Linking Files and Notes in Yammer with Office 365 (read SharePoint)

Microsoft is making progress in the long awaited alignment between Yammer and Office 365. We don’t yet have the ability to use a SharePoint document library in a Yammer Group, but you can create and save Office documents into the Yammer Files tool. The file types are consistent (e.g., Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc.), but the place where the files are stored are different – for now. Ultimately the files tool should just be the SharePoint document library that’s associated with the Office 365 group of which Yammer is a part as well.

The next scheduled change, however, is the removal of the Notes function in Yammer, which enabled the writing and sharing of browser-based rich text “documents” in a Yammer Group. This function is going away (being deprecated), and current Notes will be converted into Word Online documents in late January. There are some steps required to have your Notes automatically migrated into Files, so check out what you have to do at Office Support (see Converting Yammer notes into Word Online documents).

– Ensure your notes are published; if not, they will not be converted. Drafts will be deleted.
– If you want to keep past versions, do so by saving the file to your computer. Versions will not be automatically converted nor retained. Previous versions will be deleted.
– If you aren’t using the Files tool in Yammer, save your Notes manually. They will not be converted.

These foundational changes will make the replacement of the Yammer Files tool with a SharePoint document library easy-peasy (well, easy-peasy’er).

Microsoft Whiteboard – Preview Now Available

Microsoft announced the availability of Microsoft Whiteboard, an app for freeform drawing on Windows 10 devices.

Microsoft Whiteboard Preview lets you create in whatever way feels most natural to you. The pen-first, touch-first technology lets you make fluid gestures with your fingers or draw out finer details with your pen. Using your pen, you can jot down notes, draw precise illustrations, or search for images on the web. Using your fingers, you can swipe to different sections of your board, turn the virtual ruler to the angle you want, and drag and drop images to create a photo stack. Whether you use pen or touch, Microsoft Whiteboard Preview recognizes your intent and delivers your desired outcomes in an instant.

Microsoft Whiteboard is available in Preview.

Multi-party collaboration is on offer within the app, but one of the participants requires some type of Office 365 account (personal, work, or school). I presume this is so the drawing file can be stored in OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, or SharePoint, thus making it available for multi-person access, authoring, and editing.

Whiteboard will be rolled out almost immediately to the subset of Windows 10 devices running an English version of Windows, with support for other languages to follow later.

It will also replace – at some undefined point – the current whiteboard app on a Surface Hub. This means we might have an answer to my question on the Surface Studio, and its use as a remote participant device with collaborative capabilities for use during meetings. And for people with a Surface Pro or Surface Book, Whiteboard should allow better integration with meetings run via a Surface Hub.

There is no word of support for non-Windows devices, which is not Microsoft’s usual practice anymore.

Accessing LinkedIn Profile Data in Office 365

At Ignite in late September, Microsoft announced an integration between LinkedIn profile data and Office 365:

After you connect your LinkedIn account to your Microsoft account, you’ll seamlessly discover more insights within the Profile Card in your Inbox, your calendar and contacts lists. Simply hover over a contact’s name to see information from their LinkedIn Profile, such as where they work, what they do, and where they went to school. For example, when you receive an email from someone you haven’t met, you can instantly identify them and make a more meaningful start to the conversation. Or, if you’re not already connected with someone you collaborate with in Office 365, you can send a LinkedIn connection invite directly from Profile Card.

Essentially, once this rolls out to Office 365 tools and Office productivity applications, you will have a quick way to view the LinkedIn profile data for a person. It is a view-only experience within Office 365 as it doesn’t actually do anything to your contact and people data in Office 365. The link between Office 365 and LinkedIn is controlled by each individual; each person must authorise Office 365 to look up their personal LinkedIn account by signing into LinkedIn when requested.

Microsoft acquired LinkedIn in June 2016 for $26.2 billion. There has to be more coming than just this, but all great journeys start with a first step. This is one of those.

Hyperfish – Thoughts on Collecting Expertise

In the announcement of the Hyperfish Integration Framework are three items that can now be collected:

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.

Two are similar, one is very different. The two similar items – asset registration and personal information – extend Hyperfish’s current approach of asking for information that has a demonstrably correct value. What is your first name? What is your last name? What is your phone number? What is the serial number of your laptop, tablet, or smartphone? In what city were you born? What school did you attend when you were 14 years old? Each question has a correct answer for which easy proof can be found (as well, of course, as a set of incorrect answers).

Employee skills and expertise, however, is a very different beast, even though the fields supplied in the Office 365 profile treat it as the same. Collecting, gathering, and discerning expertise for a profile is a complex can of worms; consider:

  • Expertise refers to the ability to perform at an expert level in a particular subject or topic area. Some expertise is explicit (can be documented) and some is tacit (hard to express in words).
  • Declared expertise – where an individual says what they are good at – has a low level of reliability. The individual will be too modest, too extreme, or just plain wrong. One study suggests that any expertise declarative by an individual about themselves should have the status of undefined (unverified).
  • Other people experience the expertise delivered by an individual, and thus are more reliable at stating what someone is good at. The same study above says the individual’s manager is the most reliable rater, and that the ratings from 7-10 additional colleagues are required to match the manager’s rating.
  • Private ratings of other people are more accurate than attributable ratings. “When raters think their ratings will be or could be revealed, 67% of ratings increase significantly and become less correlated to performance.
  • There are many content systems in an enterprise through which expertise can be demonstrated: documents written, blogs posted, discussion comments (“best answer!”) given, and emails sent. There are attempts being made to mine this growing collection of content to map expertise.

In light of the above, if Hyperfish is serious about collecting expertise in a way that’s helpful to an organisation, the approach will need to include the ability to (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Ask multiple people about the expertise they receive from a given individual, and then summarise / rank / rate / scale the result set to give an overall assessment.
  • Be able to integrate with systems that can look through documents and other written forms of expressing and delivering expertise in order reason out key themes and areas of expertise. If an organisation is using such a system, the Hyperfish Integration Framework should allow the creation of mapping and sync rules.
  • Have the ability to automatically populate and control some values in the single expertise field, while allowing the individual to manually edit other values.

Profiling expertise is a fascinating (and highly complex) area. While Hyperfish’s framework will give the technical ability to collect expertise and skills, more will be required to gather correct / accurate / helpful / validated answers.

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.