but can sign up with their phone number. This “open directory” approach makes it easier for temporary employees and contractors to access the service. It also makes it easy to enable the service for “first-line workers and those employees who are typically not provisioned with a corporate email [account] or assigned a work computer or smartphone,” Castañón Martínez said. “It addresses one of the key challenges that traditional business communications have had that prevents them from extending the service to first-line workers.”
How Kaizala fits with Teams
Microsoft’s wider rollout of Kaizala follows recent updates to Teams, Microsoft’s collaboration and communication tool, in a bid to win over first-line workers with new mobile app functions.
Kaizala differs from the Teams mobile app in a number of ways, and it’s aimed more at temporary workers and contractors, said Lori Wright, general manager of workplace collaboration at Microsoft.
“Kaizala serves as a complement to Teams,” she said. She explained that Teams works well for employees who are authorized on Microsoft Active Directory or have a Microsoft Account (MSA). “For more transient workers that you don't want to bring in and out of the corporate hierarchy and the directory, you can use Kaizala.”
Wright gave the example of a ski resort — the type of business that often has a high employee turnover of around 50%. Employees who are in charge of managing the resort on a permanent basis are suited to Teams. However, there will also be many transient workers who join for a single season that lasts a few weeks or months. This is where Kaizala comes in, she said.
“Kaizala is great for these types of workers: You can quickly put in your phone number, you can communicate with the other people, and then, when the winter or summer is up, that information stays with the organization.”
Wright also said there are numerous examples of organizations using Teams and Kaizala in tandem already, including several airline operators. In these cases, Teams is relied on for day to day management, while Kaizala is used by service staff that bring food onto the plane, for example.
Microsoft said in its blog post that it will bring Kaizala capabilities into Microsoft Teams as an “integrated offering,” a process that will occur over the 12 to 18 months. More details on the integration roadmap will appear later this quarter.
Castañón Martínez said that while there is “definitely an overlap with Teams” and Kaizala that could create some confusion for users, there are also “distinct attributes that differentiate both products and make them complementary of each other.”
He said that integrating Kaizala with Teams makes sense, as it “expands the reach of Teams into segments of workers that UC [unified communications] and other communication and collaboration tools have not covered before.”
He added that there are also advantages in having a single platform that covers all groups of employees, while providing the same security standards and access to business resources.
The key question is whether Microsoft can build a collaboration tool that can be everything for everyone, said Castañón Martínez. "Experience has shown that this is typically not a solid strategy, and ‘best of breed’ tends to prevail over ‘jack of all trades,’” he said. “So far, however, Microsoft is proving it can be done, at least to a certain extent, striking a balance between becoming relevant for specific use cases and verticals while still maintaining a horizontal appeal.”
Alongside Kaizala’s wider availability, new features were announced too.
This includes @mentions to tag individual members in a group conversation, image annotation, and the ability to delete messages within an hour of sending them. There is also a “Kaizala me” private chat space feature that lets users send themselves messages such as meeting notes or reminders.
A Kaizala web app — currently in public preview, with general availability later this quarter — lets managers and admins access and search chat, send documents and more from a PC or laptop.
New group and data management features include an updated Kaizala Management Portal that now supports single-sign on for Office 365 users, and in-region data residency for storage of customer data.
Other Kaizala roadmap features expected to launch “in the coming months” include Azure Active Directory sync within Kaizala, email invites for new users, and the ability to assign dedicated admins to manage Kaizala policies.