Chapter 6: Extending Microsoft Teams Using Apps – Hands-On Microsoft Teams

Chapter 6: Extending Microsoft Teams Using Apps

Microsoft Teams is more than a communication platform, and its features are not limited to chat and meetings.

Microsoft Teams can be used to handle daily communication with colleagues, almost replacing internal emails. On the other hand, it can be extended with apps to support business logic that is not included by default in the application, removing the necessity to use third-party tools or bring those tools into the Microsoft Teams context.

This chapter introduces Microsoft Teams apps and explains how to get started with the app store, using available apps as examples.

In the following pages, you will find information about these main topics:

  • Understanding apps in Microsoft Teams
  • Installing apps on Microsoft Teams
  • Getting familiar with Microsoft Teams app types
  • Managing personal apps
  • Uninstalling apps from Microsoft Teams

Understanding apps in Microsoft Teams

One of the weapons of Microsoft Teams is the apps you can add to it to enhance its features and make the user experience of the application better.

Apps open a wide variety of possibilities and configurations that allow you to tailor Microsoft Teams exactly according to your needs and following your own procedures and workflows.

Using apps, you will be able to bring to Microsoft Teams information and data that is stored in third-party applications. This is important in the modern workplace environment because it allows the user to continue in the same environment without the need to switch between applications.

According to the study The total economic impact of Microsoft Teams from April 2019, "Information workers save 15 minutes per day and firstline workers 5 minutes per day by having features and information sources available within Teams, rather than switching between apps. Time savings cover the mechanics of switching and cognitive re-engagement. The total savings over three years is nearly $4.8 million.”

The app experience on Teams is no different than the experience we all know in our phones and in our computers. Teams has its own application store where users can go and look for apps that suit their needs. Apps are divided into five different categories that we will look at in detail:

  • Personal apps: These give you a personal view of your work and can be installed and configured by you according to your needs.
  • Bots: A bot brings you information from other apps using natural language. You can query the bot and it will send you the right information
  • Tabs: You can add the applications you need as tabs in the context of channels and one-to-one or group chats
  • Connectors: Connectors will post notifications from other services to your channels.
  • Messaging: Messaging apps include information in a card format from external services and post it to group, team, or one-to-one chats.

These five types of app allow you to bring information from third-party systems into meetings, chats, and calls with just a few clicks without ever leaving the Microsoft Teams ecosystem. An app can include support for one or more categories. This means it will have different behaviors when installed, which you can take advantage of and reuse in different scenarios. Now that we know what Microsoft Teams apps are, let's look at how to install them in the next section.

Installing apps on Microsoft Teams

Any user of Microsoft Teams (with the exception of guests) is able to install apps. You just need to open the app store and select the desired app, as shown in the following steps:

  1. To open the app store in Microsoft Teams, click on the Apps icon in the sidebar.
  2. The app store will open in the stage area, as shown in the following screenshot:

    Figure 6.1: Microsoft Teams app store

  3. By default, the store opens with the unfiltered list of all the available apps for your region, but the search and the vertical menu with the categories and types can be used to refine it.
  4. Select the app you want to install and click on it.
  5. A pop-up window like the one in the following screenshot will open, and from it you will be able to get a preview of the app running on Microsoft Teams, a description of the features, and access to privacy and permissions:

    Figure 6.2: Adding a new app

  6. Click on Add to install the app.

Remember, depending of the app type, the Add button might assume different layouts with different options. The following screenshots show the possible variants:

Figure 6.3: Variations on the Add button

(a) Add means that the app will become available globally.

(b) Add to a team means that the app will be installed in a team. When the button just shows this option, it means the app cannot be used in any other context and you will not be able to use it as a personal app.

(c) Add to a chat means that the app can be installed and added to a group chat or to a one-to-one chat.

(d) Open isn't shown in the image. This option means that the app is already installed in your tenant and is ready to use.

Now that we have installed our apps, let's explore and implement the different types of apps in the next section.

Getting familiar with Microsoft Teams app types

This section will help you to understand each of the five app types by beginning with scenarios and with sample apps selected from the store.

The scenarios are described with configuration instructions. Please note that the options might be different depending on the app you will be using in your environment.

