Hyperfish – Beyond Active Directory

Yesterday I outlined the original idea of Hyperfish: ensuring that directory and profile information is up-to-date and complete in Active Directory (including on-premises and Azure AD, and a hybrid of both). Hyperfish works by asking people directly for their up-to-date information, and connecting to authoritative systems. The observation that Active Directory was almost always a mess led to the creation of Hyperfish.

With the release of the Hyperfish Integration Framework in late September, my guess is that Hyperfish came face-to-face with the deeper reality of corporate IT systems: the “authoritative systems” that should hold the right data all the time are also out-of-date, inaccurate, incomplete, and therefore not very authoritative. It’s not a just an Active Directory problem; it’s an all-of-IT problem. And if you are trying to solve the problem in Active Directory, you either wait for someone else to solve the other-IT problem, you give up, or you do it yourself.

Enter do it yourself.

The new Integration Framework extends the original idea of Hyperfish from Active Directory only to other structured data sources:

The Hyperfish Integration Framework enables Hyperfish customers and partners to extend the service to non-directory systems such as HRIS and other structured data sources. Using the Hyperfish Integration Framework, organizations can analyze, collect, and update missing profile information across almost any structured data source, automating the process of keeping profile information fresh and up-to-date. Customers can now use Hyperfish to collect information that has been time consuming or difficult to get collect in the past, such as employee skills and expertise, asset registration, and personal information.

Since it is now the authoritative data sources that are being updated, Hyperfish is relying on its “ask the person” pathway for collecting the data required, using an email alert or a chatbot request. But the core idea is to get the right data into the right system, and then set up mapping and connection rules to link newly right data with all the other structured data sources (including Active Directory) that rely on them.

As an Active Directory-only play, Hyperfish offered a compelling proposition to Microsoft customers. As a wider play for using its technology chops beyond Active Directory, it is becoming compulsory.

Hyperfish – Introduction

Two things stand out to me about Hyperfish: first, they take meeting productivity seriously, and second, they offer an incredible tool for directory accuracy and profile information. On meeting productivity, they don’t allow the use of technology for distraction, which means:

At Hyperfish, we only allow meeting organizers to have laptops in meetings. This really prevents people not paying attention in meetings.

On the tool side, its namesake offering ensures that directory and profile information is up-to-date and complete, and works with Active Directory on-premises, with Azure AD in Office 365, and supports hybrid environments too.

Here’s the back story as I heard it from an early employee. Nintex, a workflow automation tool for SharePoint, relies on Active Directory for name lookup, manager lookup, and the lookup of other relationships between people in order to do its routing and escalations properly. However, very few organisations have a “perfect” Active Directory; more likely, the quality ranking is at the other end of the scale, the result of inattention, complexity, frequent changes of role and location, mergers and acquisitions, and all sorts of other directory atrophy. In other words, the lack of good directory information compromises the ability of workflow tools to work properly. That’s an opportunity. So one of the co-founders of Nintex teams up with some ex-Microsoft contacts and goes to work on how to solve this problem – creating a new product and revenue stream in its own right, but more strategically laying the foundation for greater usage and adoption of Nintex (and other workflow tools too).

Enter Hyperfish. The basic goal is to ensure directory details and contact information for everyone are up-to-date. There are two basic pathways for getting there: ask the person, and connect with other authoritative systems:

Approach 1. Ask the Person
Each individual in an organisation should know their work phone number, email address, mobile number, current job role, office location, etc. By asking each person when directory information is missing, Hyperfish can populate the directory with validated data. Hyperfish can use an email alert or a chatbot interaction to prompt the individual for whatever information is required.

Here’s the flow as Hyperfish illustrates it:

With Microsoft announcing Microsoft Teams as the strategic universal client for real-time communications (not Skype for Business), we can expect to see Hyperfish creating a bot that works in that environment.

Approach 2. Connect with Other Authoritative Systems
In my Office 365 book I say “don’t ask for dumb data” (page 105):

Employees should not have to fill in “dumb data,” which is data that is already authoritatively stored and known from other systems. First name, last name, email address, phone numbers, office location, manager, assistant, and similar data should not be requested from employees when filling in their profile; those details are well-known and should be auto- populated. In some cases an employee will need to correct the data (which should be done in the kingpin system and then flow through), or an employee may not want particular data broadcast across the entire firm. In the latter case, having the ability to add security permissions to data elements is a useful system capability.

