What about the humble file – there’s more to life than documents

This is effectively Part Three in a series of blogs on managing content across the organisation, as part of moving to a cloud. I’ve previously mused on Microsoft Teams and Office 365 Groups, as well as the complex issue of ‘Putability’.

It’s easy to think that covers everything, but every organisation has huge quantities of legacy content which can’t or shouldn’t be placed in a modern content management system. You can legitimately think about these being files and folders stored on a file server, with this commonly being mounted against a Storage Area Network (SAN).

As organisations either commit fully to the cloud and seek to remove their existing local servers, or are faced with having to upgrade their SAN yet again because of growing data volumes, they are often strongly tempted to offload some of this into their Office 365 cloud storage. There is a whole article on effective migration strategies, content cleansing etc. which should be the subject of a future blog. For now, I want to consider a much simpler problem of whether you should migrate legacy content and if so, to where.

 

Chances are you’ve found a file in your file share! It’s probably buried deep in a set of folders (and you can read what I have to say about that here). There’s probably a 50% chance that it’s out of date, duplicated multiple times and has no obvious or existing owner. It’s almost guaranteed that any metadata happens to be attached to it is wrong. It properly has siblings, tens of thousands of other documents in a similar state, all-consuming expensive and fast tier 1 storage. Something must be done!

 

Simplistically, you have three choices; the trick is to choose amongst them wisely and here are our thoughts (with thanks to Alan Ruan for the discussions that led to this).

Do you need to share this file or document on an ongoing basis with colleagues in your organisation? If not, it’s probably a legacy file or document that no one actively needs. Now the question is do they need it at all?

If not, you can delete it. If so you need to archive it into an inexpensive storage tier. Once upon a time this could easily have been tape or a JBOD array. Today the chances are you look at something like Microsoft Azure StorSimple appliance which will synchronise content to the cloud while leaving a file stub that makes it appear to be local to your filing system. It’s pretty cheap, starting at about £100 for the virtual appliance per month plus storage at about £1200 per terabyte per year, which includes full redundancy etc.

If so it’s probably a live document and should be pushed into your digital workspace. I recommend going back and reading the blogs referenced in the first paragraph. However, you can’t put everything into SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business etc. Many file types are actively blocked and some of the files you may be storing, such as video, CAD drawings, disc images and MSI files are just too big to comfortably move there. There are options to setup BLOB storage linked to SharePoint, of course. Equally you may be happy to leave this kind of content on something equivalent the file server as such content tends to be relatively small in quantity and often has a reasonably effective taxonomy which can be managed using folders. Once again, an option like StorSimple will allow you to move this to low-cost storage while retaining access and control.

As I said, it’s pretty simple. It’s even simpler when you can see it as a diagram:

file storage

 

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Lessons from the Maybot

I rarely repost blogs. But this one is spot on and has nothing at all to do with technology. Just little things like society and integrity and being human

Read Ed Reid

Consider these two newspaper headlines:

South Milford FC win Champions League

Labour win Kensington & Chelsea

Well, you think. A Chinese conglomerate. Don’t see the value in spending £3bn on Manchester United. Decided to do it the romantic way. Small local team – but a million people within 30 minutes. 20 year plan, work their way up the football pyramid. Suppose it could happen…

What was the other one? Labour win Kensington & Chelsea? Have a word with yourself. And don’t forget your medication…

Except last Friday afternoon it did happen. With a majority of just 20, Emma Dent Coad captured Kensington and Chelsea for Labour. And if you want a measure of how completely inept the Conservative election campaign was, there you have it.

‘I didn’t fail. I learned,’ is one the great aphorisms of the positive-thinking industry. Well, Theresa May certainly learned how to take a working majority…

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Putability – More thoughts on Office 365 for collaboration

My thinking has evolved a little further with regards to using Office 365 collaboration since my last blog. This is driven by some further investigation into the recent upgrades to Office 365 Groups and Microsoft Teams.

As mentioned before, these are somewhat interchangeable in terms of their intended purpose and both have a proper SharePoint team site on the back end which extends their capability into being actively useful. For those that remember Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) or the more recent SharePoint Foundation, Groups and Teams essentially are the modern successor. The most immediate difference between them is that Groups are email-centric while Microsoft Teams is (Skype) chat-centric; however, there are some different components presented in each. Stand-alone, they are great for very lightweight intranets and team collaboration; combined with other parts of Office 365 they offered the ability to build out midrange digital workspaces. They fill a very useful role for unmanaged or lightly managed collaboration, though some organisations will choose OneDrive for Business for their unmanaged collaboration needs, leaving Groups and Teams for lightly managed role.

