Traditional Mobile Workplace vs. Phone and iPad

Carsten from SAP Hybris compares his work style and everyday device carry with a traditional mobile workplace. The new “digital mindset” provides a different way of working, moving through time and space, sharing documents, watching movies, keeping in contact with loved ones, getting briefing papers, and more.

It’s the type of short article to read and then ask, “How could I simplify what I’m doing now?”

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.

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).

No Laptop Onboard. Now What?

Almost a decade ago I wrote about my mobile office using an iPAQ 212 and foldable Bluetooth keyboard. With new requirements out of the US (and now the UK) around no laptops on board under specific conditions, if you still need to get work done while enroute or once you’ve landed, the modern equivalent of the above is still one of your options.

A couple of things that I’d pursue if the new “no laptop in cabin” ruling applies to you:

1. Foldable Keyboard. Since the devices allowed onboard can be “no larger than a mobile phone,” I’d be looking for a foldable Bluetooth keyboard that works with your devices. Microsoft sells the Universal Foldable Keyboard that supports multiple types of devices, and there are other alternatives too. You’ll have to ensure it’s foldable though, otherwise it will be bigger than a mobile phone. And then you’ll just have to ensure you have access to any files, documents and communications you need while disconnected from the network, but there are ways of doing that.

2. Get a Larger Mobile Phone. Get the largest mobile phone you are allowed, in order to maximum screen space. Something like the Apple iPhone 6/7 Plus, the Nokia 950XL (with Windows Continuum for docking to a larger screen and keyboard), or the largest non-exploding Samsung device you can find. I would previously have said the Galaxy Note, but anything with a 5.0″ or larger screen will suffice.

3. Google Chromebook. If your organisation is using Google G Suite, perhaps the answer is to travel without a laptop at all, and basically embrace the “disposable device” idea of the Chromebook. Have all of your data in Google’s cloud, and when you arrive in the United States, buy a Chromebook, login (and two-factor authentication is always a good idea), and get back to work. It doesn’t help with productivity in the air, but it does eliminate the risk of device loss or theft if it’s in your checked in luggage. You can take it back out of the US when you leave too.

4. Cheap Windows Laptop. If your organisation is using Office 365, and most of your data is there, take the same approach with a cheap Windows laptop on arriving States-side.

5. Cheap Apple Laptop. Ah sorry, that doesn’t exist. Would one of the new “cheap” iPad 9.7’s work?

6. Hardened Case. If you do want to carry your laptop in your checked-in luggage, now’s the time to protect it from as much physical damage as possible. If you have a Surface Pro 4, try the UAG composite case (UAG also has a range of similar options for Apple devices). Or if you don’t want a hard shell cover for the laptop itself, pack your laptop first into an SKB iSeries or Pelican Protector or Storm case.


Logitech Spotlight

As a frequent presenter of workshops and other meetings involving slides, the Logitech Professional Presenter R700 has been my traveling companion on many, many trips. It is one of the “must have” devices in my travel bag, almost regardless of whether I’m scheduled to give a presentation or not. I’m on my third at this time, the second breaking during a trip to Europe in 2013.

But I have wondered what Logitech would do next with its wireless presenter range, and have visited the Logitech site multiple times over the past couple of years to see what “next” looked like.

Well, “next” is here with the Logitech Spotlight. It takes a new approach to a wireless presenter, de-emphasising the static red or green laser dot, and replacing it with a spotlight option that “highlights areas of focus or magnifies them in pixel-perfect detail.” This and other functions are controlled through the companion app.

Chaim writing on The Verge calls Spotlight an “expensive solution to a super boring problem,” but does note the following about the device:

Logitech’s new Spotlight presentation remote is an attempt to remedy this by bringing presentations to the present day with a new, modern design. It’s an elegant-looking device, made of machined aluminum and a dramatically simplified interface. Spotlight cuts down on buttons to make it easier to use without looking at the remote, offering only a single oversized forward button, a back button placed below it, and a media button on top. And it’s compatible with most major presentation software, including PowerPoint, Google Slides, Keynote, and Prezi.

I look forward to trying one out.

Weaponised Devices

On just about every flight I’ve taken recently, a voice from the front of the plane has read a statement to the effect of:

The United States Federal Aviation Authority has limited the carriage of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 device. If you have one of these in the cabin, or in your checked in baggage, you must advise us immediately as you are prohibited from carrying a Galaxy Note 7 onboard.

For example, here’s the official statement from Air New Zealand.

This wasn’t some marketing ploy by Apple to eliminate a device from a competitor that was setting the market on fire, but more ominously a device that was setting itself and its owners on fire. Having that happen in an airplane is a very bad idea.

In light of the above, I fail to see how adding a heat-based physical self-destruct mechanism to gadgets makes any logical or moral sense. With widespread adoption of such technology, everybody would be carrying weaponised devices that could be activated in the case of theft (the positioned use case), but also run the risk of compromise (time-based malware, GPS-based activation, etc.). Every gadget-toting flyer would now be a potential terrorist.

It’s worth reading the comments on the article too (e.g., how do you deal with your toddler taking your phone outside and now having first degree burns covering their body?).

We should indeed protect our devices – encrypted drives, strong passwords, remote wipe and brick capabilities, two-factor authentication, biometric logins – but not weaponise them.

The “Other” Consideration of Collaboration Tools; Welcome to the New World of GDPR

Collaboration tools provide amazing capabilities for helping people work together across time and space, and selecting the right tools for your organisation is important. However, there’s another side to the whole area that I haven’t often written about on this site: compliance. And if you or your organisation does anything with the personal data of European citizens – regardless of where your organisation is located in the world – you need to know about GDPR – the “General Data Protection Regulation” released in May 2016 and due to go into force from late May 2018. Given its wide scope, as the white paper below points out, it would be better to refer to it as the “Global” Data Protection Regulation. Seriously. And it has implications for how your organisation uses collaboration tools too.

Osterman Research recently published a new report on GDPR – exploring what it is, and the types of organisational and technological responses that will be required:

GDPR Compliance and Its Impact on Security and Data Protection Programs
Protecting personal data has been an important issue in the European Union (EU) for more than 20 years, and the recently ratified General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes data protection to an entirely new level. In addition to a new set of legal requirements that necessitate both organizational and technological responses, the GDPR is applicable to almost every organization around the world that collects or processes data on residents domiciled within the EU, including permanent residents, visitors and expatriates.

It’s worth a look … because it is likely to cause a lot of soul searching (data analysis, policy formulation, technology considerations) for organisations across the world. Including yours.

See: The Impact of the GDPR on Your Business