Hyperfish does this in spades (yay!), allowing the creating of mapping and update rules between authoritative systems holding directory and profile information and Active Directory. Here’s the example Hyperfish provides:

In the above case, rules have been created to pull specific information from Workday and SAP into the directory, precluding the need to ask an individual for those details. And since the rules can be scheduled, when the data changes in the authoritative system, it will be reflected promptly (not immediately; depends on the schedule frequency) in Active Directory too. Talk about directory goodness!

There are lots of other cool things (read: important functional capabilities that address valid business needs) in Hyperfish too, such as attribute approval, profile picture validation (no cat pictures), attribute presentation rules, and directory scoping (for a phased implementation).

I like what I see.

Disaster Recovery – Personal Planning

A friend had his laptop stolen last week, and he is now scrambling to recover his work (data and documents) and get back to work. It prompted me to get out my disaster recovery plan and review how I would recover from device loss, theft, or a ransomware attack.

While the loss of a device would be an annoying interruption and cost money to replace, my approach is to ensure that my data is easily accessible to me again, and that I can simply get up and running with a new device. Something like: plug in, connect to key services, and begin working again.

Three core principles:

1. No data exists solely on any one device. All devices should only ever be an access point to the data I’m working with, meaning that the data is stored in a central location and accessible from any device I choose to use. With the range of cloud services we have available for a low cost – Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, iCloud Drive and similar – this is easy to set up and use. Data is stored locally on a device in a designated folder, but synchronised automagically to whatever cloud storage service I use.

2. Data is backed up continuously in my office. A password-protected backup drive is connected to my laptop, and takes snapshots of the whole device throughout the day. If necessary, I can recover from a lost or compromised device by connecting a new device to the backup drive.

3. An emergency rescue kit is available somewhere. In order to get back to work as quickly as possible, create an emergency rescue kit with a written plan of recovery and a list of key services and passwords (in full or in code). You could carry this around on an encrypted thumbdrive (don’t forget that password), or put it in a separate cloud service in an encrypted form (don’t forget that password).

And one additional principle that I’m considering:

4. Data is backed up continuously away from the office. Use a cloud service to create regular backups of key devices, thereby creating a second level of backup that’s not located in the same office. While principle 1 above deals with core data and documents, principle 4 creates a backup of everything on the device.

In combination, this means:
– laptop stolen while away from office – recover through 1, 3 or 4
– office compromised, laptop stolen – recover through 1, 2, 3 or 4
– office compromised, laptop and backup drive stolen – recover through 1, 3 or 4
– cloud service compromised – recover through 2, 3 or 4
– laptop stolen, backup drive fails, cloud services fail, online backup fails – oh well, let’s start again with a smile

I hope I don’t have to put this plan into action, but it’s there just in case.

What have I missed? (I haven’t talked about strong passwords, benefits of passphrases vs. passwords for services that support that, two-factor authentication, etc.)

What’s your plan of action?

Co-Authoring in Excel – the 2017 Update

When I was reviewing some site stats last week, I was surprised to note that one of the most popular posts on this site is from February 2010 called Co-Authoring in Excel 2010: Not Supported (Use the Excel Web App Instead). A lot has happened since February 2010 with Excel (and Microsoft), including Office 365 (released June 2011).

So what’s the current story with co-authoring in Excel?

March 2017
Microsoft announced that co-authoring was coming to the Excel desktop client, starting with users of Excel for Windows for Office 365 on the early release schedule (the “Office Insiders Fast” ring of releases):

We’re taking a significant step in completing the co-authoring story across Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Today, we’re enabling co-authoring in Excel on Windows desktops for Office Insiders Fast. This allows you to know who else is working with you in a spreadsheet, see where they’re working and view changes automatically within seconds. We’ll continue using feedback from Insiders to improve the experience before making it available more broadly. Co-authoring is already available in Excel Online, Excel on Android, Windows Mobile and iOS (for Office Insiders). We’re also working on co-authoring in Excel for the Mac—stay tuned for more!