When it comes to OneDrive for Business, we propose a Best Practice folder structure to that consists of:

  • Private
  • Shared with Team (<owner name>)
  • Shared with Everyone (<owner name>)
  • Shared Externally

We also commonly recommend a mechanism for managing organisational Office templates using OneDrive for Business, where we add the Custom Office Templates folder to our OneDrive for Business and point the Office clients at that.

OneDrive structure

Then there is Yammer… This also can store and share documents and allow a form of collaboration around them. Using Yammer in this way never felt very natural to us, but it was part of the original design of the product before Microsoft acquired it, and it may well suit some organisations. However, by embedding Yammer within a SharePoint page in an intranet, it becomes particularly useful for wrapping a shared conversation around a document, or conversely adding documents to a shared conversation.

The trouble with all this is that users are uncertain about where to store information. It’s a problem we’ve talked about before; with the excellent search now available across Office 365 through SharePoint and Delve – combined with an effective metadata strategy – the problem of ‘Findability’ is largely addressed. Unfortunately, ‘Putability’ – knowing where to store your content -remains a challenge.

 

The lovely people at Tata Steel have put a lot of thought into this which aligns closely with our thinking and so I share this extended version of their decision tree with their permission:

Putability

As you can see, it’s fairly complex and this reflects the complex nature of the content that we expect people to deal with on a day-to-day basis. It is, however, fairly easily explained as follows:

  1. Keep your own stuff in OneDrive and if you need to, share it with your team unless you have a team site or group for that
  2. Team and project content should go into the relevant intranet team site, or a Microsoft Team or Office 365 Group if it doesn’t have sophisticated processes wrapped around it
  3. If it doesn’t need collaboration, then publish it to an intranet publishing area such as the HR site or a Document Centre
  4. If you need to shared externally and consider a dedicated extranet, though OneDrive for Business could be used for non-sensitive content
  5. Anything which isn’t reliant on storing the document could be done using Yammer or email

 

There is no harm in embedding the above in a governance or user guide which is actively shared with your users. The better they understand where to put their content the easier it will be to find things later and much easier to keep everything managed.

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Office 365 collaboration – somewhere between easy and hard

The Microsoft Story around Collaboration Has Never Been a Straightforward One, with Different Styles of Collaboration from Email, through Skype and into SharePoint Each Being Supported by Their Own Microsoft Technical Team; at Times It’s definitely felt like the different teams compete rather than collaborate (and the irony is not lost on us).

With the emergence and massive growth of Office 365 the tale now has some additional subplots  in the form of OneDrive for Business, Office 365 Groups, Microsoft Teams and the still relevant  SharePoint Online. It’s not easy to unpick these different offerings and decide which to use where, especially as they share a lot of the underlying technology as each other.

Here are my summarised thoughts:

  1. OneDrive For Business
    • Think of this as effectively a file server in the cloud, but note that the assumption is that each person has their own area. With most Office 365 plans you get  1 TB of storage per person, which is a serious amount traditional  storage for your organisation. However it’s not the same as using a file server; best practice is to create a set of high-level folders within each person’s OneDrive: Personal, Team, Everyone In The Organisation, and External content. Share access of the last three appropriately. It is possible to have an admin or super user who can set their account up to provide something equivalent to departmental shares. It probably only takes a couple of days effort to implement this for a small organisation and that includes training and structuring the folders.
  2. Microsoft Teams
    • This is  both a browser-based and desktop application, which uses the Office 365 services on the backend. It’s described as conversation-centric collaboration (https://products.office.com/en-GB/Microsoft Teams/group-chat-software ); the front-end uses the chat capabilities of Skype for Business to provide the conversation element, though does have the ability to share files etc. and  includes OneNote  (you can also add other apps). The ability to configure it according to different needs is limited and there is no concept of an organisational hierarchy. It’s great for near real-time collaboration, discussion with team documents, but not so great for creating an organisational file store. Set up effort is also just a few days.
  3. Office 365 Groups
    • These are recently updated and provide email-centric collaboration, though with both simple file sharing and a full SharePoint site on the backend for each team or group (the language is starting to get difficult now, I’ll use uppercase when I’m in the product and lowercase when I don’t). ThUser experiences a bit of a mess  in that  the interface varies according to where you try to access Groups from – Outlook, Yammer, OneDrive for Business and SharePoint all provide access but the UI is different in each case). As with Microsoft Teams, there is no organisational hierarchy. Office 365 Groups are good for team collaboration and ongoing projects; also because the file store is actually in SharePoint, it does allow customisation so that libraries can have additional metadata and the full power of SharePoint; you can also create additional libraries within each Group;  however these are only  visible when you step into the SharePoint view of the Group,  not in this simplified view in Outlook etc. Our suggestion to make this really work for bigger organisations is to combine it with Cloud2’s Connect product, which will provide the hierarchy and a powerful entry portal. Individual Groups are very easy to set up, but there  is always some effort required to train users, determine best practice and extend some of the Group sites to meet organisational needs.
  4. SharePoint intranet
    • SharePoint is a huge application, highly suited for enterprise needs and with a massive range of capability to support collaboration, content management, communication, business processes and people. However this comes with complexity and the need to configure everything before it is effective (which is why Microsoft have introduced the previous three items). It will pretty much do everything that an organisation needs but a typical SharePoint Project in the corporate world takes upwards of 100 days of services. Even with digital workspace accelerators,  such as Hadron, the effort is still around 30 days, though these tend to incorporate other parts of the O365 stack such as Yammer and Skype for business. Where SharePoint really shines is for organisations with complex process needs , a requirement to govern some types of content and where the organisation itself is sophisticated with  a large amount of structure and enterprise level business needs.

