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.

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).

Taking a Toshiba Z20T to a Meeting


I met with a client earlier today to discuss running one of my workshops with his team so they could understand the possibilities (and warnings) of Office 365 in advance of unleashing the new tools on the firm. When we sat down in the coffee shop he put his tablet on the table … and it wasn’t an Apple iPad. I’m used to seeing those in meetings, but he had one of the Toshiba Z20t hybrid tablet/laptop devices instead. I hadn’t seen one in the wild before. He’d left the keyboard behind, and just carried the tablet head down to the meeting. I hadn’t realised that was what he was carrying when we walked down the street.

We did talk about that device a bit before and after the core discussion, but the key points for him in choosing the Z20t were:
– it ran Windows, which was better for him for running Microsoft Office.
– it was his “one device.” He connected back to the keyboard in the office.
– it had a large screen – about the same size as an A4 size of paper – enabling him to read documents in portrait mode.
– it connected to a real (sturdy) keyboard, unlike the “flimsy” Surface Pro 4 tablet/keyboard which he had seen and tried (and like the Surface Book, which he had not seen).

His notes for our discussion were in OneNote.

Before I met Eric Mack I had only ever purchased Toshiba laptops. After meeting Eric I switched to IBM ThinkPads / Lenovo ThinkPads, and haven’t gone back (yet). Interesting to see what people are using and getting value from.

Not Every Meeting Room Can Have a Surface Meeting Hub

Microsoft is working to improve the meeting experience for people worldwide, and its Surface Meeting Hub is a good step in that direction. But that’s not going to see widespread adoption for a while yet (due to high pricing), and so there is Project Rigel:

Over 97 percent of meeting rooms are currently equipped with traditional projectors or displays and only a telephone for including remote participants. But for meetings to be as effective and engaging as possible requires web and video conferencing with features like screen sharing, IM and whiteboard. Without these capabilities, people lose the benefits of rich interaction, remote participants have a sub-optimal experience and the whole team is less productive due to longer meeting startup times.

Today, we are announcing an initiative, codenamed “Project Rigel,” to address this problem. Project Rigel will bring a Skype Meeting experience pioneered on Microsoft Surface Hub to nearly any meeting room with a display or projector. It will use Windows 10 devices for center-of-room touch control and Skype for Business online meeting technology to easily connect remote users. Hardware partners including Polycom and Logitech will certify elements of their portfolios for use with Project Rigel systems, including the Polycom RealPresence Trio and CX5100, and Logitech ConferenceCam Connect, ConferenceCam GROUP and PTZ Pro Camera. Logitech also plans to deliver a purpose-built smart dock for Project Rigel to seamlessly connect the system elements in a meeting room, while Polycom plans to deliver a portfolio of complete Project Rigel systems. We expect the first systems based on Project Rigel to be available in the second half of 2016.


Profiling Employee Expertise – the Behavioural Aspects


Having good technology on offer to support the profiling of employee expertise is a helpful capability in collaboration tools. Add to the mix the right balance of human behaviours, and you have a situation ripe for benefit. Three such behavioural aspects of making employee profiles work are:

  • Define the Profile Baseline. It is useful to have a minimum standard for profile information, modelled by senior executives, and for this to become an accepted way of working at your organisation. While people should feel free include more details in their profile, there are at least four items which should be included in your minimum standard: an up-to-date professional photo, a contact phone number, the geographical location in which the person usually works (which signals time zone details), and a job title. Of course if Skype for Business (or something similar) is a part of the mix at your firm, a couple of these items are handled even better with Skype: a Skype contact name instead of a contact phone number, and a presence and availability indicator to show availability independent of normal geographical location.

  • Senior Executive Modelling. If your senior executives want the collaboration tool to succeed, they should model the behaviours they seek from others. Their own profiles should be up-to-date with more than the minimum amount of information. Executives should be active in using the tools for day-to-day work. They should emphasise to their direct reports the importance of creating a viable place for collaboration in the product or service being used. While executive involvement isn’t a silver bullet for success with collaboration tools, few organisations succeed in the face of active executive resistance.

  • Don’t Ask for Dumb Data. 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.

What other behavioural aspects have you seen making a difference in the effective use of employee profiles?

Yammer: Better for Teams

The Office Team announced another round of improvements to Yammer. The changes are part of an ongoing effort to make Yammer better for teams – those focused on projects and initiatives – as opposed to more loosely defined groups or communities of interest / practice.

The new changes will roll out before the end of 2015, and include:

– the Discovery feed, for showing related conversations from complementary groups in your network. In my book Collaboration Roadmap I talk about collaboration auto-discovery capabilities for both teams and groups; this is the latest iteration of Microsoft’s work within the context of Yammer.

– real-time group activity, for showing what’s happening in Yammer groups as it happens whether you are currently viewing the group or not. Better alerting capabilities allows for decisions around streamlined reactions.

– Yammer group branding, or what Microsoft has called “immersive group experiences.” There are new and better ways of making a Yammer group “yours.”

– next group notification, another notification approach for showing other updates across your groups.