The examples are the typical scenarios that will boost your productivity when using Microsoft Teams. By using the apps on Microsoft Teams, you will be able to do most of your tasks without losing focus and wasting time switching between applications. So, let's get right to it.

Personal apps

Let's begin with our first scenario:

João, the book writer

João is writing a book about Microsoft Teams and is using Microsoft Planner to help with the deadlines and the requests made by the editor. Since João is writing about Microsoft Teams and using it intensively, he pinned Microsoft Planner as a personal app; this way, all the remaining tasks for the book are just one click away.

Microsoft Planner is pre-installed on Microsoft Teams, and to start using it as a personal app, all you have to do is this:

  1. Click on the three dots on the app menu to expand the submenu with all the personal apps available for you.
  2. Click on Microsoft Planner. Since it is part of your Office 365 subscription, you don't need to provide authentication. Planner will immediately display your tasks, as shown in the following screenshot:

Figure 6.4: Personal app

Bots

We will now take a look at our second scenario:

John, the developer

John is a developer working on an open source project available on GitHub. John and the other project members are communicating through Microsoft Teams and are using the GitHub app to easily get an overview of all the open issues and to assign them to the right person.

To install the GitHub app on Microsoft Teams, do the following:

  1. Open the Teams app store.
  2. On the vertical menu, click on Bots.
  3. Search for GitHub and click on it.
  4. Click on Add to team.
  5. Look for the channel where you want to add it.
  6. Set up the connection to GitHub. This is required to grant permissions to get information from the GitHub repositories.

The interaction with bots is done through the chat, and you will be able to use natural language to question the application, which will reply to you using the intelligent mechanism it was built with.

Since bots and users are posting messages in the same chats, Microsoft Teams identifies bot messages with a hexagonal profile picture instead of using a round one, which is reserved for real users.

To interact with a bot, all you have to do is mention it in the chat window and then type the keywords that the bot will use to query the system. A mention on Microsoft Teams starts with @ followed by the name of the bot or the person.

If you are not sure of what you can do with the bot, check the What can I do? section shown in the following screenshot. It will show an overview of the commands that the bot understands. This option becomes available when you mention a bot, and it is demonstrated in the following screenshot. You can also see the hexagonal profile picture of the bot:

Figure 6.5: Mentioning a bot

If the bot doesn't know the answer to one of your questions, it will inform you so you can use alternative methods to find the information you are looking for:

Figure 6.6: Interaction with a bot

Successful replies are always made in the thread where the question was asked, and the results are displayed in a card format.

If you perform an action in the card that triggers a new question to the bot, it will reply in the same thread, keeping all the information related to the interaction aggregated in one location.

The following screenshot shows a thread conversation between a user and a bot. The user asked for the issues and, when they clicked on one of them, it triggered a new question to the bot, which replied with the issue details:

Figure 6.7: Bot conversation

Tabs

We now move on to our third scenario to understand how tabs are used:

Francis, the customer success manager

Francis is the customer success manager in an IT company and is responsible for keeping the customers happy. Francis' team has members all around the world, and to keep everyone in sync they are using Microsoft Teams.

Customers are reporting issues and requesting support using Zendesk, a customer service tool, which integrates with Microsoft Teams. To keep the information centralized and to get an immediate overview of all the requests, Francis added Zendesk for Microsoft Teams to a tab on the customer success team; this way, she can monitor the status of the tickets.

To add Zendesk as a tab on Microsoft Teams, do the following:

  1. Open the Teams app store.
  2. On the vertical menu, click on Tabs.
  3. Search for Zendesk and click on it.
  4. Search for the channel where you want to add the tab and click on Setup.
  5. Authenticate and select the ticket view you want to display on the tab:

    Figure 6.8: Tab configuration

  6. Click Save.
  7. A new tab is created in the channel with the name of the view, and you will be able to interact with the support system. If you need to create more tabs to display other views, repeat the entire process:

Figure 6.9: Tab

Tabs allow you to modify the configurations after being added to the team. This way, if you make a mistake or if you simply want to change what is being displayed, you can modify it without deleting the tab and go through the installation process again.