The Excel file must be stored in a supported cloud service: SharePoint Online, OneDrive or OneDrive for Business.

July 2017
Roll forward a few months, and co-authoring in Excel on Windows desktops was released to Office Insiders Slow – in the 1707 (“201707”) release of Excel.

August 2017
Co-authoring in Excel was released with general availability to all Office 365 subscribers. This is valid for Excel for Windows, but not yet for co-authoring in Excel for Mac (although this was promised in March, so it is apparently still coming).

Weekend Video 18.11

Samsung pokes fun at Apple in the above, and it caused some laughing in our household. Make sure you notice the haircut at 0:52.

As a long-time iPhone user I have never stood in line on release date, have skipped generations of the phone, and yet have found it to fit well in the ecosystem of devices I use daily. Apple keeps updating the hardware on schedule, and the software frequently too; I appreciate the backwards compatibility to older devices. While the video calls out some good points of comparison in a humorous way, switching sides isn’t just about the phone, unless that’s all you use.

I won’t be buying a Note 8 (and “growing up” to use Samsung’s phrase), but full marks to Samsung for the ad.

Weekend Reading 18.11

There are lots of other people doing interesting work around the world. Here’s a selection of the interesting ideas I have come across this week. Find yourself a coffee or tea, pull out your digital reading device of choice, and go exploring.

  • 3 Collaboration Skills You Need for Today and Tomorrow (David Coleman) … “While collaboration has always been a needed skill in the workplace, increasingly distributed workforces, knowledge silos and new developments in technology have put renewed pressure on learning the art and science of collaborative work. Because today people aren’t only collaborating with people, they have the added challenge of collaborating with machines.” More

  • Two Google alums just raised $60M to rethink documents (Matthew Lynley) … “Two MIT graduates, coming in from Microsoft and Google, have built up a team that for the past three years has quietly been trying to rethink how we approach documents …. We like to describe it as a new document that blends flexibility of documents, the power of spreadsheets, and the utility of applications into a single new canvas.” More

  • Work and the Loneliness Epidemic (Vivek Murthy) … “There is good reason to be concerned about social connection in our current world. Loneliness is a growing health epidemic. We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher.” More

  • Alec Ross on the Book that Changed His Life (Alec Ross) … Interview with Alec Ross, a candidate for Governor of Maryland. Alec talks about creating and harnessing energy, finding productive time, books, and technology. More

Ever Present Absent

They say to be careful what you wish for. Back around 2000 I wrote a report for Ferris Research on the emergence and growing adoption of wireless handheld devices, and how they allowed people to recapture moments of lost productivity throughout the day. Back then the majority of phones had 12 keys and a postage stamp sized screen, and people had to triple-tap to text. And you could call people; that was a thing. There was an advantage to being different, to having a device with a full keyboard and bigger screen that enabled interaction with better systems, which at that time was primarily email. We have come so far in 17 years, and yet we have lost so much along the way.

– The freedom to roam unhindered and untethered, to explore the world without having to check in, check up, hashtag, and share.

– The freedom to think. Privately. For extended periods of time.

– The time and space to explore a topic quietly without posting about the fact we are exploring it, which makes it a noisy and ineffective exploration, because the performance demands undermine the learning needs.

– The ability to meet up with others, without relying on micro-scheduling. “Where are you?” “I’m outside the café.” (Looking up) “Oh, yes, I see you.” The ability to give micro-updates on movements and time of arrival has devoured our patience; a 5-minute delay in someone arriving without notification is now cause for catastrophic concern.

Everywhere I look now I see people using “wireless handheld devices” (what an old-fashioned term) to engage with the Ever-Present Absent. With someone who isn’t really “there,” apart from their glowing representation through the pixels on a smart device. The light and life that could be shared with others physically nearby is sucked into the vortex of the device – and shared in pixellated form with other people physically far removed but virtually all-demanding. A tap, a like, a share, a poke, a comment. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

A grandmother commented to me about a recent breakfast with two grandsons. “The three of us had breakfast together this morning. I was on my iPad. And both of them were on their phones.” This is the Ever-Absent Present engaged with the Ever-Present Absent.

Our devices are better, but we have lost so much along the way.