 

    Clearly this isn’t a one size fits all situation and is unlikely at any one of the above will answer all the collaboration and content needs of an organisation. The right thing to do is to mix and match the technologies in the Office 365 suite in a way that suits your organisation, your strategy and budget. Whatever you do, research the tools and think hard before jumping in.

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Teams vs. Groups – Microsoft moves their vision forward a few more steps

Office 365 continues to develop, and it seems like something changes more or less every fortnight. This isn’t a bad thing, as long as Microsoft continue to make reasonable business decisions about the features and functionality; though the pace of change continues to present some challenges for partners and users alike.

One of the most recent announcements is the release of Microsoft Teams, an apparently new component in Office 365. Actually, not quite so new as this looks an awful lot like the immediate successor to Groups.

Groups was always a little odd; it started out as exactly that, pretty much a permissions group on to which Microsoft then tagged some collaborative functionality, initially as a shallow end alternative to a SharePoint collaboration or team site; this has evolved over a few iterations to now usefully include Skype-based group Conversations, Files (actually a SharePoint library, but with limited customisability), Calendar, OneNote Notebook (we really approve of that), Planner (their Trello competitor) and a related SharePoint Site. However, the Groups strategy was clearly work in progress. For example they got as far as introducing them into the Outlook online client and OneDrive for Business, though not really into SharePoint, which was odd. There are mobile apps, but no Group tile in the O365 App Launcher. Jeff Teper shared some of this thinking early in 2016 and indicated that there would be a change that would see Groups becoming Teams, removing the confusion between permissions groups and collaborative sites. It’s good to see this come to fruition.

Microsoft are describing it as an entirely new experience…

With the introduction of Microsoft Teams, Office 365 now has mail, social, and chat connections to SharePoint and OneDrive. When you create a team, you create or connect to an existing Office 365 group, and the group gets a SharePoint team site.

msteams

It is worth reading Dan Holmes pleasantly marketing-spin-free  description.

So with the imminent launch of Microsoft Teams (it is currently in preview) there have already been some changes. Groups appears to have disappeared from most places and Microsoft continue to tweak the positioning against full-blown SharePoint Online.

Microsoft Teams is available in preview to eligible Office 365 commercial customers beginning November 2, 2016. We expect the service to become generally available in the first quarter of calendar year 2017.

There have been some immediate refinements to the Office365 offering plans:

  • Business Essentials  explicitly  references  including Teams,  with no mention of SharePoint
  • Enterprise plans such as E1 take business essentials and adds SharePoint Online, Delve, Video Portal, Skype Broadcast, without the 300 user limit.

It’s not yet clear whether Business Essentials no longer includes SharePoint at all or whether it simply hidden away as being perceived as too complicated for simpler use cases. Whether you agree with that or not, is likely that Teams are here to stay for a while and they do provide a simpler means of creating a rich collaboration and team site than ever before.

 

 

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There’s a new buzzword in town and it’s “Digital Workspace”.

 

There’s a new buzzword in town and it’s “Digital Workspace”.