Tabs can only be modified by Team owners. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Open the tab you want to modify.
  2. Next to the tab name, click on the down arrow.
  3. Click on Settings. This menu also has the option to rename or remove a tab:

    Figure 6.10: Tab settings

  4. A popup will open with the configurations for the tab. Note that the configuration options will be different in most of the tabs you have installed on Microsoft Teams.

Connectors

In this scenario, we will see how connectors are useful.

Susan, the marketing manager

Susan is the marketing manager of a Formula E racing team and is responsible for collecting everything Formula E-related that is posted by the press. To collect the news, Susan is using the RSS connector configured to get news from the main sites that cover the sport. Every time one of them publishes a new article, it also gets published on Susan's media channel on Microsoft Teams.

To add the RSS or any other connector available in the store to one of your teams, do the following:

  1. Open the Teams app store.
  2. On the vertical menu, click on Connectors.
  3. Search for RSS and click on the application.
  4. In the pop-up window, click on Add to a team:

    Figure 6.11: Adding a connector

  5. Select the team and the channel where you want to set up the connector.
  6. Click on Set up connector.
  7. Enter a name for the RSS connection.
  8. Enter the RSS feed URL.
  9. Choose the digest frequency.
  10. Click on Save:

Figure 6.12: Setting up a connector

Messages posted by the connector are added in a card format, and each connector has its own profile picture. Profile pictures used by the connectors have a hexagonal format to help users distinguish them from real users' profiles, which are displayed with a circular picture:

Figure 6.13: Connector message

Connectors added to channels can be modified or removed according to a user's needs. To modify a running connector from a channel, do the following:

  1. Open the channel where you want to modify the connector.
  2. Click on the three dots next to the name of the channel or in the top-right corner to open the context menu.
  3. In the context menu, click on Connectors.
  4. A popup will open showing the list of all connectors. The ones applied to the team are in the Connectors for your team section:

    Figure 6.14: Managing channel connectors

  5. Click on the Configure button.
  6. Reconfigure the connector and click on Save.

Messaging extensions

In this last scenario, we will try to understand when we can use messaging extensions.

Geno, the basketball coach

Geno is a basketball coach planning to schedule a party to celebrate the success of the season, but he is unsure about the date. Throughout the season, Geno used Microsoft Teams to communicate with the athletes and staff members, so he will use it one more time to do a poll regarding the celebration date. Geno will use a messaging app called Microsoft Forms, an extension of the platform with the same name that is included in Office 365. Using this, he will be able to post the poll to the General channel, and everybody will be able to vote and see the results.

To add Microsoft Forms or any other messaging app, do the following:

  1. Open the Teams app store.
  2. On the vertical menu, click on Messaging.
  3. In the search box, type Forms.
  4. In the app listing, click on Forms.
  5. In the pop-up window, click on the arrow to open the dropdown and then click on Add:

Figure 6.15: Adding a messaging extension

Now that you have the app installed, it's time to use it. Messaging apps, once installed, become available to all the users, and you can find them next to the textbox used to type messages. To create a new form, do the following:

  1. Open the channel or the chat where you want to post the form.
  2. Under the textbox, click on the Forms icon.
  3. In the popup, type the question for the poll and add the options.
  4. Click on Next:

    Figure 6.16: Composing the message using the extension

  5. If the preview looks as you expect, click on Send.
  6. The form and the poll result are added to the channels and the chat window so anyone can vote and see the results:

Figure 6.17: Message posted using the extension

Now that we have had a look at all the different types of Microsoft Apps, in our next section, we will see how to manage our personal apps in a better way.

Managing personal apps

Personal apps were designed to boost your productivity, and they will always display content that is tailored to you. Personal apps can be launched from the vertical menu, and they can be configured by you or by the admin to better suit your needs.

The amount of space on the app bar is limited, and if there is no space to display all your apps, they will be shown in a submenu that is revealed when you click on the three dots, as shown in the following screenshot:

Figure 6.18: Personal apps

Let's take a look at what each of these mean:

  1. The app bar showing the pinned apps and the to open the More apps menu.
  2. All the personal apps that are not visible in the app bar are shown in this menu.
  3. A group with all the pinned apps that are not displayed in the app bar due to the lack of space.
  4. A group of all the unpinned personal apps that you have available.

