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reality of corporate IT systems: the “authoritative systems” that should hold the right data all the time are also out-of-date, inaccurate, incomplete, and therefore not very authoritative.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.

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).

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.

A Workshop – One Day? Two Days? Longer?

Agnes outlines her thinking on workshop length:

The most common question I get about my upcoming workshop, SharePoint 2016 and Office 365 Search in Practice, is why I’ve decided to choose a two-day format.

I know it could be one day. Also, it could be three days, or even up to five.

I do have ten years of experience teaching and doing workshops around the globe. I’ve tried several formats. Some worked, some didn’t. What I’ve found is that I don’t like frontal teaching. It’s not my style. And I know, it can be exhausting as an attendee, too.

In her post, Agnes talks about:
– 3 teaching / learning approaches used in workshops, and
– the five reasons she has embraced the two-day design.

This is a question I have wrestled with many times too. It’s good to see someone else’s thinking … and decision rationale.

And if search in SharePoint 2016 and Office 365 is important in your work, you should sign up to attend.

The New IT Department

The experience of Hollands Kroon, on reimagining what it means to work in a municipal government, and the impact on the IT department:

One of the key decisions that Hollands Kroon administrators made as part of the workplace transformation was to empower employees by eliminating standard job hierarchies and reporting structures, freeing up more of the workers’ time and energy to help them better serve citizens. All employees are now organized into self-governing teams based around shared specialties—for example, one group is all people who work on tax issues, while another covers youth and elderly social programs—and the emphasis is on outcomes, rather than micromanaging processes. “Each group hires its own new colleagues, and they are allowed to work in whatever way they believe will achieve the best results,” says Cremers. “Every employee has an education budget for training and development, and their own IT budget to buy whatever sort of laptop or tablet they want. What I think is really beautiful is how eager everyone is to make this transformation to the new working paradigm. They are running faster than I can predict or direct, so my role becomes doing whatever I can to support all these exceptional, talented, motivated people, and that’s a great position to be in.”


Update on Microsoft Teams

Update from Kirk on the Office 365 Team on the new (still in preview) Microsoft Teams service in Office 365:

… Microsoft Teams has picked up momentum since its launch last November. In the last month alone, 30,000 organizations across 145 markets and 19 languages have actively used Microsoft Teams.


We’re especially inspired by this early usage. Not only does it show that the product fills a real market need, but it gives us a ton of information to help shape the product leading up to General Availability, which is still on track for this current quarter, Q1 2017. Our customers have been a great guide as we’ve delivered numerous features into the product even since the preview launched—including built-in audio calling on mobile and named group chats, an easy way to keep track of the context of a conversation.

Having access to “tons of information to help shape the product” is a significant benefit for any vendor, and is greatly enhanced in cloud-delivered services. In addition to this information on usage, I hope that the Office 365 Team takes on board the significant early feedback from MVPs and market analysts who weighed in when Teams was announced, including:
– Marc Anderson, Dear Microsoft: I’m Confused. Can You Help Me Collaborate Well?
– Pramit Nairi, Only Microsoft Could Make Teams
– Stuart McIntyre, My musings on Microsoft Teams
– John White, Microsoft Teams and the New Microsoft Social Landscape

Sam Marshall on Re-Imagining Productive Work with Office 365

Sam from Clearbox Consulting recently posted his comments on my Office 365 book on CMSWire:

Sampson …. has managed to steer a line that shows deep technology understanding without losing sight of why companies acquire these technologies in the first place.
I really like the “opportunities” approach. Countless blogs and articles on Office 365 tend to focus on specific tool capabilities or are written for an IT audience. Sampson’s book therefore fills a much-needed gap because it looks at how the tools might be used together, and the trade-off between using one tool or another when features overlap.

Sam offers some good ideas for improving the book too, specifically the layout format I chose didn’t work great for him, and how to deal in a book like this with the firehose of updates that comes from Microsoft. The first I won’t do like that again, and the second is … complicated.

See: ‘Re-Imagining Productive Work’ Offers Practical Office 365 Advise.

Thanks Sam!