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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Pressure Ulcers and Link Abstraction

PU Pathway

The full pressure ulcer pathway in a single, side-scrolling application

At best, the idea of pressure ulcers (a particularly nasty form of chronic wound which costs the NHS billions of pounds every year) and link abstraction (a technique for disconnecting the source from the presentation layer) are uneasy bedfellows. You rarely find, if ever, them referred to in the same breath. In fact a Google search for that phrase comes up with exactly no results.

h9991533_002

Nevertheless it’s an interesting technique and worth sharing in this brief blog.
Health professionals are used to using sophisticated clinical pathways to guide them through delivery of complex clinical intervention. These pathways of a product of years of research and learned debate, leading to a consensus view on best practice supported by evidence, tools and protocols. Doctors and nurses need to understand and use these, however there are many of them and is unrealistic to expect everyone to know them all equally. So of course there is a role for technology-based solutions and the emergence of iPads and other tablet devices has made this an attractive way of providing rapid access to appropriate clinical pathways at the point of need.

A project we delivered for a major NHS Trust in the North of England sought to provide a rich, easy-to-use and interactive pathway for management of pressure ulcers (hence the title) with links to PDF documents and external resources and tools. The challenge is that these external sources were often not under the control of the trust and so embedding a URL into the application for each item of external content run the risk of the external content being moved to a different URL and that would require the application to be recoded. Definitely not something which makes for a sustainable and valuable application.
So the trick I’m sharing with you today is link abstraction. We built the application using HTML running within SharePoint, though other content management systems should work equally well. Our approach was to create a SharePoint document library for the links (yes, a document library not a list) and use the LINK TO A DOCUMENT content type.

image001Each of these virtual documents in the library has its own URL and used that link within the HTML of the application that we built. However the virtual document itself is simply a pointer to another URL. By giving the users access to this library they are able to update the secondary link without the primary link changing, thereby abstracting the real target from the application target. Job done!
It’s such a simple but powerful technique that I thought it should be shared.

If you are interested, here’s some information about the Pressure Ulcer application and further reading on pressure ulcers themselves.

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Fun with Windows Phone 10…

I might be a rarity, but I rather like Windows Phone and recently upgraded from Windows Phone 8 to a shiny new Lumia 950 running Windows Phone 10.

The Windows 10 interface on Windows phones is excellent and far better, in my ardent opinion, than either the Apple or the Android offerings. criticisms around the apps remain valid regrettably, but that’s mostly down to Microsoft’s failure to engage the marketplace properly (though Windows phones do sell 30% of the volume of Apple phones, so is not exactly insignificant). The integration with the st of the MS ecosystem outstanding and the phones are reasonably priced.

Custom Ringtones… GRRR!

However Microsoft remain far from perfect in some of their decisions and one which has been plaguing me for several weeks now has been the fact that they broke custom ring tones etc. in the last major update (The one before OS build 10.0.10586.218). The update deleted all the custom ringtones on the phone and made it surprisingly difficult to add new ones.

I thought I had tried everything, and spoken with Microsoft several times as well as perusing the Microsoft help (which is either incomplete or simply incorrect) and many forums. Although many people have struggled with this issue, solutions were few and far between

After extensive investigation and testing using two different Lumia 950s running the latest version of Windows phone 10 (OS build 10.0.10586.218) I can provide the following insight:

  • Ring tones must reside in the Ringtones folder (and it seems that this folder must remain on the phone not on the SD card though I haven’t tested this extensively)
  • MP3 and WMA files are supported. WAV do not seem to be usable. I haven’t tested anything else. 
  • The one CRITICAL requirement is that you MUST copy to the Ringtones folder from your PC over USB. Every other approach I’ve tried, including Bluetooth, download from OneDrive, copy from SD card using the Files app, etc. has failed.
  • The following make NO difference whatsoever to whether the file will or won’t appear in the ring tone selection drop-down (personalisation, sounds, ringtone)
    • Genre (ignore any advice about this needing to be set to a genre of ‘ringtone’)
    • Sample length (ignore any advice about this needing to be set to 40 seconds or less)
    • Bit rate (I had this running with bit rates from hundred and 128 to 320 kbps)
    • Metadata (it seems to largely ignore all the metadata in the file header, though there is something slightly odd going on and it seems to extract the track name correctly even if it has a leading track number in either the file name all the track name)
  • You cannot create folders within the Ringtones folder and use  these to organise ring tones and alerts;  anything within a folder  is ignored.

Once you have added ringtones in this way in then select the ring tone from Personalisation, Sounds and the Ringtone drop-down; your custom sounds will be at the bottom of the list and there is no way to remove the undesirable built-in tones.

 

Custom notifications for texts  etc.

Exactly the same rules apply  for notifications, except  that they are added by going into  Manage App Sounds at the bottom of the Personalisation, Sounds  screen.  You then click on each app that provides notifications and select your  notification sound.  Since there is no way to tell  the length of the sound you’re selecting, you may wish to change the notification sound names to something like “alert-soundname”

 

The Alarms App bug

My final observation is that  the Alarms App ignores  the sound you select  through the application. However my big discovery is that you can set the alarm sound exactly the same way that you set notification sounds  (see the previous paragraph).  Clearly this is a bug,  but it’s good to have a workaround.

 

Conclusion

This investigation has cost Microsoft one returned under warranty handset, with Amazon providing me with replacement handset no questions asked (because they provide excellent customer service). This has at least allowed me to do some diagnostics and prove that it was not a hardware issue; it is something which occurred following the latest OS upgrade, though Microsoft have been slow to admit it.

So,  what we learn is that Amazon have outstanding customer service;  Microsoft very nearly build great products but badly lack the attention to detail that their fruity rival used to  benefit from and that they are surprisingly poor at disseminating knowledge of issues and resolutions through the community, to their support personnel or keeping their web estate updated  with changes.

I hope all this helps people out there.

 

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Power Pivot data model optimisation

More great BI advice from the ever dependable Mark Robinson

Source: Power Pivot data model optimisation

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The changing shape of modern intranets

I talk a lot about the five pillars of enterprise intranets: Content, Communication, Collaboration, People and Process; in the past we were the first company to develop a solution accelerator for enterprise intranets. This became our Hadron 8020 portal and attempted to serve all those needs and act as the one place that users can go to carry out the organisational activities based on the way these five pillars interact. However times are changing, Microsoft have evolved their technology and, in the process made the overall technology landscape more complex and fragmented; this is beginning to have a knock-on effect on what’s needed from Hadron and other modern intranets.

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