We are forgetting how to be present with others, a state of being that’s much more than just existing in the same physical place. The ability to have a conversation without picking up devices, and without relying on carefully crafted sentences that give us time to portray ourselves in “the right way.” We are increasingly unwilling to expose the messy reality of our humanness, preferring to edit out anything that’s less than picture perfect. Sherry Turkle has explored this in her recent book on Reclaiming Conversation.

We are losing the ability to do the hard work of learning, growing, and developing mastery in a topic, prioritising endless pointless chatter over knuckling down and doing the work. Our brains are fried from the never-ending interactional demands; we have trained ourselves to rest momentarily on a topic and drink its easy sugar, and then move quickly before the going gets too hard. Cal Newport explores the costs and consequences in his book Deep Work.

We are paying the price in worsening mental health and decreased wellbeing. A study published earlier this year concluded that:

… while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.

And we are doing this to ourselves! And it’s not just Facebook.

While the emergence of wireless handheld devices was a pressing issue back in 2000, today’s pressing issues are about learning to get on with other people, recovering focus, rebuilding attention, and carving out spaces of disconnection for creativity and contribution beyond the microsecond.

Let’s start today. Do less with the Ever-Present Absent. Stop being the Ever-Absent Present. Put. Your. Phone. Away. Be present with the people in front of you in the real-world, not the fantasy world we have inhabited for too long.

The Visualness of Microsoft Planner with the Rigour of Microsoft Project

The use of Kanban-style interfaces for individual and team task tracking has become more prominent over the past half decade, with Trello (which was acquired by Atlassian earlier this year) being one of the better options available. Microsoft, while late to the game, has integrated Planner into Office 365. Planner offers many of the basic capabilities required for effective use, although there are several basic and many advanced capabilities still missing in action after a couple of years in market.

One of the ideas floating around is linking the rigour of Microsoft Project with the visualness and user-friendliness of Microsoft Planner. This would allow a project manager to use Microsoft Project to develop the work breakdown structure, do resource allocations, do time sequencing, put in the dependencies, and track completion status on tasks, among others. The project team, on the other hand, could use Microsoft Planner as the vehicle for planning their work, doing task allocations within the team, associating documents and other content to tasks, using checklists to ensure the right task activities are completed, and more. It’s a compelling idea, especially for those organisations using project methodologies to drive operational excellence and execution: both tools playing to their respective strengths enabling all project participants to do great work together.

Until recently, Microsoft offered no integration between Project and Planner, despite owning both assets. Two months ago, however, it introduced an integration between the Project Online Desktop Client and Planner, which enables a task in Microsoft Project to be linked to a plan in Microsoft Planner. “Linked” is a slippery word, though, as in reality the only thing this “integration” allows is the ability to click the Planner icon against a task to open a plan in Planner. That’s it. There’s no functional integration between the two tools, such as:

– Planner does not become the visual interface to the tasks in a current project.
– Tasks in project are not automatically created in a plan in Planner.
– Changes to completion status on tasks in Planner do not flow back to Microsoft Project.

So it terms of linking the two tools productively, don’t look at what Microsoft offers. That may change in the future, but today the integration is non-functional. If you want a functional integration, there are three third-party vendors that you should explore.

SOLVIN Planner Bridge
Solvin, a Germany company, offers the SOLVIN Planner Bridge. The bridge is an add-in for the Microsoft Project Desktop Client that allows a task in Project to be linked to a bucket in Planner. Project can instantiate a new plan if one doesn’t exist, and task completion status in Planner can be synchronised back to Project (this requires the user of Project to click a button).

FluentPro Integration Hub
FluentPro Software Corporation, an American company on the West Coast, offers the FluentPro Integration Hub for linking Microsoft Project Online in Office 365 with Planner in Office 365. This offer is cloud-side (rather than a client-side plug-in), allowing details between the two services to flow automatically and seamlessly. For example, task completion status will flow between Planner and Project. Customers can create rules for mapping fields between Project and Planner, rules for data transformation, and rules for how sync is carried out.

Timlin ProjectSphere
Timlin Enterprises, also an American company but on the East Coast, offers a different approach through Timlin ProjectSphere. It adds a visual Planner-like interface to projects in Project Online, but doesn’t actually use Microsoft Planner. Timlin has created its own visual task management offering that provides the visual representation of a project in Project Online. This allows “task boards and task cards [to be] directly generated from the project manager’s plan/Project Server Online.”