    Pro tip

    Personal apps can be displayed with two different icons. The apps that are not pinned to the menu display a colored icon inside the submenu, while pinned apps are displayed with a white icon typically showing the outline of the icon.

    Open personal apps can be identified in the app bar by the selected layout; however, it is different for pinned and unpinned apps:

    Figure 6.19: Pinned app versus an unpinned app

  5. Open pinned apps are displayed in its own position in the menu bar and in regular font.
  6. Open unpinned apps are displayed at the bottom of the menu bar and in italic font.

By default, Microsoft Teams displays five apps in the app bar (Activity, Chat, Teams, Calendar, and Files), but this can be changed by you as an end user or by the Microsoft Teams administrator.

Personalizing the app bar as an end user

To remove personal apps from the app bar, including the default ones, you need to right-click the app name and then select the Unpin option. Unpinned apps will be displayed in the submenu, and they can be pinned at any given time.

To pin personal apps to the app bar, you need to right-click the app in the submenu and then select the Pin option:

Figure 6.20: Pinning/unpinning an app

Pinned apps are displayed in the order they were pinned, but if you are using the client version of Microsoft Teams for desktop, you will be able to change the order by dragging them to the desired position:

Figure 6.21: Pinned apps appear at the top of the list

Note

If the options to customize the app bar are not available, you should contact your Microsoft Teams administrator as this option can be enabled/disabled globally.

Personalizing the app bar as an administrator

A Microsoft Teams administrator can personalize the default look of the personal app for all the users in the organization through the user of custom policies. This allows the admin to set up different layouts for the app bar that can then be applied to users individually according to their roles.

If you have administrator permissions and want to create a new company layout for the app bar, do the following:

  1. Open Microsoft Teams admin center: https://admin.teams.microsoft.com/
  2. From the vertical menu, click on Teams apps and then Setup policies.
  3. Click on Add to create a new policy:

    Figure 6.22: Creating a new app setup policy

  4. Provide a name and a description for your new policy.
  5. Choose whether you will allow your users to upload their own custom apps. Custom apps are covered in Chapter 7, Extending Microsoft Teams Using Custom Apps and Microsoft 365.
  6. Choose whether you will allow your users to pin/unpin their own apps. By disabling this option, you will remove the option to customize the personal app bar.
  7. Click on Add apps to add the new apps.
  8. Sort or remove existing apps. By default, any new policy will start with the five default apps from Microsoft Teams.
  9. Click Save:

Figure 6.23: Defining the app setup policy with a custom personal app bar

New policies only take effect when assigned to one or multiple users. To assign your newly created policy, do the following:

  1. From the vertical menu, click on Users.
  2. Select the user to whom you want to apply the policy and click Edit settings.
  3. Select the users you want to apply the new policy to.
  4. Click on Edit settings.
  5. On the App Setup Policy screen, select your newly created policy.
  6. Click Save. New policies can take up to 24 hours to be applied to users.

    Pro tip

    You can assign policies to one or more people in your organization. However, it's recommended that you only do 20 people at a time. If you need to assign to more than 20 users, you can do so in batches or use PowerShell.

Managing the app installation as an administrator

By default, any app can be installed in Microsoft Teams. However, this setting can be modified by the global administrator by modifying or creating app permission policies.

App permission polices divide the apps into three categories:

  • Microsoft apps: Any app published by Microsoft
  • Third-party apps: Apps published on the Microsoft Teams app store by other vendors
  • Tenant apps: Custom apps uploaded to Microsoft Teams

To restrict the use of apps in any one of these categories, do the following:

  1. Open Microsoft Teams admin center: https://admin.teams.microsoft.com/
  2. From the vertical menu, click on Teams Apps and then Permission Policies.
  3. Click on Add to create a new policy, or click on Global (Org-wide default) if you want to modify the default settings of Microsoft Teams.
  4. Choose the setting for the app categories. Each one has four options that you can choose from:

    (a) Allow all apps: Users can install and use any app.

    (b) Allow specific apps and block others: Allow specific apps you want to allow and all the other ones will be blocked.

    (c) Block specific apps and allow others: Add which apps you want to block and all the other ones will be allowed.