I’m not a great fan of buzzwords and often they serve the needs of marketing hype without any substance, with a tendency to create more confusion and uncertainty than clarity and understanding; at their worst they provide a new bandwagon to people who like to think that they are ready adopters to jump aboard, regardless of the direction the horses are heading or the robustness of their chosen means of conveyance! Nevertheless buzzwords are here to stay and often they foreshadow things to come; we saw it with the emergence of the cloud, and also with the hype surrounding portals prior to that. So maybe Digital Workspace is something we should consider.

 

As our world activities, both business and personal, become increasingly online there is a transition from the physical to virtual. In the past very much about us and what we did was determined by geography, our where determined our what, when and how. Digital Workspaces are the tools we use (based on software, hardware, connectivity, security, information architecture etc.) to allow us to break the geographical constraints and transition to a new way of working that is enabled by technology to break down the constraint of geography.

 

What that means is that we should be able to do most of what we need to do regardless of where we are. This doesn’t just mean not going into the office or factory or client site every day; effective digital workspaces are always available, allowing effective work whenever and wherever suits the individual; this might be while walking down the street, waiting for a train, in the gap between meetings or while collaborating in a room with colleagues.

The Digital Workspace encompasses many tools and technologies. In the old days we might have thought about these activities being confined to a set of applications on a single PC or, somewhat more recently within an intranet portal, for example. Today the concept is more inclusive and should include tools and solutions for:

  • Content – finding, creating, publishing and managing information in all forms.
  • Collaboration – working with colleagues, internal and external, to achieve some common purpose; both in real time (simultaneous editing, chat, voice and video conferencing) and non-real-time.
  • Communication – delivering and receiving important messaging, news and announcements and supporting 360° feedback mechanisms across organisations and operational networks. Try this and let me know if you want
  • Process – structured activities that manage or deliver required outcomes and often involving electronic forms and electronic workflow.
  • People – ensuring team members, colleagues and collaborators can find each other effectively based on the needs of the moment and form effective teams.

 

 

 

The movement to always on, always accessible Digital Workspaces is a tangible element of digital transformation. Of course that’s another buzzword so perhaps I should attempt the definition:

Digital transformation is the profound transformation of personal and business activities, processes, competencies and ways of working to effectively adopt and be enabled by a full range of digital technologies, effective digital transformation is managed in a strategic and prioritised way and takes account of their impact across society as well as within the confines of an organisation.

 

Meanwhile Wikipedia states, “Digital transformation is the changes associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society. Digital transformation may be thought of as the third stage of embracing digital technologies:

digital competence→ digital usage → digital transformation”

As Wikipedia also states, the transformation means that digital usages “enables new types of innovation and creativity, rather than simply enhance and support the traditional methods.” This is important as it’s not just about doing the same things more efficiently but about doing some entirely new things which are only possible as a result of the digital transformation. My previous comments about being able to work regardless of geography is part of that. Meanwhile be going paperless is not digital transformation unless new models and ways of working emerge from being decoupled from paper-based processes. An example of this, that we use routinely, is being able to work on the same document at the same time from multiple different locations and often involving people from multiple organisations.

It’s relatively easy to be focused on solving discrete business problems with individual digital technologies. It’s not even that hard to putting in digital platforms spoken address multiple business needs. However transformative digital workspaces should have the ability to allow organisations to become different, freeing their staff not only from location, but from other aspects of physical interaction and constraint, operating in joined up ways across devices, applications and people and able to be rapidly moulded to the changing needs of the organisation.

The current state-of-the-art in technology is beginning to deliver this, joining up generic technologies such as the extensive range available within Office 365, Azure, Amazon Web services etc. with personal applications on smart phones and tablets and taking advantage of hyper scale cloud-based services for things like machine learning, augmented reality and more.

True digital workspaces are not an application or even a suite of technologies, they are suite of platforms, sufficiently integrated that people, teams and organisations can achieve new things and evolve at the new speed of business.

 

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You can’t always have what you want

This entertaining diagram that I saw on LinkedIn this morning touched a chord.

Interfaces

Like all good humour it makes a critical point, or perhaps even several points.

It certainly typifies different approaches. Apple’s fanatical insistence that anything can be achieved with a simple interface. Google’s equally fanatical insistence that everything can be achieved with a simple search interface. And the common application development teams resigned insistence that you can just throw all the data capture onto a page and call it a business application.

The thing is that often Apple (who routinely make things incredibly difficult by trying to make things too simple) and Google (who make things undiscoverable by finding everything) often overlook that fact that some business processes are actually complicated.
The Einstein Principle applies (http://www.c2.com/cgi/wiki?EinsteinPrinciple).

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