Three vendors, three different approaches, same basic idea. PMOs and project teams should explore whichever avenue makes most sense in their environment. If linking Project Online and Planner is the key requirement, I’d give FluentPro the lead position at this point.

Microsoft’s Intelligent Communications Strategy

One of the more challenging aspects for organisation’s embracing Office 365 is the overlapping functionality between different tools, leading to “analysis paralysis” (to use Mary Jo Foley’s term). This was actually the reason I wrote my book on Office 365 last year; as I say in the introduction:

I wrote this book because I needed a more structured way of explaining Office 365, my early-to-Office 365 clients were struggling with the strategic trade-offs among the tools, and a much broader set of organisations are going to face these same strategic issues as they embrace Office 365.

Ignite 2017 in Orlando provided several good signals that Microsoft has heard this feedback, and is taking some steps towards a rationalisation of product capabilities. One such signal, for example, is Microsoft’s new vision for intelligent communications, which will see the removal of Skype for Business Online over time and Microsoft Teams becoming the new unified / integrated / intelligent client for teamwork, one-to-one chat, online meetings, inbound and outbound calling, and more. Everything that Skype for Business Online used to offer will eventually be integrated into Microsoft Teams, and it will be based on the Skype infrastructure rather than Office Communications Server and Lync in the cloud. For customers that don’t want to move to Teams yet, Skype for Business Online will stay around, and Microsoft will release a new version of the Skype for Business Server for on-premises customers (as there is no on-premises Teams offering available).

While consultants, business partners, analysts and even authors can outline a way to think about the tools in Office 365 and advise clients on how to choose between them, there is nothing as powerful as Microsoft revealing a bit more of its hand. A consultant saying “use Teams instead of Skype for Business” carries far less weight than Microsoft saying “we’re making Teams the strategic place; see if you can move away from Skype for Business.” Sharing more of the thinking and backstory helps everyone. Clearly Microsoft needs to stay on message now and carry out its intent over the coming years.

I like what I see in terms of the capabilities Microsoft intends to add to Microsoft Teams, such as:

– During the meeting, the conversation can be captured, transcribed, and time-coded, with closed captioning and voice recognition for attributing remarks to specific individuals.

– After the meeting, the cloud recording and transcript can be automatically added to the relevant channel, so conversations, documents, notes, and action items can be reviewed, indexed, and searched by the entire team.

Microsoft took the fairly bold move, in my opinion, of using real-time transcription capabilities during Ignite 2017 presentations, so the words spoken by the presenters were shown using closed captioning within seconds of being stated. That is very cool, and very helpful for multi-cultural, cross-language teams, or anyone suffering through a poor audio connection. And if Microsoft can make it work at scale during real-time presentations, that sends a pretty clear signal that it has the capability to do it for meetings in Teams too.

From Intranets to DEX in 2018

The team at Step Two have re-branded their annual Intranets conference to the Digital Employee Experience conference, or DEX. I have attended Intranets three times. DEX 2018 will be held in Sydney on June 6-8, 2018.

Digital employee experience considers every touchpoint between staff and their employer. Intranets continue to play a critical role as the enterprise front door (and more), increasingly sitting within a broader digital workplace. To accelerate progress, this conference brings together intranet teams, digital teams, internal comms, IT and HR.

It’s a hard thing hitting the right level with the name of a conference. As was said of eCommerce, the presence of the “e” becomes irrelevant after a while. It should be just “commerce,” not something managed differently from the rest of what the organisation does. Same with DEX. “Digital” employee experiences are a sub-part of the wider “employee experiences” approach, which would also include the physical aspects of work (building design, interior layout (work spaces, collaboration spaces, meeting spaces, etc.), and office furniture) plus the organisational and cultural aspects of work (career development, mentoring, and leadership). But trying to get all that in a two-day event is too hard – the focus would be diffuse and the topics shallow. Hence, I think the new name is a good step up.

I wish the Step Two team all the best with the planning for the new conference – pulling along all the good things of the previous seven conferences, and incorporating new ideas into the new superstructure.