Tasks as Infrastructure
Perhaps the biggest epiphany I experienced at the recent Microsoft Ignite event, held this week in Orlando, came from Microsoft’s sweeping vision for tasks. This vision is hinted at in the video below, which elevates the lowly task — formerly just a sort of information in work management tools — into a starring role across the grand plans that Microsoft has for work technology.
The video depicts tasks in a whole new light, not just as information units buried in task-centric tools, but instead as elements of a cross-application infrastructure, a platform on which all the applications of the Microsoft ecosystem can share tasks.
This means that I can create a task in one Microsoft application — Microsoft Word, for example — and that same task can, later on, be displayed and manipulated in another app, like Microsoft Teams.
I considered naming this post Turning Work Management Upside-Down and Inside-Out, which is true but not really large-bore enough for what Microsft is envisioning.
Yes, this does turn work management upside down because tasks have previously been treated as a form of information limited to tools specially designed to manipulate tasks, task attributes, and the relationships between tasks. But now, tasks are freed from the limited treatment they’ve received in applications designed for task manipulation and nothing more.
And this vision does pull the world of productivity inside out, too, by establishing a new paradigm by putting tasks in every application in the Microsoft suite. Not by having each application support its own notion of tasks, but by stepping outside the divided model we’ve tolerated for years, with a form of tasks built into our document editors, another sort of tasks in our marketing system, and yet another built into our project management tools.
Microsoft has cut through the siloed world we’ve lived with, and promotes tasks to a first-class information unit, on a par with files, applications, and messaging primitives. In this view, tasks are infrastructure that applications can rely upon, and which have consistent properties no matter where they are accessed, independent of application.
Microsoft is now providing a task platform to be used by its own proprietary apps, but also by third-party and user-built apps.
Or perhaps even more ambitiously, we might say that Microsoft has embarked on building a new business operating system, an operating system that treats tasks as fundamental, first-class components, just like files, apps, messaging, and users.
This vision is the start of a new beginning for not just work management, but really for work technology across the board.
In a conversation about this shift to a task platform, I was trying to get across how powerful the de-siloing of tasks will prove to be. At the dawn of computing, data was accessed from files and manipulated in whatever manner some programmer dreamed up. In the early 70s, Edgar Codd and others invented the model and implementation of relational databases, and that led to well-defined, standardized ways to store and access structured data, in a fashion independent of applications using it.
This shift could be as much of an advance for business productivity in the coming decades as relational databases were for business applications in the 20th century.
Microsoft is going to be rolling out this vision over the next few quarters, not turning it on all at once. So today, not all the parts are in place. But the vision is there, and the shift to a task platform— and a new business operating system — has started.