    (d) Block all apps: Users are unable to install apps.

  5. Configure your policy according to your needs and click Save.
  6. Options (b) and (c) will require you to manually select the apps you want to block or allow, respectively. The following screenshot shows a custom app policy for marketing members that allows all Microsoft apps, just allows the installation of four apps from the store, and blocks the installation of custom apps:

Figure 6.24: App permission policies

After creating a new policy, you need to apply it to those users who will be affected by it. To do this, do the following:

  1. In Microsoft Teams admin center, click on Users.
  2. Select the users to whom you want to apply the policy.
  3. Click on Edit settings.
  4. In the App permission policy, select the policy you want to apply.
  5. Click on Apply:

Figure 6.25: Assigning an app permission policy to a user

By using the app permission policy, you will get control over the apps that specific groups of users can install in Teams. Use it carefully! Excessive restrictions can make your users look for solutions outside the Microsoft ecosystem, putting your data at risk.

Managing apps as an administrator

As an administrator, you can control what apps are available to users in your Microsoft Teams app store. This can be done through policies, as we saw in the previous section, or can be blocked globally in the admin center.

To block or allow applications in your organization, do the following:

  1. Open Microsoft Teams admin center: https://admin.teams.microsoft.com/
  2. From the vertical menu, click on Teams Apps and then Manage apps.
  3. Look for the app you want to control.
  4. Select the app and, from the top bar, click on Allow or Block:

Figure 6.26: Manage apps

In the Manage apps table, you will find all the information you need about the application to help you decide whether to allow or block it, and the following list describes what you can find in each column:

  • Name: The name of the app. When you click on it, it shows the details of the app, including the current version published in the store and the App ID:

Figure 6.27: App details

  • Certification: In this field, you will see the level of certification. This means that the publisher or Microsoft have verified the application and the results of the certification are publicly available. In this field, you can find the values Publish Attestation, Microsoft 365 certified, or it can be empty. When you click on one of the values, it will open the Microsoft portal, showing all the information about data handling, security, and compliance, helping you to decide whether to keep the app in the tenant:

Figure 6.28: App certification detail portal

  • Categories: A list of categories where the app is included.
  • Publisher: The name of the publisher.
  • App status: This contains more information about the app's status at the organizational level. Allowed means that the app is available for users in your organization. Blocked means that the app isn't available for users in your organization.
  • Custom App: Indicates whether the app was uploaded manually to the tenant or if it is available in the store. To find out more about custom apps, refer to Chapter 7, Extend Microsoft Teams Using Custom Apps and Microsoft 365.

In the Manage apps section, you will be able to carefully review all the apps available in the store and decide to allow or block them, keeping your Microsoft Teams tenant and data secure.

Uninstalling apps from Microsoft Teams

On Microsoft Teams, you will find different ways of uninstalling an app depending on its type. In this section, all the removal processes are detailed, so you can remove apps if you are no longer using them.

Apps that are installed in a team need to be uninstalled from the team directly. This process applies to tabs, connectors, bots, and messaging. To remove one these apps, do the following:

  1. Open the team where the app is installed.
  2. Click on the next to the name of the team to open the context menu.
  3. In the context menu, click on Manage team.
  4. Click on the Apps tab.
  5. Look for the app in the list and click on the trash can icon:

    Figure 6.29: Uninstalling an app from a team

  6. In the confirmation popup, click on Uninstall.

Personal apps need to be uninstalled by you directly from the app bar where the app is accessible from. To do this, perform the following steps:

  1. Locate the app you want to remove and right-click on it.
  2. In the context menu, click on Uninstall:

    Figure 6.30: Uninstalling a personal app

  3. In the confirmation popup, click on Uninstall and, after a few seconds, the app will be removed.

    Note

    You can only uninstall apps that were installed by you; default apps cannot be removed.

Summary

In this chapter, you have learned what Microsoft Teams apps are and how to use them in different scenarios. You have also learned how to extend Teams using the app store to create crafted experiences with the customization of the applications available to users.

In the next chapter, you will learn how Microsoft Teams can be further customized with apps from the Microsoft ecosystem that you might already be using, such as Power Apps, Power Automate, and SharePoint.