With respect to what’s next after the current round of improvements, the Office Team said:

Up next in 2016: deeper integration with Office 365 to open up even more possibilities for teams. We’re working on wrapping up the foundational identity work with Azure Active Directory, leveraging Office Graph signals for better people and group suggestions; using Office Online for multi-user coauthoring in Yammer; and hooking into the Office 365 Groups service to enable cross-workload scenarios with OneDrive, Outlook, OneNote and Skype. And to improve collaboration with extended team members, we’ll also be delivering external groups, which lets users invite outside participants into their Yammer groups.

Helping a Group Resolve a Problematic Discussion


A couple of weeks ago I flew into an overseas city on a Sunday afternoon in advance of a week at a client’s site. That evening I ate dinner in the hotel restaurant, which is something I don’t normally do. While I was enjoying a quiet dinner ahead of the week, a group of 8-10 people behind me were engaged in a heated discussion. There were two people in particular who dominated the discussion, and basically threw the same lines back and forth at each other.

The first – by far the loudest and most dominant (domineering, even) – essentially said this for 20 minutes:

You’re wrong.
You’re wrong.
You’re wrong.
And if you do what you say you’ll do, I’ll slap you.

I was trying to enjoy a quiet dinner with this cacophony happening behind me, so I turned around and frowned at the table a few times. My frowning made no difference.

The other person in the discussion was a lot quieter than the first, but no less tenacious. Their response repertoire was some variant of:

I disagree.
I don’t think that’s true.
If that happens, I’ll take X action.
I don’t believe you.

Seriously, this went on for 20 minutes.

By this time I had finished my main course and the excuse for a dessert I ordered, and sat there listening to the end of the discussion. The main idea I contemplated was where I would find a whiteboard with some whiteboard pens, or even a flipchart and some markers. I didn’t bring any with me, by hey, I’m at a hotel; I’m sure the front desk could help me with such conference supplies.

What that group needed was a bit of collaborative coaching on how to formulate a discussion, how to respond appropriately to a question or challenge, and why the current inner-structure of the discussion was ineffective, downright boring, and was probably damaging the group’s capability to have a subsequent discussion. All bad things that could be helped with a bit of in-the-flow coaching, discussion modelling on the whiteboard, and directed questioning to draw out the right range of responses (“When she says this, what valid options do you have for responding to her assertion?” etc.). I imagined their initial shock at me turning up with the whiteboard, and hoped that they’d quickly see the wisdom of correcting their ineffective ways.

That group needed some serious help. However, I took the other approach of escaping such an ineffective discussion and walked back to my hotel room. Maybe next time …

Microsoft Surface Hub – Reinventing Meeting Dynamics

At the Windows 10 event today, Microsoft announced Surface Hub. It is intended to be used for collaborative meetings, brainstorming, and other group activities. It integrates with OneNote (for whiteboarding), Skype for Business (previously Lync) (for remote conferencing), and supports ink and touch as input methods.

Price not disclosed. Availability due later in 2015.

It is weird to me that Microsoft chose the name they did, since there is also a Surface Hub app for the Surface Pro. Perhaps that name will disappear in a future iteration.

Thinking About How Real Workers Use New Collaboration Tools – the Ford Approach

In How Ford reimagined IT from the inside-out to power its turnaround from mid-2012, Jason writes about changes at Ford’s IT department. Among other changes, he comments on the new approach Ford IT took with helping users understand how to make use of the various tools available to them in their work:

Many IT departments have had to cut back on their help desk and user support in recent years and have ended up leaving users to their own devices — figuratively, and even literally in some cases. Ford recognized that part of its IT transformation had to involve getting smarter about empowering employees.

“About five years ago we started a program we call ‘Digital Worker’ that fundamentally looks at all the collaboration tools we need to drive increased capability globally,” said Smither. “It’s partitioned into four areas. There are the traditional office productivity tools like instant messaging and email and [Microsoft] Office. Data and video and audio [collaboration] is the second area of focus. There’s mobility solutions, so remote access, employee bring-your-own-devices [BYOD], tablets, and so on. The fourth major area is information and data provisioning, which is using [Microsoft] SharePoint as the structured data repository, Yammer for social media, enterprise federated search for being able to search [document] repositories globally. And we’re aggressively integrating those services to fundamentally improve the ability for teams to collaborate around the world.”

Fortunately, Ford isn’t just thinking about the tools but also how real workers will be using them and how IT can make good recommendations for when and how to use specific tools.

“The first phase of Digital Workers was bringing the tools together. The current phase we’re in is how do we maximize business capability in terms of thinking about not just the tools but the process and the integration and how people are actually enabled by the technology to be more productive in terms of what they’re trying to accomplish as opposed to just providing the tool,” said Smither. “We’re [also] doing a lot of work around something called, ‘How I Work,’ which is a scenario-based approach so that people understand which tools to use in what context to be the most efficient. So there’s a scenario around how to run an effective meeting or which tools to use in which circumstances. We’re getting a lot of take-up and driving a lot of ability for collaboration using [our] digital worker framework across the enterprise.”

I like the emphasis on scenarios, and the effort invested to drive understanding.